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Location: Tasmania


Post by ALANM » Sat May 16, 2020 2:40 pm

(By Alan McCosker April 2020)

From Longreach down to Ivanhoe and out to back O’ Burke,
where the sheep are lean and wiry, wool fulla burrs and dirt.
Where the sun beats down relentlessly, on corrugated iron sheds,
where the kelpies pant in meagre shade, too hot to raise their heads.

Where kites circle in the shimmering heat, riding thermals to the sky
and tired black crows no longer caw, no need to ask them why.
Where the rivers, if they’re running, are only muddy streams
but if they’re not, they are just pools, of blue green algea weeds.

It’s here in this harsh western land my old man learned to shear,
he started out as a rouseabout, like so many did before.
Sweepin’ up and pennin’ up, when a shearer called ‘ sheep O ’,
and ‘ tar here boy ’ would see him runnin’, best not be too slow.

It wasn’t long before he earned, a place there on the board,
though not a gun, his skill was one that earned him much accord.
When shearin’ sheep he was so neat, he rarely called for tar,
he always got the rams to shear; Cockies knew he’d take great care.

And my old man was shearin’, quite a lotta years before
those new fangled back slings, had come on to the board
many years of bendin’ over, them burr filled woolybacks
more’n enough to give any man, a bloody crooked back.

In early days I went with him, sweepin’ dags up from the board,
but only in school holidays, just to keep from bein’ bored.
I’d watch him roll a dozen smokes, set beside the combs and cutters,
then in a holder, light the first and through the run he’d smoke the others.

After I grew up and left the nest, our paths grew worlds apart,
years went by as I roamed the land, seekin’ who knows what.
When he turned sixty, I came by home, to see him and my mother,
I could scarce believe the change I saw, from the man I did remember

His back was bent and painful, his lungs were barely workin’
but his hands were what I noticed first, he no longer played his violin.
His knuckles were all puffy and his fingers thick and swollen
now he smoked the tailor mades, he could no longer roll ‘em

The lanolin, from a million sheep, from forty five long years of shearin’
had made the skin on his hands so soft; in which burrs were deeply driven.
I remember he used to dig ‘em out, with a cutter newly sharpened
but over the years he missed a lot, he’s now painfully reminded

He must have drove a million miles, around those western runs,
slept in beds that bent his back, to get the shearin’ done.
Kerosene lamps with flickerin’ light, had faded his old eyes,
the relentless diet, of lean mutton chops, had kept him down in size.

Old black and whites, he liked to show, from west of Ivanhoe,
showed the team bogged, axles down, with many miles to go.
Rained in on many a station, they would idle time away
with sheep too wet too shear, they’d sit ’n’ smoke ’n’ yarn all day.

He’s now cleanin’ on the railway, a strange job for him, but then,
he makes enough for the TAB and the smokes he now drags on.
But he’s home each night, unlike the years he was a roamin’ shearer,
months away on the western runs, he became more like a stranger.

As I drove off down the dusty road, headin’ for who knows where,
I recalled a day when he had asked, would I take a pen out there,
at the time I think I answered; ‘Yeah Dad, I’d like to be a shearer ’,
but the sameness of each shearin’ shed was too much for me to bear.

Now after all this time has passed and I’ve travelled here and there,
rolled out my swag in lotsa camps, and smelled the clean bush air.
Seen the old man in his later years, with his patent wear and tear,
I thank my lucky stars I chose; to not take on the trade of shearer.

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Post by r.magnay » Mon May 18, 2020 5:36 pm

I'm with you there Alan, contemplated taking up shearing when I left school myself and like you I am glad I came to my senses...

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Post by ALANM » Sun May 24, 2020 11:14 pm

G'day Ross,
Having watched a fair bit of it, I figured it was just too tough for me.

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Post by r.magnay » Tue Jun 02, 2020 5:22 pm

Yeah worked quite a bit in sheds as a kid and early adulthood, had a couple of goes with a handpiece, mostly crutching but Nah, not for me...

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Post by Maureen K Clifford » Sat Jun 20, 2020 1:11 pm

Totally relate to this one - shearing is not an easy profession and the working conditions often are pretty lousy as well. We tried to make things as best we could for our shearers, we fed them well, made sure there was always a good supply of cold drinks on hand, put fans in the shed, clean water and soap and towels for washing up etc ... but at the end of the day they worked in a 100 year old shed that was stinking hot in summer and bloody cold in winter, with a mob of pretty stroppy old wethers and some good ewes and rams who were passionately loved by me, and they had to put up with 2 new chums to sheep who wanted to learn and asked a lot of questions. Still we never had complaints so must have done something right.
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