The Shearer’s Ballet - notes

The CORRIDOR project

During 2016 Patrick Nolan, Scott Saunders, Phoebe Cowdery and Alison Plevey travelled throughout the Central West interviewing shearers for the Shearers Ballet development, funded by the Australia Council. Shearers were documented in Wyangala, Cowra, Canowindra and Grenfell. These illuminating oral histories gave a clear insight into understanding the rituals, mateship and stamina required for the “Sheds”. These histories documented by the team included videography and sound recording. This content has informed The Shearers Ballet which will become a segment of Big Little Histories of Canowindra developed by choreographer Alison Plevey from 2016- 2018. Contributions in this development include local performers, musicians and artists.

Anthony Plevey has been given the reins to edit this content, this material intends to become a legacy of important local oral history to be accessed by communities from the Canowindra, Cowra and Grenfell Historical Societies and National Sound Archives ACT.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous stories shared and participation by retired shearers in the Shearers Oral history documentation, contributors included: Tony Grant, Warren Fisher, Di Gill, John Harper, Bede Farrell, Norm Palazzi, Larry Walsh, Brian Brown, John Niven, Roger Baker, Barry Harris, John O’Loughlin, Neville Condon, Carly Brown, Max Baker, Richard Chalker, Leo Bartholomew, Roger Stendell, Graham Russell, Peter Starr, Don and Keith Capps. Thanks to Anthony for a massive edit!!

Alison Plevey - Choreographer

The wool industry is a vital force for rural Australia and integral to its identity and culture, yet is not often thought of, recorded and shared. Cowra shearer, Norm Palazzi, in 2015 initiated the concept of a creative telling of the work of the shearing shed. He likened the physical actions of those in the shed to a dance and the graceful yet strenuous and patterned movements they made like a choreography. I was instantly inspired to bring this to life as a performance…

To fuel the creative process a dozen active and retired shearers and shed hands from Cowra, Grenfell, Canowindra and region were interviewed by The Corridor Project to collect experiences of the shed. 

In addition, over twenty community members between 2015-2018 have contributed their input in the development of dance and music components for The Shearer’s Ballet. These workshops enabled the creation of sounds, movements and collaboration between young and old, as well artistic development for artists of the Cowra region. 

We will be screening two short films entitled; The life of the shed and An Intimate portrait of a shearer.  We see these films as an ongoing legacy to the community to be shared countless times within and beyond our region.

Films and live performance refer to program for times and locations at the Rail Precinct Canowindra.

The life of the shed - Film

The energy, movement and interactivity within in a shearing shed is something one can only feel and experience. The vitality of the shearing team; the shearers, rouse abouts, skirters, cooks, pressers, classers and shed hands, were and still are, central to the success of the shearing shed. One can’t do their job without the other. It is a team. A team of skill, stamina and grace.

This film echoes the routine of a day in the shed, the tried and tested methods, the fluidity and interactivity that sends the shed into a kind of choreography. I have joyously worked with dancers and musicians of the Canowindra region to celebrate the skill, cooperation and hard-working spirit of this buzzing place.

Concept, choreography and performance: Alison Plevey

Performers: Matthew Davis, Claire Liversidge, Lily Wright, Mila Gower, Georgina Hay and Alison Plevey

Videography and edit: Caitlin Welch

Music: Will Bennett, John Bourke, Pascale Stendell and Mary-ann Wright

Recording: Oliver Statham

Location: the CORRIDOR project Shearing Shed


 This short film invites audiences to experience a close examination of the technique, physique and mentality of a shearer. The body; its movements, strengths, weaknesses and scars, a canvas to reveal stories shared by many shearers throughout regional Australia.

 Concept, choreography and performance: Alison Plevey

Performers: Larry Walsh and Norm Palazzi

Videography and edit: Caitlin Welch

Music: Mary-ann Wright and Will Bennett

Recording: Oliver Statham

Location: the CORRIDOR project Shearing Shed


In researching the wool industry during process of creating The Shearer’s Ballet, I observed historically at least, the absence of women. Where were they whilst the men were in the shed? Where is their voice? What is their dance? 

The men told of the changing times, we’re women’s roles and stereotypes have shifted, and yet on the farm some still remain. Almost akin to men’s and women’s business. In this work I find myself connecting to the feminista in me as well as embracing the proudly feminine acts that I take from my ancestors. Here I find grace, brut and skill in the age-old acts of baking, knitting and sweeping. They permeate my body and trigger my memory. 

Sweep, mix and knit with me as we journey through the shed…Concept, choreography and performance: Alison Plevey

3 PLY - segment 3 performance concept and collaboration Alison Plevey, Phoebe Cowdery.

Installation: selfRAISING - Phoebe Cowdery

Music: Will Bennett

Shearer’s interview film: Anthony Plevey

Spin A Yarn: stories from the shearing shed fILM

As you wander the Long Shed at the Canowindra Rail Precinct you will see and hear stories projected onto surfaces from shearer’s in the community who in the research and development of the Shearers Ballet have shared their experiences, joys and struggles of life as a shearer.

Videography and Sound Recording: Patrick Nolan + Phoebe Cowdery + Scott Saunders + Alison Plevey

Editing: Anthony Plevey

Interviewees: We gratefully acknowledge the generous stories and participation in the Shearers Oral history documentation. Contributors: Tony Grant, Warren Fisher, Di Gill, John Harper, Bede Farrell, Norm Palazzi, Larry Walsh, Brian Brown, John Niven, Roger Baker, Barry Harris, John O’Loughlin, Neville Condon, Carly Brown, Max Baker, Richard Chalker, Leo Bartholomew, Roger Stendell, Graham Russell, Peter Starr.

Alison Plevey Shearers Ballet.jpg
Chloe and Jason Roweth.JPG

Chloë & Jason Roweth - Bushranger and Shearers Music

Chloë & Jason Roweth been researching and presenting the living tradition of Australian music for over twenty years. Drawing their inspiration from the warmth of old-style bush entertainment and folklore, the Roweths work with vibrant arrangements of new and old traditional Australian ballads and work songs, early country music, original music, poetry, yarns, and dance tunes weaving together and carrying forward diverse threads of the Australian tradition. They also specialise in themed presentations, forging unique combinations of music, folklore and social history.

As part of the Big Little Histories of Canowindra event, The Roweths will be sharing short presentations of music and poetry on the themes of ‘Bushranger’ and ‘Agriculture’.

Central-West NSW has a rich bushranging history, and a great treasury of songs, poetry, folklore and oral history relating to the exploits of Frank Gardiner - "The King of the Road", Johnny Gilbert - "The Flash Lad" and Ben Hall, amongst others, reflects the area’s keen interest in the subject.

For many years Australia rode on the sheep’s back, and a multitude of songs were written on the subject of shearing and the life of itinerant workers, or swagmen, and the challenges they faced out on the track. Also preserved are many stories offering a rare insight into the life of bush workers and backblocks farmers, the details of their everyday work and personal motivations. And through it all are the tunes, played for dances on the mud flats and in the small halls dotted around the district.