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50th Waimate Shears launched in new stadium

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The 50th Waimate Shears, incorporating the New Zealand Spring Championships, have been launched in a new million-dollar stadium - a community of less than 4000 people raising the money and building the facility in less than two years.

The project was spearheaded by the championships committee, its 27 members steered by local shearing contractor Warren White joining forces with the Southern Canterbury A and P Association which owns the land at its showgrounds on the outskirts of the town south of Timaru.

Mr White has been Shears chairman for 11 years of the near half-century since the committee was formed in 1968 to run the first championships later that year in the South Canterbury town’s old Olympia Hall.

More than 200 people were present last night when founding chairman Alan Kelly told how the commitment evident in the latest project had been there from the start, with a committee formed in 1968 and the first championships just a few months later in a hall transformed into a woolshed each year for a competition which has become one of the most important in New Zealand.

It incorporated Open, Senior and Intermediate machine shearing and Open blade shearing, with woolhandling competition introduced in 1979.

Of the 61 competitions under the umbrella of Shearing Sports New Zealand this season, it is one of just eight held over more than one day.

It’s Open shearing championship is the long strongwool round of the five-round PGG Wrightson Wool National Shearing Circuit, and on Saturday it will stage stage a bladeshearing test match between New Zealand and Australia, part of a home-and-way transtasman series in which teams will meet at Bendico, Vic, in two weeks’ time.

Highlighting the standard of competition, the first four Open shearing finals at Waimate were won by legendary multiple-Golden Shears and 1980 World champion Brian "Snow" Quinn, who was among at least eight first-year finalists at last night’s anniversary function, where a guest speaker was Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman and multiple World and Golden Shears champion Sir David Fagan, who won the Waimate title 10 times from 1992 to 2011.

When Manawatu shearer Murray Henderson won the Open machine shearing final last year it was only the second time in 25 years the big title had been won by someone has not been a World champion.

Woolhandling competition was first held at the Waimate Shears in 1979, and defending Open woolhandling champion Joel Henare in February claimed his second World individual and teams champion double, while late multiple World and Golden Shears champion Joanne Kumeroa won seven times spanning 21 championships from 1991 to 2011.

The need for a new facility arose through the rebuilding of longtime venue the Waimate Sports Stadium, with a new facility which became unsuitable for the shearing competition.

Mr White, who started his association with the Shears volunteer crutching sheep for the competition, said the committee initially hoped to help redevelop the showgrounds’ Dempsey Pavilion, but the "final straw" was the likely $25,000 cost of "moving a power pole."

Work on the 900sqm facility started in November last year, thousands of dollars of community labour supplementing such finance $50,000 grants from the Waimate District Council and the Lotteries Commission, and $100,000 from the Lion Foundation, among supporters which contributed at least $5000 each. A sponsors board lists almost 60 others that contributed at least $500 each, and there was vast input of donated or "at cost" materials.

Fundraising events included shearing days in which locals effectively sacrificed wages for the good of the cause, and a "battery drive" in which over $12,000 was raised gathering old batteries for export to recyclers.

The honour of shearing the first sheep at the first Waimate Shears in the new events centre, which is overlooked by the Hunter Hills and went to Mr White, who on Thursday night was made a life-member.

Woolhandling heats and semi-finals in three grades were being held today, along with heats in the shearing and woolhandling teams event, and Open and Senior speedshears, a junior/intermediate clean shear, and a woolhandlers fleece throw are to be held tonight.

All other events are held tomorrow, including all finals on a day of competition starting at 7am and expected to end about 9pm.

Today, Mr White was back into the more mundane chores of minute-by-minute running of the championships, pictured at the bar and canteen.

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