David Fagan & shearing

Today I had the good fortune to see David Fagan in a shearing contest. We’d decided to go to the Tauranga A&P Show (for readers outside New Zealand, Agricultural & Pastoral), which is a sad urbanised shadow of a real A&P Show but it’s all we’ve got.

Right at the end of the tented section of the show was the Home Industries display (I could have won the pikelet section, honestly, only one entry and the Vege Grower reckoned they looked stodgy) … and next to that the shearing and there he was, shaven head down, bum up.

Hurrah, yet David who? is a question that, sadly, many New Zealanders would ask even though he’s one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever produced. Yes, that’s right, I put him alongside Peter Snell (athletics, double Olympic gold, 5 individual world records) and Mahe Drysdale (rowing, five-time world champion, Olympic gold medal). Read a 2007 profile of him here (by a sportswriter).

Seven years later at the age of 52 he’s still competing – and still winning. Just last month he notched up Open win number 622 in Manawatu and had the pleasure of competing against, and beating, son Jack.

David Fagan set world records for 9-hour strong-wool lamb shearing in 1985, 1988 and 1992. Nine hours (take that, netballers (see below))! He set a 9-hour world record for strong-wool ewes in 1991 and 1994.

David was in the 2010 World Champion Team with Cam Ferguson (who also took out the world individual title) in Wales – a repeat of his 1994 success in Wales. He was also in the team that won the world title in 1986 (Australia).

He was individual world champion and part of the champion team in 1988 (NZ), 1992 (England), 1998 (Ireland) and 2003 (Scotland). He was individual world champion in 1996 (NZ). By my reckoning that’s 12 world titles! This year’s world champs is in Ireland in May.

Today I watched him shear 8 lambs, starting out not that much faster than the young fellas he was up against, step on the gas and get an entire lamb ahead and then ease back to win by about half an animal. His blows were clean, animal handling meticulous and his movements economical. By rights his back should have given out by now (the most common career end for shearers) so I was chuffed to see him looking good.

He was on the long-list of nominees for Halberg Sportsman of the Year award in 2010 but didn’t win and in 2004 was nominated for Waikato Sportsman of the Year, walking out after his list of achievements was cut short and the netballers (netballers!) started sniggering when his name was read out.

His home town of Te Kuiti has put up a statue in his honour and quite right too. The man is a legend.

I was brought up on a sheep farm and always loved going to the shearing shed when it was in full swing – the buzz of the machines, the smell of the wool, the fleeces being thrown on to the sorting table (thick with lanolin), tramping the wool down in the bales and the old hand-cranked wool press.

I’d help take smoko over in the big basket (allowed to do it on my own when older), carrying a smaller basket (the kit). The cups were thick, white china that bounced if dropped, there was fresh milk, sugar and tea leaves in individual jars, teaspoons and inside the cardboard box were freshly made sandwiches, scones or pikelets and a cake. My mother and grandmother always made sure there was fresh baking. An old enamelled tea-pot and old electric jug stayed in the shed.

I once helped sweep up the dags and chase sheep into pens and that sort of thing and was paid 10 shillings. Goodness, that was a lot, and the first time I’d been paid for anything.

shearing machines stop …
for a moment
no one talks

– Sandra Simpson, Second New Zealand Haiku Anthology (NZPS, 1998)
with thanks to editor Cyril Childs for his suggestions

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