Images of life around the woolsheds

By Chrissie Goldrick 16 November 2012
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It’s not just the shears that go ‘click’ on Andrew Chapman’s 36-year photographic mission through Australia’s woolsheds.

DOCUMENTING THE WEAR, TEAR and texture of old shearing sheds has become Andrew Chapman’s life’s work. He’s photographed hundreds since his first attempt in central Victoria in 1976.

“Inside this rudimentary dwelling, dim rays of light traversed half-open doors and small louvered windows, invoking a dramatic atmosphere – as a photographer, I was hooked,” Andrew says.

Woolsheds and sheep shearing culture

Over the years, he’s roamed far and wide photographing both the structures of woolsheds and the people that work in them. “The wool industry, with its rich heritage, is prominent in our culture and national psyche,” says Andrew, “and its woolsheds bear the marks and scars of time.” While exploring around Hay, NSW, for new sheds to shoot, Andrew dropped in to see Kaye Morrison who, along with her husband Andrew, organises shearing contracts across much of south-western NSW.

“My husband’s off shearing at Cooinbil shed near Coleambally, but you won’t be interested in that shed, it’s too new,” Kaye said. “We’ve got 28 shearers working down there.” All those shearers in a row was worth a look, so Andrew pulled up at the shiny new shed a couple of hours later. “Right next to it, to my big surprise, the old shed was still standing, used for housing huge mobs of sheep, prior to shearing,” he says.

A further surprise awaited within. Like a giant obelisk stood an old Ferrier’s Woolpress surrounded by sheep. The early 20th-century double-box woolpress had been left in situ as a testament to the past. Andrew was taking snaps when Andrew Morrison appeared from out of the sheep pens to suggest that he might prefer to shoot the scene at first light when the sun peaks through and the sheep kick up a bit of dust.

Capturing images of a shearing shed

Andrew’s schedule didn’t allow for an overnight stay then, but he returned to the shed a year later. “I slept overnight in the shearers’ quarters, got up in the early morning light and made my way over to the shed. I set up my camera on my tripod and waited for sunrise.

Andrew Morrison was true to his word, and as the first rays of the day eked their way through the crevices and windows of the old tin shed, the sheep shifted around and the dust started rising and dancing in the shafts of soft light. “What a sight,” Andrew says, “and well worth the wait.”

This article was published in
Australian Geographic issue 107, March-April 2012.
To buy
Around the Sheds visit one of the Australian Geographic stores or order a copy here.