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Young gun shares her enthusiasm for wool

Growing up on her parents’ farm near Parkes in NSW, Marites (Tess) Woods always had a keen interest in wool harvesting. Now 20 years old, Tess is a talented young shearer whose enthusiasm for the industry very much continues. Through AWI’s Wool Ambassadors Program, she gets to share this passion to help attract and retain staff in the industry.

Tess grew up in Parkes on the farm of her parents, Lynn and Barry Woods, who run a sheep, cattle and cropping business. Her father Barry, who did some wool handling and shearing in his youth and continues to class his own wool, taught Tess all the shed skills that he knew.

“Over the years, I became obsessed with learning all about wool harvesting. Every time our contractor came to do our shearing I would try and convince my dad to let me stay home from school to work in our shed,” Tess said.

“By the time I was in Year 12 at school, the same contractor who had done our shearing for years offered me a wool handling job which I took straight away and did for a couple of months, during which I also learnt from the crew some more about shearing.

“Originally, I was planning to become a wool classer like my dad, but there was just something that had me mesmerised by shearing. Dad had suggested that I was too small to be a shearer, so I was determined to prove him wrong!”

Training proves its worth

After graduating from Parkes High School in December 2021, Tess went straight to Dubbo TAFE to do a week-long novice shearing course with trainer Wayne Hosie.

“This was where I learnt all my basic skills – from shearing pattern, foot position and grinding, to lifestyle tips, mentality and mindset skills, and the outline of respect for wool harvesting. I came back from the school and showed my new skills to my boss, and then in a couple of weeks I got my own stand,” Tess said.

“Once I got my stand, I wanted to continue learning so I had a few in-shed training sessions with trainers Elliot Learmonth, Mike Poirer and Grant Lester. These trainers helped me tweak little things to assist me with the diverse patterns and techniques required for the different sheep that were in my area and the different competition styles.

“Elliot Learmonth has been a huge mentor to me. He introduced me to my first sport and speed shear and unlocked a whole new side of shearing, the sport side.

“I’ve always loved sports and been a very competitive person. I like that you get to present your talent and skills and always learn something different at each competition. I aim to move up the grades to opens and go to the Nationals.”

About five months into her shearing career, Tess attended an improver shearing school at Dubbo TAFE.

“I always keep my eyes peeled for new opportunities, schools and courses because you never know what type of new information or tips you could adopt to improve your skills and benefit your career in the long run,” she said.

Last year, Tess attended a shearing gear and health course in Crookwell with trainers Josh Clayton, Klynt Correll and Rocky Wegner.

“This course covered things such as healthy habits and advice, grinding techniques and extensive knowledge on comb work. I absorbed a lot through that course and started to take health and comb work more seriously which has definitely had a huge positive effect on my everyday life.”

Shearing as a career


Tess competing in the senior shearing final at the 2023 New Zealand Merino Shears in October, in which she was runner-up. PHOTO: NZ Merino Shearing

Tess got her stand with local contractor Drew Calton of Calton Shearing in February 2022 and works around the Parkes region. She recommends shearing to anyone that enjoys highly physical jobs and working in team environments.

“Shearing provides plenty of positives, including a good income, teamwork, personal skills development, great fitness, and a diversity in the range of work environments, such as different breeds of sheep, places, sheds and people,” she said.

“I love the competitive nature of shearing whether it’s racing your mate in the shed, sport shears or speed shears. The teamwork involved in shearing is something I respect, as well as the objective to do a neat job, quick, and then get to the next shed.

“Shearing as an occupation suits my lifestyle. I like having five days’ work with optional weekend work, which shearing provides very easily. I also like to travel and have a few holidays throughout the year and shearing is flexible and makes holiday planning stress free.

“I am choosing to build my future on shearing as a career. My goals include going to as many shows as I can, win a speed shear or a sport shear, represent Australia and do as much as I can for the industry such as become a trainer or support in any way.”

With a focus on using the best shearing technique as well as strength, Tess is amongst the increasing number of young women taking up a career in shearing.

“I have worked with a few women and I believe it is becoming more common for women to choose shearing as an occupation. Shearing is very physically and mentally challenging. I respect all the women who have joined the industry and it makes me happy to work alongside them and be a part of the diversity in the shearing culture.”

NSW wool harvesting ambassador


Tess pictured with students from her old school, Parkes High School, at last year’s NSW School Merino Wether Challenge in Dubbo, at which the NSW wool harvesting ambassadors did the shearing. 

In recognition of her talent and potential to excel, great work ethic and good conduct in shearing sheds, Tess was last year appointed as a NSW representative in AWI’s new Wool Ambassadors Program. There are shearing and wool handling ambassadors in all states across the country, each tasked with promoting the wool harvesting industry. The Program is another AWI initiative to attract and retain wool harvesting staff. 

“I am extremely grateful that AWI chose me to be a young representative. I’ve always had a passion for wool harvesting. I was an enthusiastic wool handler before I started shearing and was invested into the technical aspects of wool classing,” she said. 

“I enjoy learning and taking on board as much as I can about every part of the industry, from pressing, penning, wool handling, classing, wool broking and of course shearing. It’s fantastic how wool comes from the paddocks and onto our skin as clothing or beneath our feet as carpet. As an ambassador, I feel fortunate that I get to share this passion and influence others about the industry. 

“I hope to achieve as much personal growth to be able to eventually teach and provide some guidance for the next generation of young shearers, and I want to support the wool handlers by encouraging more competitions and having more training opportunities. I also want to be involved in the competitions and help improve and support Sports Shear NSW.” 

Trans-Tasman training


Tess in New Zealand in January with other Australian wool ambassadors refining their skills of how best to shear crossbred and composite sheep.

Earlier this year, Tess and other wool ambassadors from across Australia visited New Zealand on an extended trip, beginning with a two-day induction workshop hosted by New Zealand’s Elite Wool Industry Training, with a focus on harvesting wool from crossbred and composite sheep.

This is part of an exchange program between Australian shearer and wool handler training providers (including AWI) and their New Zealand counterparts to ensure consistency of shearing and wool handler training across the Tasman and to help alleviate the shortage of shearers and wool handlers.

“It was an unreal experience and I absorbed a lot of information which has boosted my confidence in crossbred shearing,” Tess said.

After their induction, the ambassadors were disbursed to six approved contractors in the South Island to get further experience during paid work.

The group attended another two-day training workshop at the end of February, prior to the Golden Shears shearing and wool handling championship in Masterton at which they had the opportunity to compete. Tess competed well and reached the semi-final of the intermediate shearing competition.


This article appeared in the June 2024 edition of AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine. Reproduction of the article is encouraged.

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