Continuing our series on young women in wool meet Caitlin Hepper our Australia Day guest blogger
‘The hum of the motors rouse me
As I feel the shed erupt,
For 7am has come around
And we know that we have found
The place where we belong’
Verse 1: I Belong Here (Caitlin Heppner, 2014)
Being Barossa born and bred I grew up surrounded by viticulture and it wasn’t until I was 10 that I discovered sheep and wool, when I met the Australian Shearing and Wool Handling Team at Portree Station. Up until that day I had never set foot into an operational shearing shed, and little did I know how much I would fall in love with it. Shannon Warnest, Jason Wingfield and John Dalla were the shearers and Mel Morris and Debbie Chandler were the wool handlers. I remember sitting on the catching pen rails, watching everyone, totally engrossed in the atmosphere until I couldn’t see anything…. Jason had thrown a fleece over me and the feel of the wool and the pungent aroma of the lanolin felt like home. In that moment I knew my life would revolve around the wool industry. So at 10 years of age I began working as a rouseabout in local sheds. At 14 I learnt to shear and was competing in shearing and wool handling competitions and at 18 I fulfilled my dream and became a registered Australian Wool Classer.
But of course, my story is a lot more than that. I went to Nuriootpa High with a passion for agriculture and technology. I was introduced to showing cattle, both at school and through a Santa Gertrudis stud, and attended country shows, the SA Junior Heifer Expo and the Royal Adelaide Show. At these shows I also entered handlers and junior judging competitions. As a handler I have placed in every competition I entered (bar one), winning champion 3 times and winning the beef cattle junior judging at the Melrose Show in 2014 and Reserve Champion at Crystal Brook in 2016. Showing cattle can be glamorous however most people forget the extremely early starts and wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of prime cow manure removed every day!
As much as I enjoy cattle, it is sheep directing my career. I completed my secondary schooling in 2016 through a full-time school based traineeship in Cert IV Wool Classing; working with a shearing contractor in outback SA and NSW. I worked as a wool handler under a Master Classer.
By June I had completed my senior shed and in July I gained my wool classing stencil. Leaving home at the beginning of last year was a massive step but choosing to complete my secondary education the way I did was the best decision I ever made. I not only got a head start in my career but I made many industry contacts and got the chance to live and work in some amazing parts the country.
Soon after receiving my AW stencil I decided to give fleece judging a try. Never did I imagine I would come out as the 2016 State Champion Merino Fleece Junior Judge! I can certainly say I feel at home working with wool, and I hope I have the same amount of success when I head to the National Finals later this year.
I’ve always enjoyed helping and teaching people. I loved being a mentor for my school’s steer and merino teams and in 2014 I was awarded the Australian Defence Force Long Tan Award for leadership and teamwork. In 2015 I was SA’s inaugural representative at Country to Canberra, an initiative that focuses on gender inequality and empowering young rural women. While I was in Canberra, I met an amazing group of girls, all who were extremely passionate about gender equality. Their interests ranged from STEM (Science, Technology, English and Maths) Fields, through to Rural Mental Health and Feminism. Together, we learnt how to deal with gender stereotypes and just how powerful women can be!
Canberra gave me a chance to be a youth voice for our farmers and the agricultural issues they face daily.
As a consequence of Country to Canberra I am in the planning stages of an advocacy campaign called Farmers Not Forgotten, which will aim to raise awareness of agricultural issues with the community and Canberra politicians.
I am only 18 years old but I know my future lies with wool. I hope to continue as a wool classer, run my own merino stud (and maybe a brahman herd to keep up my cattle skills!), encourage more youth into agriculture, and to bridge the gap between the producer and the consumer. As the title of my poem says: “I belong here.”
The place where where I belong