AFTER almost six decades in the wool game, Geoff Templeton still loves his work. And he's not about to give it up, writes ALEX SAMPSON
Geoff Templeton started out in shearing sheds when he was 14.
At first he was the rouseabout. Then, at 17, he became a shearer.
"My uncle was a pretty big shearer in Western Australia and, as a young bloke, it's all I wanted to do," Geoff said.
"My dad shore part-time and it was just something that always interested me."
Geoff left school when he was 13 1/2 and worked as an apprentice baker for six months but did not like the work.
"It wasn't for me," he said.
"But in those days you couldn't go shearing full-time, so I worked rabbiting, hay-carting, and even grave-digging as well.
"Shearing didn't become a full-time job until the 1970s, whereas now it's 11 1/2 months if you want to follow it."
Geoff has seen some pretty big changes in the industry.
"When I was 14 we had the old diesel engines driving the overhead gears," he said.
"There were the old hand presses as well.
"The biggest and best change to the industry has been the mobile phone."
It wasn't an easy start for Geoff.
"When I was rouseabouting in NSW it was pretty strange," he said. "I knew no one and we worked in sheds with kerosene lamps and drop toilets."
But once he got started, Geoff was shearing every day for decades. He even married a contractor's daughter.
"I had to marry her to get the good contracts!" he joked.
Growing up in Dunkeld, Geoff worked in sheds around the district before landing his first contract.
"I moved to Griffith to work for a contractor there," he said.
"His name was Peter McRae and he gave me my start."
After that Geoff returned to the Dunkeld area to work for Percy Riddle.
In 1960 Geoff married Percy's daughter Karolyn and they settled in Dunkeld.
Eight years later Geoff went into partnership with Percy - a union that lasted more than a decade, before Geoff got his big break after buying out a big contractor, Paddy Brophy.
"That's when I started out big-time," he said.
"We did sheds in NSW, around Griffith and Broken Hill, and all around the western districts."
In 1989 Geoff took a brief detour and bought a pub in Warrnambool.
"My son Chris ran the business for me, but we didn't stay long," he said.
"It was something I thought I just had to try, but it was a bad decision.
"I didn't like the pub at all and went back into shearing.
"I never really left it, to be honest."
"But when you've been living in a place like Warrnambool, it's hard to leave.
"We couldn't go back to Dunkeld, so we settled where we were.
"I kept our little place in Dunkeld and still travel there two times a week for work."
Geoff and Karolyn now have 10 grandchildren.
Geoff is hoping that at least one is interested in shearing.
"It's a great life," he said.
His son Chris started out in shearing sheds when he was 15 and worked with Geoff, running the business, for 20 years.
Geoff's other son, Jamie, started shearing when he was a teenager. He is now an agricultural liaison officer in Swan Hill. He has been running investigations into the theft of fuel and equipment from farms.
Geoff was chuffed when Jamie and a colleague recovered 250 head of cattle that had been stolen from saleyards in Victoria and NSW.
Jamie said of his father: "It is a testament to his people skills and management that Dad has been able to remain as a contractor for so long and, in particular, to keep doing the same sheds over many decades.
"One particular place out of Dunkeld presented Dad with a gold watch after he had been doing the shed for more than 30 years.
"Places like Yarram Park near Willaura, a well-known pastoral holding, have stayed with him for more than 30 years." Geoff no longer shears but he works every day of the year, despite having recently turned 72.
He still runs his own contracting business, Homestead Shearing, and employs up to 50 shearers, cooks, pressers, rouseabouts and wool classers.
They shear more than 600,000 sheep a year.
Geoff runs teams across the state to shear year-round.
"I have great clients who are really loyal and stick with me," he said.
"I also have a great group of workers who have been good to me and keep coming back.
"And you're only as good as your men."
After a career spanning 58 years, he still loves it.
"I'm still contracting sheds I shore at in 1958.
"I just keep plugging along because I really do enjoy what I do.
"I'll do it forever - there's a few years left in me yet."
Despite all the hard physical labour, Geoff's body is in good nick.
"I have a great back that has done me well," he said.
"But shearing does knock the old body about.
"I had a hip replacement a year ago and I'm still very fit.
"I leave Warrnambool at 5.30am every day and don't head for home until about 6pm."
Geoff is not interested in slowing down.
He's still makes himself known around Victoria.
"I've got a business to be seen about and I try to visit all the sheds at least twice a week," he said.
"If the boys are working on the weekend, I'll be there too."