Blade shearing legend dies

Former blade shearing World Championships competitor Billy Michelle has died in the South Island after a battle with cancer.

From Timaru, Mr Michelle represented New Zealand at three consecutive World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships abroad, despite his fear of flying.

He was fifth in the individual final in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2003, sixth in Toowoomba, Australia in 2005, and with fellow South Canterbury blade shearer Peter Race of Fairlie, was third in the teams event in Norway in 2008.

He was still competing up until last season, when he shore in the New Zealand Spring Shears blades final at Waimate and the national lambshearing blades final at Fairlie.

Heading to the woolsheds in his teens, he was taught the blade shearing craft by uncle Jimmy Deer, and shore for more than 40 years, with the blades and only the rarest of attempts with the machines, and between stints at the freezing works.

He shore for noted bladie Donny Hammond, and then Tom Rarere, who took over the run. Highlights included not only his major titles, but the World Championships ventures and when he was acclaimed a Master Blade Shear, emulating the achievement of his uncle.

Peter Race said Billy Michelle was great travelling companionship and "always the entertainer", known on the board for his fierce approach in the finals.

"When Bill made the final, you always knew the pace was on," he said.

Survived by wife Debbie, Bill Michelle learned late last year he was suffering from cancer, and he died at home on Friday night.

His funeral will be held at Aoraki Funeral Sevices in Timaru at 2pm on Wednesday, the day after his 61st birthday.