The woolshed wars subject of author talk

Former central west journalist Mark Filmer has documented the history of the wide comb shearing dispute in his book Three Steel Teeth Wide Comb Shears and Woolshed Wars.

The dispute lasted about four years and was one of Australia's most bitter, violent and protracted industrial disputes.

Mark will be talking about this violent chapter in our rural history at Cowra Library on Wednesday, November 27 at 2pm.

Mark explains the issue in dispute was the width of the combs shearers used to shear sheep.

"Since the 1920s, there had been a width restriction of 64 mm, but in the early 1980s a small group of shearers started using wider combs (typically 86 mm with three extra teeth) because they found them easier to use and more productive," he said.

"This was significant because shearers were paid on the basis of how many sheep they shore, not how many hours they worked. It was also significant that wide combs were introduced into Australia by New Zealand shearers."

Central West residents may not realise the campaign to introduce wide combs was led by Robert White (1944-1986), a shearing contractor from Mandurama.

The Australian Workers' Union which represented shearers, was strongly opposed to wide combs and fought to prevent them being approved.

"White's advocacy for wide combs cost him dearly-he and his shearing teams were attacked and bashed several times by union thugs. Occasionally White had to sleep in police lock-ups for his own safety," Mark said.

The dispute included an eight-week national shearing strike from March to May 1983.

"The strike ended when union shearers realised the national flock was being shorn without them. By staying on strike they would lose valuable contracts. When they returned to work, many union shearers started using wide combs and quickly realised they were far superior to the standard (narrow) gauge combs they had favoured," Mark said.