Australian Folk Songs

songs | books | records | articles | glossary | links | search | responses | home

I Don't Go Shearing Now (1895)


"John Drayman" contributes the following swinging verses to the Bulletin :--

So you're off to Riverina, where the sun is shining clear,
And the ewes and lambs are bleating, pulling shearers far and near ;
Where the musterers are busy and the grass is waving high.
And the July fogs are climbing up the sunbeams to the sky ;
Where the trefoil and the crowfoot in the pens are growing rank,
And the mud is getting sun-cracked on the falling river's bank ;
Where the cook is in possession and the teams are carting wood,
And they're patching up the oven--which was never understood--
And the carpenters are fixing up the gates and pens and bins,
While the pressers, just to kill time, press in bales the winter skins.
And those cranky little grindstones, in the centre hollow ground.
How they used to jump and wobble as you turned tbe handles round !
Has the boss stuck to his promise, putting new ones in their place.
Not too soft and not too gritty, broad and level on the face ?
I've been there, you know, my sonny, and I know exactly how,
Those grindstones hurt your feelings--though I don't go shearing now.

And you'll travel to the shearing, up across the open plain,
Through the salt and blue-bush country, and you'll camp one night again,
On the sand-hills at the Eight-mile, where the grass is always fine,
And you'll talk of last year's shearing as you sniff the burning pine,
Which you know will spoil the damper but you'll never care a D.
(Though you hate the taste of resin and the ashes in your tea).
For a shearer on the travel isn't fool enough to miss,
Decent cropping for the horses for a trifle just as this.
Then with saddle for a breakwind and your oil cloth tucked in well,
Yon will listen for the tinkling of the little tinpot bell,
And the "prad's" persistent cropping out towards the Old-man tank,
And you'll fall asleep contented as you hear the hobbles clank.
Every day you'll draw still nearer to the summer further north,
Leaving winter's cold behind you, till the sweet Spring bursting forth
In all her glistening glory fills your soul with wondrous joy,
And you want to cheer the sunshine--I've been there, you know, my boy--
And you sing and shout with gladness, never caring when or how :
Ah, I know the way it takes you--though I don't go shearing now.

You'll be wond'ring what old faces will be missing from the shed,
For some are shearing elsewhere, and some perhaps, are dead.
And each succeeding muster you will notice, with a sigh,
That some old friends are missing--and you vaguely wonder why,
And where they're shearing this year. Ah, I know exactly how
These little things affect you--though I don't go shearing now.

Three clear days, if fairly lucky, you'll be there before the "roll,"
And the glory of the Spring-time will suffuse your youthful soul,
So 'mong the soft, sweet grasses you will he and loll about,
And you'll greet each fresh arrival with a recognising shout :
" Hang your saddles on the tie-beams ; get some rushes for your bunk ;
You will find some down the river where the steamer's barge was sunk."
You will pay an early visit to the dear old shed, I'll bet--
Perhaps upon your own old stand the oil-rag's lying yet ;
And you'll wander up and down the silent board with heart quite full,
As you sniff all recollections in the smell of greasy wool.
Ah, my lad, you needn't smile, because I know exactly how
These little things affect you--though I don't go shearing now.

Then the start !--you're all excitement as you slowly feel your way
, And there isn't any hurry, as it takes you all the day
To get the "sweet-lips" going, and the boss severely damns
The mercenary "mouser" who opens out on rams,
For all are strangely awkward while the hands are getting in,
And it spoils a good beginning if you chop both wool and skin.
But the next days things have altered, and the short, hoarse, "wool away !"
Replaces reminiscent jokes and latest "leary" lay ;
The learners' awkward struggling, at which all hands had laughed.
Forgotten is as silently you settle down to graft--
Each man his neighbour watching, noting each the other's pace,
As you move a little faster, feeling fitter for the race.
If you find from those about you that you've gaining more and more,
Then you take to watching others, faster men along the floor ;
And as the speed grows greater, you will find that not a few
Are anxiously, discreetly, on the quiet watching you.
So the pace goes on increasing, and the sweat begins to drop.
Every man has found his pacer and is going at his top ;
But ere many days are over weak ones fall back one by one.
Hit by chips and bullets flying from the boss's little gun ;
I've been there, you know, my sonny, and I know exactly how
The fight gets fairly started--though I don't go shearing now.

