Whitehead leads way in record effort

Gore shearer Megan Whitehead in action during a successful four-stand women’s shearing record attempt last week. Photo: Supplied
Gore shearer Megan Whitehead in action during a successful four-stand women’s shearing record attempt last week. Photo: Supplied
A four-stand women’s shearing record of 2066 lambs in nine hours set last week has been lauded by one of the greatest of record-breakers as a great moment in shearing in New Zealand.

Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman and former multiple World, Golden Shears and New Zealand champion Sir David Fagan, who was unable to be present for the big day at Waihi-Pukawa Station near Turangi, said he felt the vibes from 140km away.

“There are some great things happening for shearing at the moment. This takes it to another level.”

Particularly stunning was the effort of Gore shearer Megan Whitehead who headed the individual tallies with 608, at about 53.3 seconds a lamb, caught, shorn and dispatched.

But milestones were also passed by Marlborough contractor and university graduate Sarah Higgins, who shore 528, Piopio-based shearer Natalya Rangiawha, from Raglan, who shore 507, and Amy Silcock, from Wairarapa farming locality Tiraumea, who finished with 423.

All four are regarded as relatively early in their careers, the most experienced being Silcock and Higgins, regular performers on the competition circuit.

It was the youngest, 23-year-old Whitehead, who stunned everyone, looking possibly more fresh at 5pm than she had when starting 12 hours earlier.

It was her second 600 within little more than a month having increased her personal best by close to 50% in just two months.

Sir David said she looms now as a serious challenger to the solo woman’s record of 648 set by Emily Welch, of Waikaretu, in 2007.

“Wouldn’t that be a great day. I wouldn’t miss that one.”

Higgins (27), originally from Havelock but now based in Blenheim, became the first person to win Golden Shears titles in both woolhandling and shearing in 2015, adding the novice shearing title to the junior woolhandling title she won two years earlier.

Rangiawha (also 27) was fifth in the 2018 New Zealand Junior championship final in Te Kuiti in 2018.

Silcock (32) has been shearing in competitions for several seasons, but was shearing merinos in Australia when she got the call to replace injured original hopeful and Scottish shearer Helga Sinclair, at about three months’ notice.

Particularly amazing for the crowd of 200 cramming the woolshed beside State Highway 41 late in the hot afternoon, was how the quartet saved the best for last.

They opened the day with 463 in the first two hours from 5am to breakfast, an average of 57.87 a quarter-hour between them, already well on target to pass the dream-target of 2000.

But they shore 416 in the final run of 1hr 45min, an average of 59.43 per quarter-hour.

Chief referee Martyn David, from Wales, commented that despite the huge effort the quality got better and better all day.

Organiser Jill Angus Burney, who in 1989 shore a solo 9 hours record of 541, was overwhelmed by the support for a record that cost about $15,000 to stage.

CP Wool was the major sponsor and dozens of volunteers came from throughout the country to help prepare the Romney lambs and the shed and to work throughout the day or support the women to get them over the line.

One retired Southland shearer estimated up to 20 supporters had come north to cheer on “our girl — Megan Whitehead”.

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