Women of fibre

By Adrienne Hartnett

Two years into her natural medicine studies in Melbourne, Georgia Reeves felt like she wasn’t on the right path. 

The Corowa local decided to defer her studies and return home to obtain some life experience with a plan to go travelling overseas.

Shortly after arriving home, Georgia decided to do shearing work on her stepdad’s farm in Daysdale. The decision became a defining moment of her future. 

“I fell in love with it,” she told The Free Press. “At the time I was really unsure as to whether I wanted to finish my course or not.  Kelvin Kuhne a contractor from the Walbundrie area gave me my start into the industry which was just awesome. I have never looked back.” 

Georgia began work as a roustabout in shearing sheds across NSW including three months in New Zealand. 

“In the shearing sheds I felt like I was tuned in with my intuition,” Georgia said. 

Shortly after, Georgia decided to do a wool classing course with TAFE NSW. In 2017, with great marks and a strong support team behind her, she entered the AWEX National Graduate Wool Classer Competition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and won the coveted Golden Stencil award. 

“I remember being too nervous to do the competition. My teacher and friends and family encouraged me to go and do it and I am glad I did because I won!” she said. 

“On my way back from the competition I got a phone call from Bernie Lee to do an interview with Michell Wool.  I went straight from the shearing sheds and into the marketing side of wool.”  

In her brand-new role as Wool Marketing Specialist, Georgia felt that she had found her feet. 

“I love the physical aspect of the work. It really is an endurance game in the shearing sheds. You are run off your feet all day and you have to manage staff who are constantly coming and going,” she said. 

“The other thing I love about the industry is the people in it. There is a lot of hard-working people. Everyone seems to have a good laugh and a joke in the ag sector.

“Wool is also just fascinating in itself. There are so many different components. It’s just amazing how versatile of a fibre it is.”

While each year, more and more females are joining the wool industry, Georgia has certainly experienced some challenges with gender along the way. 

“There is a lot more women in the industry in roles such as auctioneering, roustabout and wool classing which is great. However, it was difficult in the beginning. Some places you get accepted as a woman and others you don’t,” she said. 

“I think the thing that frustrated me was that because I had come from a university background, in the shearing sheds people couldn’t understand why I was there. 

“I had a lot of comments from people telling me I was going backwards. People told me I was too smart to be in the shearing sheds. It was bizarre and a bit of a shock. 

“I’m grateful now that I work with great blokes now. We all get along really well, and the only problem when I started was the lack of experience on my end. I was managing these guys who had been in the industry for many years.” 

Kirsty Grenfell works alongside Georgia as a wool blender and presser at the Corowa wool store. While she is relatively new to the wool industry, she is no stranger to working in a typically male-dominated industry. 

Prior to commencing work at the Corowa wool store, Kirsty spent 18 years in the Northern Territory working in the freight industry including working as a railyard manager in Katherine.  

“Before I started the job in Katherine, they were a bit unsure about hiring me because I was female. I had the skills though. I used to load and unload trains and trucks. I did everything,” Kirsty told The Free Press. 

“In the freight industry, some men get a bit stand-offish. You just have to show ‘em what you’ve got.

“You learn how to communicate with different personalities and some people you just have to tread carefully with. It’s getting better though. I don’t have those kind of issues working here. We all work well as a team.” 

Both Kirsty and Georgia are grateful to have each other at Michell Wool. 

“It is good to have another female to work with in such a male-dominated industry,” Georgia said. 

“The guys are great. They look after us but having another female breaks it up a bit. I can have conversations with Georgia without trying to be a bit more macho,” Kirsty added. 

While more women are taking up careers in the wool industry, Georgia hopes to see the local high school get on board with encouraging more students, male or female, to pursue a career in agriculture. 

“The biggest issue I’m seeing at the moment is the lack of young shearers, wool classers and shed staff that are coming up,” Georgia said. 

She cannot believe that in our agricultural town young people interested in learning about the industry or wool classing have to go to Wagga or elsewhere to study. 

“It’s just a shame given our town’s connection to agriculture. It’s time for this town to really embrace it. I love it and I’m sure there are others out there who would too if they had the opportunity to experience it,” Georgia said.