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The Phantom Shearer (1894)
Bleak September's month was over,
And the flats were sweet with clover,
For Spring had come a wooing in the welcome days of rain ;
And the tender grass had risen,
From out its wintry prison,
To wave in gleaming masses on the slopes of Salisbury plain,
When we skirted Wolun Station,
And its garb of desolation
In the leafless, dead gum forest falling fast into decay,
Standing with a voiceless yearning
In the warm sun slowly turning
All its knotted trunks and branches to a dismal shade of grey.
Faint shadows then came creeping,
For the sinking sun was steeping
The cones of distant mountains in a golden flood of light ;
And every mile we cast behind us
Vanished quickly, to remind us
That our weary journey would be finished by the night.
We'd been on the Darling shearing,
And eastward we were steering ;
Riding late and early, sparing neither, whip nor spur,
Lest the sight of strangers' faces
Should greet us from our places ;
For the late man's pen is cancelled when they shear at "Talisker."
At last we heard a canine chorus,
And the station rose before us
With the full moon high above it, riding clear of "Hornum hill ;"
And a ring of voices hearty
Welcomed our weary party
When we rested, quite contented, in the evening cool and still
Next morning, merry hearted,
We drew for pens and started.
They had machines erected in the shearing-shed that year ;
The old blades were superseded,
For squatters saw they needed
Every single ounce of wool that they could clear.
We missed the merry clicking
Of the hand-shears sharply snicking
Round the overlapping wrinkles, and then down the " whipping " side ;
And the buzz and endless tattle,
Of the machinery's loud rattle
Drowned the songs in which we had always taken pride.
The wool was hard and denser
Than that grown by Western men, Sir,
And the engine's " knock off " whistle sounded pleasant to our ears.
Then we yarned of sheds and tallies,
Of the hard and close-fought rallies
Done by ringers with the good old-fashioned style of shears.
And going back to mem'ries olden,
We spoke of poor Tom Holden,
Who died just before we started on our Western trip.
Ah ! that merry-hearted singer,
The crack New England ringer,
How we longed to see him stooping with a " Wolseley " in his grip.
During miles of weary travel,
Thro' a land of heat and gravel,
He had never lost his temper, nor went back upon a mate.
And, in the twilight fast receding,
We pictured him as leading
Where the owner always bosses and the blades keep close and straight.
That night was hot and steaming,
And I dozed with fits of dreaming,
When we heard the engine's whistle pierce the silence of the night.
We were not long o'er dressing--
And I'm not above confessing
That I shivered like an aspen in the wildest state of fright.
For Jim, who rolled and skirted,
Said, " The engine-room's deserted,
But there's something keeps a-moving just beyond the woolroom door."
Then we heard some footsteps patter,
The sheep began to scatter,
And thud went a kicking hogget upon the shearing floor.
We held our breaths and listened
Till the moonbeams brightly glistened
Down thro' the centre skylight upon the pen of number two ;
When thro' the entrance peering
We saw a stranger shearing,
And we thought his form resembled somebody that we knew.
The same thought left its traces
Upon all our sunburnt faces,
That our old mate had grown restless, and returned to "try his hand,"
Left the distant world eternal
For a spell of work nocturnal,
To see how the " Wolseley " acted at his old pen and stand.
Our fears had not diminished
When the sheep was shorn, and finished
Level as a billiard-table, in Tom Holden's usual style ;
And we heard him softly mutter,
As he gazed at combs and cutter,
" I'd like to stay and use you, but it isn't worth my while.
For the sheep are ' soft ' and ' easy,'
And their wool is not too greasy
In the place where I'm located, on a station up above--
A station to my liking
Where there's never any striking,
For our boss is just a good un, never hard upon a cove."
Then his stalwart form came gliding
To the spot where we were hiding,
And he paused and gazed upon us with his mournful eyes--
Paused, but spake no word of greeting ,
Then, to the door retreating,
Vanished slowly in the distance, past where the garden lies.
Say you, I am ascending
Past all truth, and bending
The lengthy bow of fiction far beyond its breaking strain.
But do our friends above us
Forget, and cease to love us ?
No, they nurse a restless longing to return to us again.
When the shades of night are o'er us
You may hear a ghostly chorus
Of dead men faintly wailing, where they once as children trod,
Wailing over earthly changes,
Till the dingo in the ranges
Sends a plaintive cry appealing to the starry land of God.
Miriam Vale. XIX.
From the Sydney Newspaper the The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 13 January 1894 p. 83.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory