It’s an early spring morning in Arding and the frost is thinning, clinging to the rusty railing outside Ray Williams’ shearing shed.
But this Rocky River boy is used to the brisk New England dawns.
“When I get up in the morning I have my dogs to feed and then I go around the ewes and lambs,” he said.
It’s lambing season now, and Mr Williams has a fair few to check on.
“It’s about 9am before I get in the shed,” he said.
A wool classer by trade, the 85-year-old has been shearing since he was 12 – and he’s still going.
“I learnt to shear as I was leaving school at the ‘Homestead’ property,” he said.
“My father did his own shearing on the ‘Homestead’ block, he was a shearer himself and that’s what started me.”
Despite a long history in the wool industry, Mr Williams said he has only ever shorn in his own shed at his Arding property and at the ‘Homestead’, near Uralla.
“I was a wool classer for many years in NSW and Queensland,” he said.
“I’ve never shorn in another shed or been a shearer that travelled.
“I always did my own shearing until about two years ago when I had to get a crutcher in.
“I cannot do the big wethers and that now because I can’t drag them out … but if you drag them out I can shear them.”
In the past two weeks, Mr Williams has shorn 106 sheep.
And he believes the secret to a long life is hard work.
“Dad used to say ‘hard work never killed anyone but the lack of it will’,” he said.
“Now that was his saying and I do believe it.
“Most of my school mates, when they turned 65 they started playing bowls and lived at the club … but they’re all gone now, well all but one.
“I honestly believe keeping active keeps your mind active and this is why I’m still working and want to keep going.
“I’m happy doing it.
“Even when I go away for a holiday, it gets boring with nothing to do.”
Born and bred at Rocky River, near Uralla, Mr Williams has lived next door at Arding for 58 years.
Over the years, even Mr Williams’ holidays involved shearing.
“Back in the 1990s I took five sheep and four dogs and had six trips to Timbertown (at Waurchope) and demonstrated shearing and working the dogs,” he said.
“It was a good weeks holiday and was paid accommodation down there.
“That was my holiday.”
He also used to work geese.
“I was the only person in the state that I know of that works geese publically,” he said.
“There’s a lot of ducks, but not geese.
“I used to put them through a 44-gallon drum and work them around the showground and I worked 10 dogs loose for years.”
But two years ago he gave it away.
“When you’ve got 10 dogs (to work) you’ve got to have older ones and younger ones coming on so you’d have around 20-odd dogs to feed and it gets to be a lot of work,” he said.
Mr Williams has a “record” 68 years of membership on the Uralla Show committee.
“That’s a record to my knowledge,” he said.
He also has a total of 48 years on the Armidale Show committee.
“I have demonstrated at the shows with dogs but that’s how long that I’ve been joined up,” he said.
“When I left school I was a junior farmer and then the Uralla, Walcha and Armidale Shows had an inter-district competition for the most successful exhibitor to win a trip to Hawkesbury (Agricultural) College for three weeks.
“I was lucky enough to win that.
“When I came back from Hawkesbury College I went into Uralla one day and someone said they had a vacancy on the Uralla committee.
“Back in those days you’d have to wait for someone to leave or die to get on the committee.”
Back in those days you’d have to wait for someone to leave or die to get on the committee.Ray Williams
Mr Williams said many years ago the local show committees would have about 50 people, but these days only about 14 or 15 are signed up.
“I don’t know why the younger generation doesn’t get involved more,” he said.
“Even some of the younger land owners are not getting involved like we used to.”
Mr Williams has a long history working on projects in the local community.
He is one of the founders of the Wool Expo in Armidale.
The event started in 1980 to highlight the region’s wool industry, but finished up in 2013.
He is also the founder of the Armidale Working Sheep Dog Club and was the first president.
“It has been running for 38 years,” he said.
“That’s been my life … entertaining and meeting with other people.”
Mr Williams has also been a Mason for 47 years.
As for his shearing record?
“I’ve shorn 90 lambs myself but I’ve never got to 100 in a day,” he said.
“Normally now I’m working on about 20 to 25 in a day.
“I will admit I sleep tight at night time.
“It’s my life and that’s why I want to really keep active.”
It’s my life and that’s why I want to really keep active.Ray Williams