Holder of the Falkland Islands women’s shearing record of 355 sheep, first lady to win the Rose Bar Speed Shear in 2022 and a record of shearing 408 belly crutched ewes, Rhian Alazia’s achievements in the world of shearing cannot go unnoticed.
But the 25-year-old Falkland Islander, looking to get her truck licence also has a love of cooking, crocheting and is hoping to start a new job at the school very soon.
Rhian tells me as we sit down for coffee, “every break I get from work,” currently at the Rose Bar, “I’m going and working on my house, doing bits of the floor and the interior.”
This is a house that along with her Dad’s, Tex Alazia, help she has built by hand. “I’m just going to do bits when I can afford it. It’ll be a very slow process but I don’t mind because then I don’t owe anybody anything.
“It’s all paid for which is good. I don’t have a mortgage to worry about. I saved up all my money from five shearing seasons.”
Whether Rhian moves into the house herself one day or rents it out she says “it’s still going to be all mine that I’ve worked really hard for.”
The shearing world Rhian has been part of for much of her adult life is something she got into as a child living at Port Edgar, West Falkland, “I’m the youngest of three girls, and I’m pretty sure Dad just wanted one of us to be a shearer.
“None of the other two were, so it had to be me,” she laughs as she goes on to explain, “my Dad’s quite a good shearer, he’s done it for years. I used to watch him and say ‘I really wanna do that.’
“I used to beg him constantly to let me have a go, to just do a little bit.
“I did just the last bit then a little bit more and a little bit more, before I knew it, it was the whole sheep.”
These early experiences in shearing meant that after a year at college Rhian felt like she wasn’t going any further so decided to head home and earn some money instead.
She spent a season on the farm getting more experience before Paul Phillips gave her a job in his shearing gang. She has also had the opportunity to travel, and has shorn in England, Scotland and Australia.
And Rhian’s achievements speak for themselves: 355 hogs, which gained her the Falkland Islands Women’s Record; 408 belly crutched ewes “it’s not a proper tally but I had a blast that day”; 300 wethers “that was a hard day.”
Noting the shearing is typically a male dominated industry I ask Rhian whether she has been treated any differently being a woman.
“It’s a hard one because you’re not really in the same group as the men. Because you’re not a rousie you’re not really included in a lot of their stuff either. You just have to find common ground.
“I always got on really well with the girls, if you look after the rousies they’ll look after you.
“The boys are easy to get on with. Some of them would get a bit annoyed if you beat them and I’ve had a couple of drunken disagreements. But that wasn’t ever really with people from here. That was people who don’t really know me.
“Everyone just sort of gets on with their own stuff. I’ve never felt singled out.”
There was one experience, shearing in Cumbria, England, where she faced a different attitude, “shearers swear a lot but because I was a woman I wasn’t allowed. That was a bit weird, they were really funny about a lot of stuff. It was like going back 100 years.
“Even though I could shear and do more than some of them, they had no respect for me.”
Fortunately though listening to Rhian talk, this occasion seems to be the outlier and generally she has never been treated any differently for being a women in the shearing world, with female shearers being more common in Scotland and Australia.
Rhian has moved into Stanley recently, after living at Port Edgar her whole life, as she fancied a change.
She has been adjusting to the different way of life “I’m getting good at remembering to lock the door,” she brought her horses and retired sheepdog into town with her too, “the dog, Bailey, loves it because she’s in the house now!”
But growing up on the West meant Rhian have a very different childhood to most, “I was really lonely, but I didn’t know I was. I would make up games and play by myself,” her two older sisters both being in Stanley House by the time Rhian was four.
She would be roped into helping her parents on the farm until she was old enough to stay home alone to do homework.
Taught by travelling camp teachers, she says Wendy Reynolds was “my favourite.”
“She taught me how to sew and cook, and if Mum and Dad were working late she’d come up to the house and cook supper and put me to bed.
“She was like a grandma, but she was still a proper teacher. She was strict but fair.”
Experiences like these, as well as helping out with cooking and cleaning after her parent’s divorce helped shape Rhian to take care of herself, “by the time I went to college I was ahead of all my friends because they had been living off their parents.”
Rhian says that now her and her fiancé split the housework evenly, “taking out the bins will always be a man’s job though” she laughs.
I note the disparity between Rhian’s different interests. She grew up being taught how to sew and cook, as well as to shear and ride a motorbike. She tells me her fiancé spends a night at MPA each week for work, but it works out as it means he can watch darts while she can watch TV and crochet. She rides motorbikes and horses, and also likes to go shooting.
Happy to do a sheep gather and build a house in the snow, just as much as sitting down with a good book or sewing, “I do quite like being jack of all trades and master of none.”
She quotes Scottish shearer Helga Sinclair as one of her inspirations growing up,“when I was 14 she came to the farm and shore some of our sheep.
“She was so cool, she drank scotch, she looked a bit like a model – blonde hair, tall, big guns on her. I wanted to be just like her.” She went on to explain that there are “loads” of people she finds inspiring, “there’s so many people who just work really hard all their lives.”
“I think International Women’s Day is about celebrating women. We should encourage women to do whatever they want.
“Women are capable of anything, there shouldn’t be any boundaries, not in this day and age. There shouldn’t be a women’s job and a man’s job.”