© Don Adams

Winner, 2009 ‘Bush Lantern Award’, Bundaberg, Queensland.

My father was a shearer and, when just a lad, I’d go
to watch him when he shore on stations close to town and so
I’ve seen the sheds in action.  Gosh!  The dogs!  The dust!  The din!
I’ve heard the shedhands curse and shout,
I’ve seen the collie’s slobbered snout,
the milling mobs of thousands strong,
which, pushed inside, a bleating throng,
were penned at last to lose their wool from top-knot down to shin.

The handpiece, called the ‘lizard’, is where comb and cutter buzz
the wool off leaving – if done well – a pink white coat of fuzz.
No second cuts, if possible, or needs to call for tar.
The ringer sets a lively pace,
for shearers all just love to race.
But he’s the quickest, he’s the ‘gun’,
and so his pen is number one.
Unless a ‘bolter’ joins the gang, his tally lifts the bar.

While shearers shear, the ‘rousies’ sweep the board to keep it clean..
No bits can  taint the snowy fleece, it has to be pristine.
They’ll pick it up and throw it on the table where we’ll see
the classer frown as he inspects
each one for faults.  If he detects
a stain, a burr, or fragile thread,
he’ll throw it some place else instead
of in the bins reserved for fleece of top grade quality.

A poet wrote, ‘the village blacksmith, mighty man is he’.
But what about the pressers?  They’re the blokes he ought to see.
Beneath their sodden singlets muscles writhe as down they pull
the lever, clanking on its chain.
They ratchet up and down again
until the bale is pressed at last,
the clips pinned down to hold it fast.
Then off it goes to join the stack of station branded wool.

But that’s just the mechanics; it’s the spirit, I would tout.
It grabs you when you walk inside and see that scene laid out..
The frenzy of activity, the sounds that fill your head.
The engine thumping through the day,
the calls of ‘Sheep-o!’ ‘Wool away!’.
The whirr of wheels along the drive,
the buzz that’s like a swarming hive.
That mixture makes the happy din that is the shearing shed.

In years gone by, so says my dad, it could be quite a size.
A board with over forty shearers came as no surprise.
At shearing time a village seemed to spring up overnight.
Around the varied huts you’d see
all sorts of cars, a truck or three.
Before that, in the early days,
the shearers travelled many ways.
A horse and sulky, even bikes were quite a common sight.

The giant runs are gone now.  Ones like, say, Illilliwa.
You won’t find sixty miles of fence around here any more
There was a time when blades were used and Jackie Howe was king.
They’re mostly gone.  Another skill
that’s being lost.  I wonder, will
it go, just like the blacksmith’s art
that’s gone out with the horse and cart?
The town-sized stations, blades, the smithies.  Time takes everything!

It also gives, for progress, most times, brings its own reward.
Provided what it brings you is a thing you can afford!
But let the shearing shed remain, it’s Aussie through and through.
The race to beat the last run bell,
those busy sounds, the woolly smell,
the taste of scones at smoke-o time,
an outback tapestry sublime.
I treasure all of that so much.  Don’t let it vanish too.

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