Australian Folk Songs
songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home
The Bare Belled Ewe
Sung by ChloŽ and Jason Roweth©ChloŽ and Jason Roweth 2013
Oh, down at the catching pen an old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his long bony hands ;
Fixed is his gaze on a bare belled ewe,
Saying " If I can only get her, won't I make the ringer go."
Click goes his shears; click, click, click.
Wide are the blows, and his hand is moving quick,
The ringer looks round, for he lost it by a blow,
And he curses that old shearer with the bare belled ewe.
At the end of the board, in a cane bottomed chair,
The boss remains seated with his eyes everywhere ;
He marks well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
And he watches where it comes from if not taken off clean.
The "colonial experience" is there of course.
With his silver buckled leggings, he's just off his horse ;
With the air of a connoiseur he walks up the floor ;
And he whistles that sweet melody, "I am a perfect cure."
"So master new chum, you may now begin,
Muster number seven paddock, bring the sheep all in ;
Leave none behind you, whatever you do,
And then we'll say you'r fit to be a Jackeroo."
The tar boy is there, awaiting all demands,
With his black tarry stick, in his black tarry hands.
He sees an old ewe, with a cut upon the back,
He hears what he supposes is--" Tar here, Jack."
"Tar on the back, Jack; Tar, boy, tar."
Tar from the middle to both ends of the board.
Jack jumps around, for he has no time to sleep,
And tars the shearer's backs as well as the sheep.
So now the shearing's over, each man has got his cheque,
The hut is as dull as the dullest old wreck ;
Where was many a noise and bustle only a few hours before,
Now you can hear it plainly if a pin fall on the floor.
The shearers now are scattered many miles and far ;
Some in other sheds perhaps, singing out for "tar."
Down at the bar, there the old shearer stands,
Grasping his glass in his long bony hands.
Saying "Come on, landlord, come on, come !
I'm shouting for all hands, what's yours--mine's a rum ;"
He chucks down his cheque, which is collared in a crack,
And the landlord with a pen writes no mercy on the back !
His eyes they were fixed on a green painted keg,
Saying " I will lower your contents, before I move a peg."
His eyes are on the keg, and are now lowering fast ;
He works hard, he dies hard, and goes to heaven at last.
Eynesbury, Nov. 20, 1891.
Many thanks to ChloŽ and Jason Roweth for permission to add their recorded interpretation of the song to this collection.
Visit their website
This is the first published version of the iconic song now known as Click Go the Shears.
Discovered in the Victorian Newspaper the Bacchus Marsh Express through the National Library of Australia TROVE project and corrected by Mark Gregory, 4 June 2013 searching for "tar here jack"
This song was referred to in 1925 in an article in the NSW newspaper the Newcastle Sun Saturday 19 December 1925 about the export of Australian wool for export "...the bales have already left the warehouses in lorries and rail vans, or have been loaded on steamers for America or Europe. From Australia, where the old shearers' song (if any sing it now) of "The bare bellied yeo (ewe)" has been chanted over them, they have reached a place of new incantations, where the language is of yarns and tops and soils and laps and wastes..."
Bare Belled is perhaps a mishearing or misspelling of the more usual Bare Bellied ... easily done either by the the author C. C. or the compositor who set his handwritten letter into type. On the other hand Duke Tritton writes about sheep being on the bell in his song Shearing in the Bar "And a pen chock full of cobblers is a shearer's dream of hell / So, loud and lurid are their words when they catch one on the bell." A cobbler is a rough wooled sheep and to have to shear one you had caught just before the the bell rang was tough. A bare belled ewe was undoubtedly an easier proposition.
Another version of this song was published in the World's News in 1939, and what I can find of it is also in this collection see http://folkstream.com/146.html
I had previously found very little using "click go the shears" and other phrases from the song ... then I tried "tar here jack" and Bingo!
For over sixty years it has been thought that the first published version of this iconic song was in and article by Percy Jones titled "Australia's Folk-Songs" in 1946 with no attribution of authorship or information about where he found it. Now we know for certain it was first published in the year of the Shearers' Strike in Queensland, this opens up a whole new arena for rethinking the provenance of the song, which seems likely to have entered oral tradition post 1891 and maybe even earlier.
See University of Wollongong report about the discovery of this song 'Research Links Famous Ballad To Birth Of ALP'Watch ABC TV Landline report broadcast 2 February 2014
See also Click Go the Shears in this collection.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory