Is this Australia’s oldest apprentice?

(Photo: The Sunday Times/Marie Nirme)

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

When we ran the story 'Why these Aussies refuse to retire' we received emails from WYZA® readers such as Gaye who are loving working and not planning on ever retiring.

“When I turned 50 just over a year ago I decided I needed to create something for myself that I could continue doing instead of 'retirement', so after many years in IT, I now have my own business as a web designer and digital strategist, helping other 50+ women wanting to reinvent their career and carve their own little niche in the digital world. I love it and don't think I'll ever stop!” - Gaye, WYZA® reader

We also discovered 65-year-old Julyan Sumner, from Western Australia, who is working on his plumbing apprenticeship. This 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. If I made excuses for a faux pas they would joke, ‘come on Julyan, you can’t pull the old card every time’."

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.

Boomer -life -julyan -shearing -wyza -com -au
Young Julyan shearing in the county of Cumbria in North West England

Julyan met his wife, Sue, overseas and persuaded her to come see Australia. A year later they were married. 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 at my super I thought oh my gosh. Most of my assets are tied up in housing.”

Boomer -life -shearing -usa -wyza -com -auYoung 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 when your body fat levels get too low. You start at 7.30a.m., have a half hour break, after working for two hours, then work for another two hours followed by a lunch hour. Then another four hours with a half hour break for smoko. It’s a full eight hours work with a 10-hour day plus the drives to and from work.”

A few years ago Julyan was introduced to a plumber, who was half his age and was looking for a tradesman. “I spoke to Sue my wife, and she was happy, saying, 'nothing ventured nothing gained'.”

“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 earned shearing.”

Boomer -life -julyan -wyza -com -auJulyan says his age is an advantage as a mature aged apprentice (Photo: Lorraine Horsley)

Julyan says his age is an advantage. “The beauty of having an older person, is that I have some life experience to call on in dealing with people and sorting unexpeced problems with what I might be doing. My boss can send me off to do something and if I’ve got a problem I’ll 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 repetitions of them, it’s not hard,” he adds.

“There’s other plumbing work that requires more thinking like installing hot water and filtration systems etc. I’ve not done a lot of that yet,” says Julyan, who is just enjoying the ride and the new challenges of learning a new trade. Julyan is excited about what is to come.

Have you considered going back to school to retrain or upskill? Join the conversation below.