There was once a popular perception that shearers were a strange breed – socially inept loners who worked hard, but also drank hard. The Golden Shears competition helped change that.
Its beginnings can be traced back to 1958, when the Wairarapa District Young Farmers Club organised a small contest at their local Agricultural and Pastoral (A&P) show, to test shearers’ speed and skill. It was so successful that the organisers decided to take the concept further. They approached Wairarapa Federated Farmers, and asked for help in starting a national shearing competition that could be held annually. One of the aims of the competition would be to give shearers a sense of pride and responsibility, and promote them as highly skilled, responsible citizens. Federated Farmers was excited about the idea, and Golden Shears was born.
The first Golden Shears competition, in 1961, was so packed that the local army was called in for crowd control! Over the next few years, the competition’s popularity just increased. Seats were often booked twelve months in advance.
Shearing’s status as a sport grew. In the late 1970s, other minor shearing competitions began to spring up around the country. Major companies and businesses were keen to act as sponsors, and prize money became larger by the year. Shearers saw themselves as professional sports people now, and put themselves through rigorous training programmes. Shearing challenges between Australia and New Zealand were held, and 1980 saw the first World Shearing Championship.
Golden Shears is still our country’s premier shearing competition. These days, it not only tests the skill of shearers, but that of wool-handlers and wool press operators. In 1996–97, its top male and female shearers were respectively David Fagan and Michelle Harrex.
The thirtieth anniversary dinner of the Golden Shears International Shearing Championship Society was held at Masterton in 1990. Ivan Bowen, winner of the first Golden Shears competition, and brother of world-renowned shearer, the late Godfrey Bowen, spoke. ‘Without doubt, shearing in New Zealand is on a very high plane at the present time. I believe that the contests – the Golden Shears and all those other contests in the country have helped, not only to improve the standard of shearing, but to raise the status of the shearer. May the Golden Shears continue to flourish. May it go on and continue to get bigger and brighter and better. Citius, Altius, Fortius!’ (1)
(1) Williams, D J. and Way, Margaret. (1991). Last Side To Glory: The Golden Shears open championship, 1961-1990. Christchurch: Hazard Press. preface.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998).