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The Man From Ettrick - World Shearing Record Holder Luke Vernon

An Australia-based shearer from tiny Central Otago horticultural township Ettrick has become the first person to shear 500 merino ewes in an eight-hour record attempt.

But it’s only the start for 28-year-old Luke Vernon, who reckons he shore “like shit” for most of the day before the drama of the last run on Friday at Thornton Park, Wandering, in the West Australian wheatbelt and about 120km southeast of Perth.

Targeting the record of 497 set by former Hawke’s Bay shearer Lou Brown in 2019, Vernon entered the last two hours two-down, after successive runs of 120, 125, and 125 from the 7am start, and needing the biggest-ever two-hour run in merino ewes records history to get it over the line.

But, with mentor Michael-James “MJ” Terry at his side throughout all 480 minutes on the board he locked it in less than three minutes before the 5pm knock-off, and finished with 130 for the run.

Suspense had been the name of the game, for 24 hours earlier, the first sample wool-weigh shear before a judging panel convened by Northern Hawke’s Bay official Bart Hadfield, as the statutory judge from outside Australia, failed to meet the minimum average requirement of 3.4kg per ewe, although it was achieved in two following shears.

Vernon’s not committing to anything yet for the future, although the nine-hour record of 540 shorn by fellow-Kiwi Floyd Neil in West Australia a year ago dangles tantalisingly within reach, based on Friday’s hourly rate of 62.5 an hour or one ewe every 57.6 seconds.

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“A week off, back into the gym, and keep myself ready,” said Vernon, an ex-boarder at Dunstan High School, Alexandra, who had been a shepherd at Lime Hills, Miller’s Flat, when he made the move to Australia looking for farm work, and started planting trees “around Perth.”

He then got a job pressing for Katanning contractor Terry, who after six months sent him to shearing school, and put him on a stand soon afterwards.

His only previous shearing experience was while shepherding and crutching lambs for the freezing works, and he said: “There’s always an opportunity around the corner. Honestly, I can’t rule anything out.”

It takes a lot of help, which on Friday was headed by Terry, who is still the holder of the two-stand record, set in 2003 with brother Cartwright, who held the solo record until Brown’s record four years ago.

Among the others were Neil’s father, Roger Neil, from Taumarunui and himself a former multi-stand record holder, woolhandlers Maria Ormsby, “on the broom” and originally from Rotorua, and Raven Waitere, Cyaniquah Rangawhenua and Santi Hemopo, and Pope Hick, the “expert” on the gear.

Others key to the record bid were contractor Rob Christinelli, of Pingelly Shearing, for whom he has shorn for the last five years out of Pingelly, and Thornton Park owners Dougal and Ashes Young.

The record, better than any tally Vernon had ever done in the woolshed, was the latest in a series of nine successful solo shearing record attempts in Australia and New Zealand in the last 16 months, dating back to breaking of the men’s solo eight-hours strongwool lambs record twice in two days in New Zealand just before Christmas 2022.

In the latest summer all four women’s solo eight and nine hours strongwool ewes and lambs records were broken in New Zealand, and there’s more to come, with Australian shearer Jeanine Kimm aiming to establish a women’s eight-hours merino ewes record on May 4 in New South Wales.

The World Sheep Shearing Records Society also has two more solo strongwool record attempts booked for August in England, with English shearer Nick Greaves targeting New Zealand shearer Jack Fagan’s eight hours lambs record of 754 and Scottish shearer Una Cameron chasing the women’s nine-hours ewes record of 458 set in in the South Island by King Country shearer Sacha Bond in February.

Vernon is planning to head back to New Zealand for pre-lamb shearing in Central Otago.

© Scoop Media

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