Is this the most unusual job ever done while listening to an audiobook?

by Kit Munro

Today I have been shearing sheep while reading/listening to The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

Readers of this blog may have picked up a bit of a pattern  to the books I choose to read; I am a fan of books that entertain me while informing me. This is probably Jim Flynn’s influence I suspect.

Anyway, the point being, I know little of South Africa and I suddenly decided that I wanted to learn. My knowledge is pretty much limited to knowing South Africa  had a thing called Apartheid. It is hard to be a New Zealander and not have heard of Apartheid because of this. I also know that South Africa has the best blade shearers in the world. So not much to go on really. The Power of One, being a popular, easy to read novel seemed like the perfect place to start. Even if it is a little out of date.

The Power of One follows Peekay as he grows up in South Africa in the 1940s. Courtenay states that the book had an autobiographical foundation but that it ultimately went much beyond that. With Peekay as my guide, while shearing, I was introduced to the tension between Afrikaners and English South Africans, the endemic racism, and the beauty of South Africa. I also encountered South African plants, prisons and boarding schools. All this with a story that at times made me almost forget I was shearing.

Peekay’s thoughts on seeing a prison for the first time made me think of a prison visit I once went on. The prison had just been built and nobody had “moved in” yet. The buildings all looked very nice. The place was empty, clean and brand new (some of the accommodation even had underfloor heating) but everything felt wrong. Maybe it is because I had been told what the place was, Courteney offers a different explanation:

I had never seen a prison, nor had I even imagined one, but there is a racial memory in man that instinctively knows of these things. The architecture of misery has an unmistakable look and feel about it.

The sheep I have been shearing today are a breed called Merino. They are grown for wool, not meat.

Come to think of it, there is quite a good arrangement we have with them on this farm. We keep them alive until they finally succumb to old age. In return they let us shear their wool off them once a year. We let them live to their appointed age, many last 12 or 13 years, and they tolerate spending 4 minutes or so a year having their wool removed.

Two sheep waiting to be shorn

Two sheep waiting to be shorn, except now one has to wait another 365 days.

This wool then is a nice product, in that nothing is harmed in the getting of it. Harvesting wool may not be the most unusual thing ever done while listening to an audiobook. In fact I hope not! I would be pleased to hear otherwise…


I found my copy of Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.