Let's hear it for the
sheep… - sheep shorn in
International Travel News, August, 1998 by Kevin Keating
The New Zealand tourism authorities
will not let you leave their country
until you have seen at least one
sheep shorn. It's mandatory.
The country once boasted 70 million sheep, yet the number of lively lambs has now dwindled to only 47 million. The good news is the New Zealand cow population is up, yet the numbers of sheep are down. Why? I don't know. Perhaps Bo Peep had something to do with it.
In May I was running through New Zealand like a startled kiwi bird. I was traveling with a group, a dangerous thing to do, as somebody is always shopping and holding up the bus when you want to go out for a beer.
In any event, our cheerful leader gave us the cheerful word: "Bags outside your door at 7 a.m. - we're going to the Agrodome at Ngongotaha to see a sheep shearing."
You can't beg off on these things. If you refuse to go, it's very likely that the Minister of Tourism will subject you to some ancient Maori torture until you are good and sorry.
Well, folks, the Agrodome is a sort of theatrical palace for woolly vaudeville. The star performers are 19 varieties of sheep that are introduced one by one. They follow their great marino leader just like sheep, and trot up on a wide stage where they gobble some animal treat which keeps them pliant and submissive, just as sheep are supposed to be.
They are then chained into fixed positions on a sheepy pyramid, which is the kind of treatment you can expect when you meekly go along with a fuzzy crowd.
These sheep, however, have attended the New Zealand Academy of Dramatic Art and are veteran actors, each and every one. They seem to be slightly bored, and are only pretending to be docile.
Pretty soon there is a flock of chained, wool-bearing animals staring at the audience and, I suspect, feeling just about as sheepish as they look.
A Master of Ceremonies leaps on stage; picks up a microphone and explains who's who in the woolly world. He tells us which breed produces the best wool for suits and sweaters; which type of animal delivers the best wool for carpets and which breed once grew the best wigs for Victorian ladies of fashion and English barristers in the woolly headed days of Empire.
The MC held his hand over the ears of one sheep and whispered, "This fella gives us the best lamb chops, but he won't want to hear that."
The MC then asks if anyone would like to volunteer to shear a sheep. And, wonder of wonders, somebody stands up. Now, not to suggest that this is a setup, or that the volunteer is a paid performer, but it's hard to believe that New Zealanders would hand sharp electric sheep shears to any casual visitor who just happened to fall out of a tour bus.
The "volunteer" is more than accomplished and proceeds to shave a very limp sheep until the animal is naked as a radish. The sheep is then so embarrassed that he (or she) runs off stage. (Wouldn't you?)
Next, a couple of clever sheep dogs bound on the stage for Act II.
They enter with doggy enthusiasm, stage left, herding a trio of geese just to prove that they can.
The lead dog then runs to the topmost boss marino sheep, a huge ram with horns bigger than the bumper on a Buick. The dog jumps on the ram's back and both animals pose triumphant.
The MC shouts: "Let's hear it for the sheep!" and, being as compliant as the critters they are watching, the crowd wildly applauds. They then grin at each other, rather sheepishly, suddenly realizing that they are clapping for animals.
I was a guest of Collette Tours on this run through New Zealand and I'm happy to report that we learned a lot about Maori culture, saw plenty of geysers and boiling mud, and had opportunities to bungle jump, ride a jet speedboat on a whitewater river, cruise one of the country's fjords, sightsee over an alpine glacier and soar in a balloon above a fiat New Zealand plain.
New Zealand's South Island has some of the most spectacular scenery on this planet, according to the tourist bureau. I'll have to take their word for it. It was pouring all over the country when our flock was being herded around, but as our cheery tour leader announced, "We saw more waterfalls than most visitors."
He was right as rain about that.
After the sheep shearing, I boarded the bus like an obedient little lamb. But there was no hurry to leave. All my companions were shopping in the Agrodome. Buying woolly sweaters and sheepskins for the greater glory of New Zealand.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Martin Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
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