Then in crowded late at night-time, drinking tea and rigging "tongs,"
Playing poker, crib, or euchre, telling yarns, or singing songs.
Men are there from cold Monaro, "cockatoos" from further down.
Men from Maoriland and Taasy, men from every smoky town ;
Men from far beyond the Darling, some from even farther west,
All have something fresh to talk of, and all do their level best--
Tales of love and hate romantic, some perhaps of shady birth ;
All the latest songs and dances, open-hearted, honest mirth.
As a man each man is treated, blacklegs always in the stew ;
When a man belies his manhood, he will generally rue.
That's the style ; you see I'm posted (though no union was around
In the days when I went shearing, but I always got the "pound"),
And I know tbe shearers' temper, and can tell exactly how
They would scorn a traitor's action--though I don't go shearing now.

Shedwards silent figures flitting in the dawning cold and gray,
Then a rush at ringing signal, all together fire away!
Laboured breathing, bodies straining, painfully you turn and twist,
Small blows first, then open wider as the stiffness leaves your wrist.
There's the flying hurry-scurry up and down the greasy floors,
Of the pickers and the broomers ; there's the banging of the doors,
And the rattle of the wool-press, with its " hard metallic din,"
And the hoof-taps on the bottom when the ewes and lambs rush in.
"Wool away!" and "Tar !" and "Sheep ho !"--sundry growls at clumsy boys--
Are excluded from the role of "no unnecessary noise."
Ever constant, ever struggling, straining o'er the astonished brutes,
Too surprised to raise a protest till they're shorn and down the shoots.
Three smart rubs with well-oiled turkey, dab the shears in water-pot,
Rush away to catch another--thus doth rage the battle hot ;
While the perspiration, streaming from the ringer as he swings
Round the "jumbuck" in a circle, splashes on the board in rings.
Smoke-ho ! Sharpen ; cobble drivers file your knockles down at night ;
Off again with rush and rattle, shear-blades buried out of sight
'Neath the snowy fleeces falling, tumbling o'er like crests of foam--
Ah, my lad ! 'tis little wonder that you love to northward roam,
When the battle is beginning ; for I know exactly how
Such a fight affects your feelings--though I don't go shearing now.

Then on Sundays, when the waving grass is kissed by breezes warm.
And the clicking shears are silent, there are duties to perform.
Sitting round the sunny wood-heap, perjuring immortal souls,
With tall tale of harvest prowess, while you rinse your greasy moles.
There's your shears to pat in order, and a line to write to Joe,
(Who, you hear, is mates with Clancy, shearing at the Overflow) ;
And another to a sweetheart--write this slowly and with care,
Spelling audibly and using rounded phrases choice and rare ;
But you spoil no end of paper ere you get that letter fixed.
For, somehow, Love's soft language with the shearing slang gets mixed.
You have news to tell in plenty, but she'd hardly understand,
So you cut it short by hoping she'll excuse your shaky hand,
I've been there myself, my sonny, and I know precisely how
All these little things affect you--though I don't go shearing now.

How I'd love to travel with you where the Murrumbidgee flows,
Where the days are bright and sunny, where the noisy querking crows,
Are flying round the wash-pen, and the sweating-pens are full--
Like to have some tea and brownie and to smell the greasy wool
Every year I get a longing, as the shearing time draws nigh.
To saddle up and slither and to have another try
At the game I loved so dearly ; but that pleasure is denied,
For the missus made me promise I would let the shearing slide.
Yes, the missus made me promise--and she knows exactly how
The rheumatism takes me--so I don't go shearing now.


From the Queensland newspaper the The Capricornian Saturday 3 August 1895 p. 5.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory