Australia’s wool growing industry descended into chaos during the early 1980s when a small group of ‘rebel’ shearers started advocating for a seemingly minor change. The rebels, led by gun shearer Robert White, wanted 13-tooth shearing combs legalised. Wide combs, as they were known, had been banned from use in Australia for more than 50 years. But White and his supporters argued they were more efficient and productive than the standard gauge 10-tooth shearing combs and wanted the ban overturned. Standing in the way was the powerful Australian Workers’ Union. The ensuing David and Goliath like clash produced four years of industrial turmoil, bitterness, intimidation and some outlandish violence, as the AWU went all out to try to stop the introduction of wide combs. This is the first detailed account of an industrial dispute that revolutionised Australia’s iconic shearing industry and led to the total demise of the AWU in the industry after it stubbornly refused to embrace technological change.
‘Three Steel Teeth has been meticulously researched and provides a fascinating portrait of the economic landscape of the time and a salutary set of insights for those tasked with guiding Australia’s future prosperity. I congratulate Mark on this readable and timely addition to our understanding of an important chapter in Australian history.’ – Professor Phil Dolan, La Trobe University