Is this Australia’s oldest apprentice?

Is this Australia’s oldest apprentice?

When ex-sheep shearer Julyan Sumner completes his plumbing apprenticeship he will be 68.

Julyan Sumner, from Western Australia, is 65 year’s old and working on his plumbing apprenticeship – the ex-sheep shearer says he’s just enjoying the ride.

“If I’ve got reasonable health and fitness, I should be able to work part time,” says Julyan, who is 18 months into a four-year apprenticeship.

He is currently training with a young plumber in Perth and twice a year goes back to the classroom to complete the required courses at his local TAFE.

“When I was at TAFE the guys were much younger than me of course, but they were great. We made fun of each other,” he says. Then adds good-naturedly, “One young bloke did his driving test one day so he was 17.”

Julyan had been working in the agricultural industry for almost 40 years before he decided to retrain.

He had always loved farm work and started shearing from a young age. The trade led him all around the world, including New Zealand, England, Scotland, Wales, Norway and the US.

“I’d met people in New Zealand and Europe who’d been shearing, and through a farmer I was shearing for, I heard about shearing in Norway. I loved it,” he adds.Young Julyan shearing in the town of Cumbria in North West England

Young Julyan shearing in the town of Cumbria in North West England

Julyan met his wife, Sue, overseas but they moved back to Australia to live and work. They’ve been married for 38 years and built their house together. “I built a stone house with my wife. The carpenters did the timber second story. It took about 10 years to build it and we’re still living in the home,” he says proudly.

The couple soon realised they couldn’t afford to retire

While they had some income from their super, like many Australians, they soon realised they couldn’t afford to retire. “My motivation was financial,” he adds honestly. “When I looked down at my super I thought oh my gosh. Most of my assets are tied up in housing.”

Young Julyan Sumner's shearing adventures brought him all the way to USA

Young Julyan Sumner’s shearing adventures brought him all the way to USA

Julyan says he could have continued shearing but the work was very physical, especially compared to his new trade as a plumber.

“When you’re shearing you can burn as much as 5000 calories a day. You need to be careful because you can burn off muscle tissue rather than fat. You start at 7.30a.m., have a half hour break, work two hours, have an hour break, and then work for another two hours. It’s a full eight hours work with a 10-hour span to do it in,” he says.

A few years ago Julyan was introduced to a plumber, who was half his age and was looking for a tradesman. “I spoke to the wife, and she was happy,” he says. “I was a TA [trade assistant] in the beginning and I learnt a bit about plumbing then. It paid really well, more than I ever got shearing.”Julyan says his age is an advantage as a 68-year-old apprentice

Julyan says his age is an advantage as a 68-year-old apprentice (Photo: Lorraine Horsley)

Julyan says his age is an advantage. “The beauty of having an older person, especially me, is that he can send me off to do something and if I’ve got a problem I’ll just ring him and ask him, rather than just cobble something together that’s not satisfactory,” he says.

For the last few weeks, Julyan has been working independently installing bathroom features in retirement villages, but says he still has more to learn. “Once you’ve done a few of them, it’s not hard,” he adds.

“There’s other plumbing work that require more thinking like installing hot water systems, renovating, I’ve not done a lot of that yet,” says this apprentice who for now is just enjoying the ride and the new challenges of a new trade. Julyan is looking towards the future and is excited about what is to come.

By Mahsa Fratantoni

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