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The Man From Merriwa

(By Paul Cupid)

He drew a gnarled and wrinkled hand through straggling beard and grey,
Now dank with strong tobacco juice and beer.
He rose and faced Moolool shed crowd that had "cut out" that day.
And bragged of "big gun" shearers far and near.
"Ar! take a pull," the old man snarled,
Each word came like a bark.
He must have been a hundred if a day.
(He could have been a stowaway with Noah in the Ark).
He shuffled to the bar and barked away.

"Ar! take a pull. Yer only kids, an' oughta be at school.
An' learn wot men could do 'fore yer was born.
Gun shearers! 'Struth yer don't know 'ow t' 'old th' flamin' tool
We useter use when sheep like sheep was shorn,
Wot stren'th and muscle useter do, yer do with engines now.
An' knocked-up wrists are things yer read about.
An' knocked-up wrists, I tell yer, was a fair unholy cow.
Fer "ringers," with the sheds not half cut out.

"Yes, mine's a beer. But strike me!
When we used th' old time "tongs."
With full-blade cuts we'd slide from tail to ear.
Struth ! our thirty sheep an hour'd keep th' ole blades singin' songs--
Them was th' days (not now) when men could shear.
Youse coots to-day remind me uv them dandy barber blokes,
Jist touchin' up a city napper's 'air,
Wo' yer combs an' cutters proddin' sted uv free an' lengthy strokes."

He swung his arm to show that long stroke rare.
He swept the long bar counter of all glassware used and full,
The barman swore he'd land him on the law.
"Git work! w'y I'm jist showin' w'y these coots should take a pull--
I'm a shearer an' a man from Merrywah.
I shore fer years at Brin'ley Park an' Cass an' Collar'y,
Reel stations then when held by reel big men,
Now cuckoos sit in eagles' nests--a host of smaller fry.
Own stations on the stations that were then."

When someone sought to argue that machines could beat the shears,
His very whiskers bristled in his rage.
"Don't class yer flamin' thumb planes with the "tongs." His beery tear
Welled up, as once again he took the stage.
"If I on'y 'ad a sheep an' shears, I show youse blokes treat--
'Ow full blades shift th' fleeces swift an' clean.
'Struth! I'd undress stud merinos wrinked to th' blanky feet.
Wile y'd shear a flamin' frog with yer machine.

"Ar! if I 'ad--you'll do me, just ter show o'w it was done."
He grabbed a gaping "loppy" standing by,
Upended him, and started in with ripping thrusts to run
The op'ning cut from armpit down to thigh,
With the fire tongs. How it clattered as the "belly wool" went wide.
The brisket rip went to the loppy's chin.
Some lightning strokes soon followed, then the "sheep" slid on its side,
And grunted as the shearer's knee sunk in.

The long stroke tore the "fleece" off to the tongs' incessant row,
The struggling "sheep" still fighting to get free.
He bumped it's head hard on "the board" as he barked "keep still, yer cow,"
And punched its naked ribs hard with his knee.
"One thirty" by the bar clock, and he straightened up to say,
"Take that, yer cow!" and plied his hefty goot
To the tattered shirt and trousers, shouting hoarsely, "Wool away,"
The naked sheep shot cursing "down the chute."

"Gun shearers, youse! W'y, strike me pink! yer oughta seen us then--
I talk uv forty year ago, p'rhaps more.
We'd of'en fight each other fer 'the cobbler' in the pen--
Now oo the ell's that bird outside the door?'
They looked. The local bobby stood beside the new shorn 'sheep.'
Whose anger urged, him to invoke "The Law,"
But shearers stick to shearers, and safe in a ring three deep.
Stood "the shearer and the man" from Merriwa.


Published in the NSW newspaper the Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative Thursday 8 March 1928 p. 2.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory