Focus on the Land
Wool’s story unravelled
Saturday, October 13, 2012
A HISTORY of agriculture in the Wairoa district is on display at the Wairoa Museum in the Wool in Wairoa exhibition, which opened yesterday.
The exhibition is primarily about the wool industry of the area but features a range of topics and displays including the early days of farming in Wairoa to the shearing legacy of a local family.
Exhibition organiser and curator Jenny Roper said the exhibition would show how wool and sheep influenced the growth of an entire district.
“The wealth of Wairoa agriculturally started well behind other areas of New Zealand,” she said.
“The terrain — bush-covered and hilly — made access very difficult. Everything coming into Wairoa in the mid-1800s came by sea or coastal track.”
The first sheep arrived in the Wairoa area in the early 1850s. They were Merino sheep and did not flourish so other breeds were introduced including Leicestershires and Romneys, which were more suited to cope with the wet conditions underfoot.
As numbers of sheep increased, the population grew as the need to have workers helping on the farms grew.
“With the increase of sheep numbers, the need to get the wool off their backs and to market became the next problem,” said Mrs Roper.
“Shearing in the Wairoa County started with the use of blade shears, but by the early 1920s, along with the rest of New Zealand, mechanisation was introduced.
“There has been a longstanding shearing association with Maori families in this area.
“The Culshaw family of Raupunga with their Pahauwera Shearing business are now into their fifth generation.
“In the exhibition, we have honoured this tradition.”
There is a display of handpieces collected by the Culshaw family, spanning one hundred years — the earliest being from about 1900 to 1930.
The transport of wool from back country farms is also covered in the exhibition.
“Wool was tracked out by horses in small bales and eventually re-packed into larger bales.
“Coastal ships standing offshore with small boats lightering out to them made for many a wet bale — not a good sale-able item. The advent of roads, rail and trucks has made lighter work of this problem.
“The stock was shifted on the hoof by drovers, but now by truck. We have an excellent display of photos on transport in the exhibition from shipping to modern trucks.”
The role of the hard-working sheepdog is also recognised in Wool of Wairoa.
“Dog trialling became an enjoyable pastime and started in Mohaka in 1896 and the Wairoa County Collie Club started in 1903.”
Wairoa Wool Week was an annual fixture during the 60s and 70s with the first held in 1968 by Colin Southey of the Department of Agriculture with spinners and Kiwi knitters also running a festival.
“To get the nation’s attention, the Wool Week Committee organised the first world record setting for the shortest time of a shearing a fleece and making it into a man’s jersey.
“Ivan Bowen and a local shearer performed on the back of a truck in the town centre.
“This festival became so popular that the small town had to concede to a National Club being formed.
“The Spinners and Weavers and Woolcraft Society, who divided New Zealand into 14 regions, hold annual competitions with the next being in April in Porirua.
“The original trophies of a mere for the Kiwi knitting and a silver spinning wheel for the spinners were made locally and are in our display.”
The museum has an archive of over 50 photographs of local woolsheds and is inviting people to look through the albums, add notes and if they know of a missing woolshed to bring in a photo to be scanned and added to the collection.”
The exhibition concludes on 26th January 2013.
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