A "kaumātua gang" could appear in Hawke's Bay woolsheds as contractors combat an expected shortage of shearers in the busy main shear, set to start late next month.
The idea has been mooted by veteran Napier contractor Brendon Mahony, who could be up to a dozen shearers down at the peak of the season because of the Covid-19 border controls stopping the usual seasonal influx of shearers from the UK.
It could become even worse, with the Australian Federal Government this week relaxing visa and border controls in the hope of filling stands with New Zealand shearers, and rumours a special flight could get them across the Tasman, despite objections from the Australian Workers' Union.
New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association chairman and King Country contractor Mark Barrowcliffe says a survey of members indicates 170 to 200 shearers would be needed here from overseas, but according to reports Australia needs up to 500 from New Zealand.
Barrowcliffe was in touch with government agency staff this week in the hope of getting special recognition to get shearers to New Zealand, including being able to move from one area to another, but time is running out.
He said there's been no movement, and with contractors still having to make application for "critical worker" employer status on an individual basis and shearers needing to make special skills visa applications the options are disappearing day by day.
For most the start of the main shear is just six weeks away – the time in which he believes is the minimum a shearer from the UK would need to go through the application process, fly to New Zealand and go through 14 days of quarantine before finally getting on to the shearing board.
He and Hawke's Bay contractors who rely on overseas shearers to make up the numbers each summer say that the later the arrival the less likely it is that the shearers will want to come, and Mahony says the situation would be exacerbated by the fact "only so many" shearers would be able to come through the border in a week.
Mahony hopes the problem can be overcome with everyone, from farmers to contractors to shearers and other woolshed staff working together, to be prepared to start the season earlier and finish later.
"I won't be getting anyone, it would be wasting my time," he said as he considered the options, and suggested a "kaumatua gang" to help out, comprising shearers who have shorn all their working lives and still keep in trim, some of them still working on a regular basis well into their 70s.
Among them is Charlie Aramakutu, still a regular for Flaxmere contractor Colin Watson Paul, and who was shearing in Central Hawke's Bay on Friday, until the rain set in.
Barrowcliffe said the quarantine time is not the issue, and that everyone has to go through it.
One who is, and who is hoping to be shearing in Hawke's Bay by the start of December, is Emily Te Kapa, born in Scotland, 26-year-old daughter of globetrotting late Kiwi shearer Joe Te Kapa, holder of British and New Zealand passports, and currently near the end of quarantine in Rotorua after arriving last month for what she says is about her eighth season shearing in New Zealand.
She said most UK shearers who would have come to New Zealand this summer seem now resigned to "staying home".
Another hoping to help is wool buyer Maureen Chaffey, who won last year's Women in Wool charity event at the Royal New Zealand Show in Hastings. Joining other women stepping out of the comfort zone of professional occupations, including accountancy, optometry and policing to learn to shear.
She carried on, won two novice shearing competitions during the summer, and recently shore 100 in a day for the first time.
She's got some leave owing in the day job, contractor and Women in Wool organiser Colin Watson Paul has asked if she's available, boss Richard Kells is happy to see her take the time off to go shearing, and she has some incentive.
"I really want to do that 200," she said. "That would be a real goal."