WHEN Warwick's Dave Wyllie lost his right arm in a car crash, he was determined to return to work in the shearing sheds.
With weekends of tinkering away, the 57-year-old designed a specially-built attachment for a prosthetic arm that allowed him to do just that.
The father of four returned to shearing in 2005 - just two years after losing his arm - making him the only sheep worker in Australia to work with an artificial limb.
Now, Mr Wyllie is doing the same for wool classing, a passion he is returning to after 16 years.
"I'd done the whole shearing bit and had gone through three arms for shearing,” he said.
"I started thinking 'well, I'm getting older, I'm 57 and I don't need to be shearing and doing so much of that hard work'.
"So I thought I could get back to wool classing as I had worked as a qualified wool classer for a long time as well.
"The next step then was to develop the arm for wool classing, so I cut the shearing part off it and just started working out what I might need to be able to stand on the tables and skirt fleeces.”
Mr Wyllie took his prototype classing arm down to a wool shed at Hay in south western New South Wales where he was penning sheep.
"I'd been doing the penning, with the help of some kelpies of course, and thought I'd give the new arm a go,” Mr Wyllie said.
"Like it had been with the shearing arm, it was so successful that a mate of mine, Glenn Richardson, said he had no hesitation in hiring me as a wool classer.
"Glenn is one of the biggest wool contractors in Australia, he'll shear anywhere from Winton to Tasmania.”
With an education degree behind him, Mr Wyllie had worked as a substitute teacher around the Warwick district before developing his prosthetic shearing arm.
Even though he enjoyed teaching, he said he was always eager to return to the sheds.
"I had been working in the industry since I was about 16 or 17, so that's where my passion had been for 40 years,” Mr Wyllie said.
"I had gone through Longreach Agricultural College and had worked as a jackaroo throughout western Queensland and that's how I got my start.
"Not long after I lost my arm the doctors had asked me if I had thought about a prosthetic and I said I'd only want one for shearing.
"When I developed the arm it was just pretty much me and my mates, a lot of whom were shearing contractors, sitting down and working out what could give me enough to be able to shear again.
"Then I took the prototype, which was just scrap metal to the right people who built it out of stainless steel and attached it.”
Five years on, Mr Wyllie went to a world championship shearing competition in front of thousands in Wales, an experience he said was "like shearing in front of Suncorp Stadium.”
He said he was excited to get on the road this week to return to the world of sheep classing.
"I'll be travelling quite a bit for the job, I'm headed down to New South,” Mr Wyllie said.
"I'm pretty lucky at the moment that I've got one son at home with us, two kids at boarding school and my oldest in Brisbane, that I don't mind being away as much.
"With the sheep industry the way it is, you can't stay in one place, because numbers have declined so much.
"I'm happy I've had the opportunity to get out of the classroom and back to the bush, because the sheep industry is my passion.”
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