World champion wool-handler Joel Henare of Ngāti Porou is preparing for his NZ swansong before leaving the world of wool handling.
“It's more about the bragging rights I think and a good pat on the back that you've done something right, you've got it right to the best of your ability," says Henare, "It's always about winning, no one ever goes to a competition to get second.”
The 27-year-old grew up around the shearing sheds and for his family wool-handling is generational.
“My grandmother, my mother, they were all rouseys, my grandmother was a 'fleeco' back then as they called themselves. I remember my nan talking about Tuini (Ngāwai), saying they'd be on camp-out, staying at stations and everyone would be having tea and Tuini would be somewhere up in the paddock composing a song.”
With over 100 titles in wool-handling including two world individual championships, Henare says that for Māori the hands-on nature of the work comes naturally.
“We like to get in there and do things, we're not talkers, we like to get in there and show what we can do rather than sit around the table and talk about it...hence the reason that your world champion shearer and wool handler are Māori and just so happen to be from the East Coast.”
Henare is stepping away from the sport to focus on a new career path and spend more time with his children.
He says wool-handling is a good pathway for rangatahi Māori to get into and can lead to opportunities beyond work.
“You don't need qualifications to walk in here and get paid and start doing it. You can learn on the job and as you go along and progress you can get qualified at this job, get a tohu and understand what you're doing and get more knowledge of it.”
Henare will compete in the Golden Shears in Masterton at the end of the month.
If selected, Henare will represent Aotearoa one last time at the World Shearing Championships to be held in France in June.