Aussie legend goes in search of historic third title

He has shorn all over the world, including the famous Waldorf Hotel on Park Avenue, New York. He's won two World Championships and has a newly-opened exhibition on his shearing career at his local Naracoorte Museum. So, it should be no surprise to find Australian World Championship shearing representative Shannon Warnest is a cheerleader for the wool industry.

"I've shorn in 18 countries and we're still looking at more. There aren't too many other industries that can give you that kind of opportunity. You'd have to be pretty high up as a doctor to go and work in that many countries," he said.

"With shearing you meet the real people. You can travel the world and look at all the fancy sights in the big cities, but you go out in the country to work and listen to the people out there and you soon find out how that country is really going," Warnest said.

But the 2000 and 2005 World Champion does more than just talk a good game. Like so many in the competition shearing world, he gives plenty back, mentoring newcomers to the industry.

"I do a month to six weeks' shearer training every year and the World Champs fell on a week when I was going to run a shearer school on my farm. I usually take 12 to 14 learners through and we've pulled that forward to the middle of this month, so it will be right in the lead-up (to the World Championships)," he said.

"I tell the young fellas that we get somewhere around three dollars a sheep here in Australia. It's going to cost you a dollar by the time you pay your tax. I tell them, you can live on a dollar but you've got to bank a dollar. There are plenty of shearers out there that have shorn half a million or three quarters of a million sheep and have got nothing more than a bag of clothes and an old clapped out car," he said.

Invaluable advice. And Warnest got plenty of that himself in his early days in the shed. He credits his shearing father and Australian shearing icon John Hutchinson as the key influences on his career.

"I always say, Dad taught me how to work because he was a real hard worker and then John Hutchinson taught me the finer points of shearing."

"When I was a young fella I wasn't going that well at school and Dad put me on to a few woolhandling jobs. I did that for a year and was supposed to go back to school but Dad told me if I didn't, I had to find work somewhere."

"I did that for a few years and then started shearing. I went to a shearing school and John Hutchinson was one of the instructors there and he said you should have a go at the shows. I was going alright and was quite happy just cruising along, but I went to the Adelaide show and went OK and got the bug," he said.

That bug has taken him to 12 national titles and two world championships, won with contrasting build-ups in South Africa in 2000 and on home soil in 2005.

"In 2000 I was young, only 26. I was as fit as I'd ever been and building up to the champs really opened my eyes to what your body really needs. We got a heart rate monitor and I went and worked with a boxing trainer and realised you had to train differently to just shed shearing."

"I was feeling good but you never really think you'll win a world championship first time around until it's in your hand. I was 116kgs when I left school at 15, so I wasn't a well-cut lad, but I got my racing weight down to about 94 and I was toned and had my body somewhere I had never been before."

"2005 was different because you had been there and done it before. That was a lot harder to back it up. Everyone was expecting you to do it, because you'd won. I found that quite gruelling."

"If I had walked away from South Africa with a final spot I still would have been happy. But in 2005, walking away with anything but the World Championship meant something had gone wrong. Either I didn't have my body or my mind right. So, to keep working through that was quite hard."

But work through it he did, and after two world titles on fine wool, he now has his sights set on a little bit of history at next month's 40th Anniversary World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill.

"To win a world championship on crossbreds would be special. No one has ever got one of each and it's going to be a long time before someone does. But it's pretty exciting times for me, I'm probably at the stage now that I was in 2000."

"At the last three World Championships, I've made two finals. I missed out in Norway, but to get sixth in Ireland (in 2014) was probably even more satisfying than getting fourth in New Zealand (in 2012) because those Irish sheep are a lot different to anything we can ever get our hands on over here. To make the final over there and not be far off the pace gave me a little bit of inside confidence."

"New Zealand in 2012 was good because we had some corriedales and some long-wools and that was a bit more down my track, but to go right outside the square with those full-on British breeds in Ireland made me feel like I found something that I had never found before," Warnest said.

"Next month, my aim is to make the final six. You can't win a final if you're not in it. I always approach competitions that way. You can't win it from sitting in the grandstand."

"The body is as good as it's been in a few years. We owned the Willalooka Pub for 14 years and we sold that last year and made life a lot simpler. We are farming and shearing and I've got plenty of time to do stuff. I've shorn more in the last four months than I've shorn in the last four years."

"There's shed shearing and then there's competition shearing. It's different to slogging yourself for 40 hours a week in a shearing shed verses twenty minutes in that high intensity final. I reckon I've nearly done enough work out in the sheds now and now it's more or less just building the body up for that high intensity stuff with some match practice."

As you'd expect, with two World titles already to his name, Warnest has a philosophical approach to next month's event.

"If you make the final, you're in the mix. If you have a good one, you will be right on it and if it's not your day, it's not your day. That's how I look at it. This is going to be as good as any World Champs," 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.
Photo courtesy of Emma MacDonald and Sport Shear Australia


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