Thirty-five years after he retired, former gun shearer Darryl Cole has picked up the handpiece and returned to the woolsheds.
It wasn’t a government incentive or the shearing shortage that lured the 71-year-old back, but request from an old friend that reawakened a yearning for camaraderie and a bit of hard yakka.
Stifled by modern-day societal conventions and political correctness, Mr Cole had begun reminiscing about the straight-talking characters of the shearing sheds.
“It’s just the atmosphere, the freedom to be yourself again, just the freedom to speak and think and say and have a laugh and a giggle with no one jumping on your head and saying ‘You can’t say that, you can’t do this,'” Mr Cole said.
“There’s a lot of ‘can’ts’ in society today.”
Shearing around the world
Mr Cole started his career as a fresh-faced youngster shepherding in New Zealand, but quickly realised it was the shearers who got the girls and earned better money.
So he took up the craft, moved to Australia and later spent 12 years travelling the globe shearing in America, Norway, Sweden, England, Scotland and beyond.
“We opened the way … we were working illegally in America,” he said.
In his day, Mr Cole was at the top of his game, regularly shearing more than 200 sheep a day, which was impressive stuff with the machinery of the times.
“I just plug along mate, just plug along from behind,” he said.
Later in his career, after slogging it out on a 52-degree day in the woolshed, Mr Cole began questioning his future.
He calculated the tonnes of wool he would carry, the miles he would walk and the amount of money he would make by continuing as a shearer, and decided to call it a day.
He took a job with The University of WA, building robots to replace shearers.
While he loved the work, and lamented the fact the robots never took off outside academia, he missed the camaraderie of the sheds.
So, when and old mate hit him up to help recently, he relented.
“You can come back to the woolshed and you can dish it out and they dish it back and it’s good fun,” he said.
“There’s this freedom of speech that you don’t get in town and it’s good.
“You feel a lot better for it.”
Mr Cole is also enjoying the fact that he’s forming new memories later in life — not to mention giving the missus a break.
“I think she enjoys the freedom,” he said.
“She complains quite regularly that she’s heard all my stories … 100 times.