IF YOU can master the art of shearing, you will be able to do pretty much anything.
That's the opinion of police liaison officer Laurie Bateman, who is heading up the Cunnamulla Blue Light Shearing Team - a program geared at guiding young minds towards positive futures.
Laurie describes shearing, and wool handling, as a "tool” that teaches young men and women a range of life skills.
"Everyone struggles when they first learn to shear a sheep,” he said.
"The first week is the hardest; it's a physical and mental challenge.
"You have to do a lot of soul searching in those early days when the body starts to hurt and your mind is giving away ... so you need to start thinking. It's about co-ordinating your hands, feet, mind and eyes.”
By learning to master a completely unique and difficult skill, teenagers build self-confidence and gain wisdom for problem solving any future obstacles they might face. It also puts them on the right track to find employment and stay out of trouble.
There is no better lesson than learning to work with livestock.
"If you have the sheep in the right position it won't kick - if it's out of position, it will kick,” he said.
"If we can teach young people early on to do this, to do a bit of hard yakka, they will find learning something else very easy.
"We have taught them how to work for one, taught them how to control their emotions and to use their mind.”
Before becoming Cunnamulla's police liaison officer, Laurie dedicated most of his life to the wool industry.
He was a full-time shearer until he was 39, then became a shearing instructor working with indigenous youth in New South Wales.
The formation of the Cunnamulla Blue Light Shearing team had been a community effort, he said.
Local producers Carol and Lindsay Godfrey donate their stock and woolshed on their property Tinnenburra, Australian Wool Innovation provides expert instructors, Cunnamulla school's Karen Campbell helps co-ordinate the students and Suzanne Eustace -Earle from the Hope Project, has been a supporter of the initiative since the beginning.
Male and female students aged between 15 and 18 are allowed to get involved, however there are some strict requirements.
"They have to have a good attendance at school,” Laurie said.
"And from the police side of it, they have to be good out on the streets as well. We are using the program as a bit of a carrot to them.”
The team also has the opportunity to travel to rural shows and compete in shearing competitions.
"There are five or six shows in Queensland that we will take them along to,” he said.
"This teaches them to become competitive within themselves.
"When they get back to our shearing shed they will want to get better at it after competing, it builds a competitive nature.
"It also gives us more time to mentor them along the way, to surround them with positive people. We will take our swags, camp ovens and will camp on the way down there and on the way back.”
Already the shearing program has had great success in providing the wool industry with keen new talent.
"We have had three or four who have gone on to become shearers,” he said.
"It works well in this region because it's a sheep region. So people don't have to go too far to find work.”
And for the kids who opt to choose another career path, Laurie has no doubts the agricultural experience has helped them too.
"I have seen it before, you can change the direction of a young person's life just by surrounding them with positive people and positive ideas,” he said.
The program has been supported by Education Queensland, Rural Queensland Training (RTO), Outback Rural Training and Arthur Hartley from Skill Centre Queensland.
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