After the turmoil of the 1890s shearing contractors eliminated some of the frustration from shearers recruitment. At the same time closer settlement concentrated more sheep in small flocks in farming regions, replacing the huge leasehold pastoral empires which were at the cutting edge of wool expansion in the nineteenth century. Meanwhile the AWU succeeded in getting an award for the pastoral industry under the new arbitration legislation in 1907. Cultural and administrative influences, therefore, eased some of the bitter enmity which had made the annual shearing so unstable.
Not all was plain sailing. A pattern of militancy re-emerged during World War I. Shearing shed unrest persisted throughout the interwar period and during World War
II. In the 1930s a rival union with communist connections, the PWIU, was a major
disruptive influence. Militancy was a factor in a major shearing strike in 1956, when the boom conditions of the early-1950s were beginning to fade. The economic system did not have satisfactory mechanisms to cope. Unionised shearers continued to be locked in a psyche of confrontation as wool profits eroded further in the 1970s. This ultimately led to the wide comb dispute, which occurred as wider pressures changed an economic order which had not been seriously challenged since Federation, and which the AWU had been instrumental in shaping.
Shearing was always identified with bushworker ‘mateship’, but its larrikinism and irreverence to authority also fostered individualism, and an aggressive ‘moneymaking’ competitive culture. Early in the century, when old blade shearers resented the aggressive pursuit of tallies by fast men engaged by shearing contractors, tensions boiled over. While militants in the 1930s steered money-makers into collectivist versions of mateship, in the farming regions the culture of self-improvement drew others towards the shearing competitions taking root around agricultural show days. Others formed their own contracting firms and had no interest in confrontation with graziers. Late in the century New Zealanders arrived with combs an inch wider than those that had been standard for 70 years. It was the catalyst for the assertion of meritocracy over democracy, which had ruled since Federation.