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The Shearing at Cuppacumbalong (1873)

Before I tells my story, if you asks me who I are,
I'm the shearer from the Billybong who never called for tar:
And on this first occasion I came out very strong,
Stripping off the fleeces at Cuppacumbalong.

Good shearing there, you bet; no man might tomahawk;
For if he did, he got the sack, and from the shed might walk;
Indeed a few poor fellows, their hearts it well nigh broke,
When they found they could not slash along the Murrumbidgee stroke.

Now I'm a steady hand, and do not try to go too fast,
And proved that careful shearing pays better at the last;
For when well nigh a month is lost, by reason of the rain,
It surely must be worth the while our rations free to gain.

And so it proved: for while the two great ringers got the sack
I shore all through, and in return a decent cheque got back.
And as I settled with the boss, he said, almost in tears,
"My bully boy, your tucker's free, and you may take your shears."

There's one remark I'd wish to make for which I have good reasons --
And that's to make more roomy sheds in case of rainy seasons;
For many a man I think would go more easy to his bed,
If he knew his next day's sheep were safe and drily in the shed.

I never seed such rain before, my word, what work we had:
To finish before Christmas day we wired in like mad;
We rose with dawn at four o'clock, and freshened with our sleep,
We thronged the pens like eaglehawks to dart upon the sheep.

You know the price we got this year; 't was three and six the score;
The same they got at Tuggranong : and though we tried for more,
The boss held out, and in a tone that seemed by half too knowing,
He said that shearers might be scarce but rather guessed it blowing.

"And how about the grub ?" I knew you'd ask that vital question,
For none can work ten hours a day, upon a a bad digestion;
'T was mainly good, the beef was fat, we'd doughboys pretty often,
And now and then a good plum duff, our labours helped to soften.

Well now we've done; on Christmas-eve we finished the last cobblers,
And galloped off to Queanbeyan, to take some social nobblers;
I stay at Land's: so join me, mate, I'm scarcely ever out;
The shearer from the Billybong is always free to shout.


From the Queanbeyan Age 9 January 1873.

The Queanbeyan Age 21 July 1864 reports the origin of Land's Hotel - "Transfer of the license of Byrne's Hotel was granted by the bench in favour of Edwin Land." Englishmen James Wright and a friend John Hamilton Mortimer Lanyon migrated to Australia during the early 1830s. In 1833 they were amongst the first squatters to established sheep runs in the Queanbeyan region, building the Lanyon Homestead. In 1835 they acquired several adjoining blocks on the Murrumbidgee River. Wright established Cuppacumbalong located on the southern side of the Murrumbidgee River in 1839. In 1855 the de Salis family bought 'Cuppacumbalong' Station situated on the Murrumbidgee River. The station was noted for its especially fine wool and magnificent draught horses. At the time this shearers' ballad was written the De Salis family were still owners and they remained at Cuppacumbalong until 1894. In 1999, the Cuppacumbalong Homestead became a restaurant and wedding reception centre.

The Aboriginal inhabitants, the Wolgal, the Ngarigu and near neighbours coined the local name Cuppacumbalong, the meeting of the Gudgenby and Murrumbidgee (Big Waters) Rivers. Tharwa and Cuppacumbalong are at the edge of a very sacred place to the local Aboriginals, Nammitch (Namadgi). Cuppacumbalong is at the lower end of the Snow line and offered a retreat from the harsh and unpredictable Mountain weather.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory