The House of Shrek [Tarras, New Zealand]

Gather ’round, children, and hear the tale of Shrek.

You were not, I hope, expecting an ogre.

New Zealand celebrity Shrek the sheep was a wily Merino sheep belonging to Bendigo Station, near Tarras on the South Island, that evaded shearing for six years, apparently by hiding in caves. After his capture, he was shorn on live TV by New Zealand’s top shearers, giving up a 60 lb (27 kg) fleece, which the linked article helpfully quantifies as enough for 20 large men’s suits. I am not saying that Shrek is the most famous and beloved native son of this country, but I am saying that Taika Waititi does not have his own museum.

Stop by the tiny town of Tarras and walk down this alley and you’ll find the House of Shrek, a two-room temple dedicated to this blessed icon of New Zealand industry. Here you will discover that Shrek’s massive fleece was not in fact turned into 20 men’s suits, but limited-edition sweaters auctioned off for charity by garment-maker Icebreaker. Icebreaker also made a coat for Shrek out of that fleece which sounds both reasonable and terribly weird for some reason.

The famous sweater in question.

Now why would a sheep need a sweater of its own? And why does Shrek appear to be taking an over-ocean helicopter ride in the first photo of this entry? Well, in 2006, small icebergs had drifted curiously close to the Otago coast, causing something of a sensation. Shrek was already raising money for Cure Kids via NZ$10,000 corporate appearances (he visited children and old folks’ homes for free). But there were other heights to scale. It was time for Shrek to get his second stunt shearing.

This shearing was done by another champion shearer, Jim Barnett, shown above not wearing a coat while standing on a damned iceberg, proving that shearers are just a different kind of people than the rest of us mortals.

Now you might think that custom coat of his own fleece was the best accessory possible for Shrek on this visit to an iceberg, but I assure you it is not. The best accessory was the teeny crampons he had to wear to walk on the ice.

You can view part of this fleece at the House of Shrek, and if you are ever in Otago, I insist you do so.

Do it.

Shrek’s charity work went beyond the hefty amount he raised for Cure Kids; he also raised money to save the local school. It was about to close in 2006, when the children wrote a book about Shrek as a fundraiser. That book was so successful that a second book was published the following year. Conquering the world of publishing was added to Shrek’s list of enviable achievements, and the school received over $100,000 and remained open. Shrek was very chill and excellent with children. One of his many photo ops with children is included in the House’s own photo op for visitors, where you might sit next to a pre-sheared Shrek in his cave.

Hero.

The House has many artistic tributes done by children on display, and it is very sweet.

Shrek lived to age 16, and his passing was international news. He lives on in our hearts, however, and in the books written by the Tarras School students (available, along with postcards, at the wool store across the alley) as well as a biography, Shrek: The Story of a Kiwi Icon. The House of Shrek is free and open while the surrounding businesses are I assume (I don’t recall seeing a sign and it doesn’t have a website–just drive through Tarras during normal working hours and walk right in). At a minimum, everyone you know needs to receive a Shrek postcard.

As you leave the House and Tarras, try to remember to live in the spirit of Shrek: be kind to children, be charitable, hideout in caves to avoid anything you don’t want to do, and always look as unbothered as possible, even if you’re floating on a tiny iceberg.

The Wool Shed: New Zealand’s Museum of Sheep and Shearing [Masterton]

WHAT’S UP MOFOOOOOOOOOOOOS

Ok, so, like probably everyone, I’ve been doomscrolling various social media feeds as a primary activity. It’s not great! But despite all the hot garbage everywhere, I managed to find a job, and now here I am, trying to find my blogging rhythm again. I don’t know how readable the post will be, but I’m opting to dig into a museum that was a very sweet visit for my little knitter’s heart.

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You know, I generally have a good time in little museums that look like houses.

 

This is the Wool Shed, and here you will learn about the wool industry and its history in New Zealand. Two old, authentic wool sheds are packed with sheep- and wool-related artifacts, as well as vaguely unsettling mannequins, yet another museum feature that is near and dear to my heart.

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Do not ever, ever change these mannequins.

Sheep and sheep products used to be a seriously critical aspect of the New Zealand economy, and even today, there are 27 million sheep here–almost 6 sheep for every person.

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The town of Masterton hosts The Golden Shears, an International Shearing and Wool Handling competition, which describes itself as “three days of non-stop action and entertainment,” a claim I have no reason to doubt. I had no idea it existed before I visited The Wool Shed, and it is now on my bucket list. Sure, you can see it on TV, but as the website says, “you can’t beat the excitement of being there to witness history being made and to soak up the lanolin infused atmosphere as the sweat drips off competitors brows.”

Footage of the competition is shown at the museum, and it is indeed a richly lanolin-infused atmosphere. I deeply regret not capturing on video the part where the announcer says a competitor is “having the shear of his life.”

I’m gonna go some day, mark my words.

But back to the museum!

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an old-timey wool shed, but probably smelling better these days

The displays in the wool sheds show how the sheep were penned and various tools of the wool trade. Also, yes, that is an insane rat up there on that post. Having apparently just had a litter and munching on a weta.

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but why

But nevermind that! There are historic shears! Including this pair of left-handed ones, which as a lefty, I very much appreciate.

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You’ll also read some history related to labor issues for shed workers:

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As well as many examples of shed vocabulary and terminology.

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Absolutely sure the code “69” had no in-joke connotation whatsoever and would never besmirch the honor of early 20th century shed workers by suggesting otherwise.

As regular readers know, I also approve of interactive displays in museums, so I was of course very pleased to see this:

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An excellent teaching resource, where just about every single person can learn that they do not want to be a sheep shearer prior to electric clippers.

But maybe you’d rather familiarize yourself with some of the grimmer aspects of animal husbandry. No worries; the Wool Shed gotchu.

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Well off the top of my head, can’t think of many more traumatic ways to lose testicles.

One room of the museum houses this old hut along with examples of historic machinery and old wool presses. In the hut, you can select the oral histories of several people involved in the wool trade…

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…while simultaneously viewing more unsettling mannequins.

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HAHA OK THEN SO WHAT ELSE IS THERE

Well how about some fiber education!

 

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Any knitter will tell you, merino is some very nice stuff.

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*wolf whistle*

Suzy the feral sheep got her maiden shearing done at the museum by world record shearer Peter Casserly, losing about 15 kg of wool right before summer.

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the only mandatory summer weight loss

The museum also hosts spinning and weaving demonstrations and has a lovely collection of spinning wheels.

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But sheep are not only good for wool, of course.

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Finally, let’s have a look at some wool-related art, because this little place truly has it all.

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“The Golden Fleece” by Paul Jenson, 1994. Created for the World of Wearable Art event.

Obligatory Lord of the Rings entry:

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I mean, will I be going to the shop? Obviously.

So there you have it! Wonderful museum, chock-full of information and artifacts, good-sized shop full of wool swag. Open all week, 10am-4pm, $10 for adults, $3 for children under 15, $20 for families (two adults & four children). Children under 5 are free. Of course, if you just wanna shop or see the Golden Shears Wall of Fame, those areas are free.