Way out the back of nowhere the old and derelict Mangatoi Station Woolshed is in the process of being returned to its former glory as one of the most interesting of the historical NZ woolsheds. These photos have been taken with the restoration just begun. So what is a woolshed or a shearing shed and where is Mangatoi Station. Mangatoi is a remote place hidden among steep hills up the Mokau River and in it's former days was only accessible by boat. And a woolshed is where sheep are shorn, men are tough and stories are true. Wool was in the early times a very important part of the NZ colonial economy and sheds large and small were built all over New Zealand. Only a few of the really early ones remain.
The Mangatoi Station Woolshed.
The first thing you notice about this woolshed is that it is actually two sheds. The old woolshed with the red roof and a barn built on the front. That row of doors is where the sheep high-tail it out of the shed into the counting pens (no longer there) when the shearer has finished shearing them. In this image there are six doors, but hidden out of sight there is another five doors so that's eleven shearers and if each shearer was averaged around 150 sheep per day that's a couple of thousand a day which is a lot of sheep so there were a lot of sheep up here in the old days when Mangatoi was a sheep station as shearing would go on for days to finish the job. Now it just runs cattle and honey bees...
The holding pens...
So; how did a shearing shed or woolshed work in the old days. This is how I remember it when I worked in them. The musterers's would muster the sheep and bring them into the yards beside the shed. They'd be drafted into groups and put into the holding pens. As many as possible would be put inside the shed the night before. You can't shear a wet sheep... actually you can't bale the wool because the wool will catch on fire and burn down the wool shed... so if it rains overnight then there is at least one shed full of dry sheep to get on with in the morning. Note the boards have gaps between them to allow the shit to fall through. They should install them in parliament! Anyway, anyway... moving on!
The shearing board. There are six shearing stations on the immediate left and another five at the far end on the right. They are usually all on one side but this shed was modified when the barn was added to the original shed.
The shearing board is where the shearers and the sheep get together in a one-sided battle that leaves the sheep bald and bewildered and the shearer with a sore back. Fleeco's pick up the wool and take it to the sorting table. To the right are the holding pens and the doors through which each shearer drags a reluctant even-toed ungulate to be shorn.
One of the doors from the pen to the shearing board. The door was sprung-loaded outwards so the shearer could drag a sheep on it's back through the door without having to use his hands to open or close the door. The shearers often liked to stencil their names and dates around the shed using the stencils and black paint that the station used for naming the wool bales.
The shearing gang consisted of shearer's, fleeco's and cooks. They stayed on the property, cooked their own meals and had a standard daily routine of breakfast, shearing, morning smoko, more shearing, lunch, shearing, afternoon smoko, wondering when the day would end, lots of beer, dinner of mutton (killed the previous night on the station) and spuds, more fags and then loud snoring. The shearers were the king pins and the best or 'gun' shearer... who sheared the biggest tally in one day... had the best shearing spot at one end of the board and the rest had a descending hierarchy along the board.
In the foreground on the floor is the drive shaft for the power driven shearing hand pieces. It was normally mounted on the wall above the shearer. In it's very early days it is more than likely the shearers in this shed used hand shears until the hand pieces were powered. As an aside I used to visit the shearing sheds in the Southern Alps of the South Island high country in the 1970's when I was catching deer there. Because the cold climate in the mountains the shearers were still using hand shears because they left more wool on the sheep to protect them from the cold.
The drive shaft was mounted above the shearing board and the wheels were used to drive the handpieces. Once the shearer had the sheep ready to shear he would pull down on a rope to engage the handpiece from the drive and pull it again to stop once he had finished. The drive shaft was powered by a L. A. Lister D-type petrol engine... manufactured at Dursley in the south west of England and commonly used in wool sheds throughout NZ. The engine and it's flywheel, that drove a belt up to the overhead drive shaft, are on the right. These engines mainly converted petrol into noise and made the shed noisier than a fat lady about to be stabbed to death in a tragic opera... this is just a metaphor regarding the level of noise and inserted for effect - as far as I know no fat ladies were ever stabbed to death in a shearing shed.
This is the table on which a fleece is put and tidied up... remove skirting wool, dags, grass, thistles, bits of fence and anything else before being baled up in wool sacks. Shearing is a combination of ballet, taekwondo and pilates; swearing, sweating, bending, being kicked and loud farting. The shearer manoeuvres the sheep in such a way that it can't escape and at the same time removing all the wool in a way that the fleece stays together in one piece while not injuring the sheep by cutting it. My attempts at shearing usually resulted in a partially shorn and bleeding sheep escaping my vice like grip and bolting around inside the shed scattering people and things everywhere. This is regarded as unhelpful by everyone else and more akin to rap dancing than ballet.
The Sandow Wool Press - made in Mr Geo Cummins factory in Marton, New Zealand.
The far box had an empty wool bale put in it. Both compartments were filled with wool fleeces, the near box was up-ended on top of the other and the hand winch used to compress both together into one bale. The top was stitched on, the name of the station was stencilled onto the bale and that was that... ready to get taken down to the river, loaded on a small river boat and taken to the coast at Mokau. At the wool store prior to being exported two bales would be further compressed into one and held together with steel bands. I used to drive trucks from the wool stores in Bluff to the wharfs with compressed bales. Bluff is on the bottom of the South Island close to Antarctica.
It's kind of nostalgic but whenever I go into a woolshed these days the lingering aroma of lanolin from the wool which gets into everything, brings back good memories and bad hangovers... LOL!