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Demystifying the world of woolhandling

To an outside observer, the world of woolhandling is a mysterious one. Fleeces are thrown, oddments are sorted into any number of baskets, brooms are constantly working and there's always a breathless finish.

If you think it's curious to watch, try judging at a World Championship, where titles are won and lost by the narrowest of margins.

That's the role Te Kuiti's Peter Lange will oversee as Chief Woolhandling Referee at the 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill in February.

Lange, like his shearing referee counterpart, Paul Harris of Waipara, will be in a coordination role, managing a team of approximately 14 judges, juggling rosters, ensuring the competition runs efficiently and doing everything he can to ensure the best woolhandler is crowned World Champion on the Saturday night of competition.

Whilst shearing is done consistently the world over (with sheep breed and wool type being the major difference), woolhandling methods vary considerably between hemispheres.

"They do things a lot differently in the Northern Hemisphere. The Judges' Training Day we have at the start of the week will be important. That's where we will get everybody on the same path," he said.

Lange will have an experienced New Zealand contingent officiating during the Championships. Roxanne Roxburgh (Stirling), Daryl Croad (Te Kuiti), Kelly Karaitiana-Frisby (Milton), Janet Smith (Omakau), Fiona Walker (Invercargill), Linda Tarrant (Thames), Lani Arnott (Queenstown) and Paula Rentoul (Wakefield) will be on duty for the four days alongside registered judges from Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia, South Africa and Germany.

Ironically, Bronwen Tango of Wales who was crowned 2010 World Champion at the only other World Championships Lange has officiated at, will be part of his judging team in February.

So just how is woolhandling judged?

"There are two different types of wool, full wool and second shear," Lange explained.

"As a judge, you're watching to make sure all the oddments are kept separate. The competitors do a blend at the end of the second shear which is judged out of a possible 35 marks and it's really just checking they are getting out what's supposed to be out," he said.

"For the full wool, they throw the fleeces over the table so they are also judged on the throw and at the end, all the oddments and bagged fleeces go to the judges "out the back" who go through them making sure all the piles are correct and there's nothing left in there that should have come out," Lange said.

Like shearing, the successful woolhandlers strike a balance between time and accuracy.

When the shearer finishes his last sheep, the woolhandlers have a set amount of time, advised before the competition begins (usually between 30 and 60 seconds depending on wool type), to raise their broom after their clean-up to stop the clock, before time penalty points are accrued.

"If they get that timing right, they have got a good shot at it but I think in the main it comes down to what they deliver with their oddments and fleeces out the back. That's what can really upset the apple cart," he said.

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.
Image courtesy of Des Williams/NZ Shearing Magazine