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"On Whose Back" (1961)

Some of the most haunting old Australian shearing shed ballads--rarely sung in public this
century--have been chosen for the sound-track of a new colour film on the Australian wool

The ballads include "Springtime, It Brings on the Shearing," "The Back-block Shearer" and
"My Old Black Billy." The film music also includes the original version of "Click Go the Shears,"
as sung by shearers almost 100 years ago.

The film, "On Whose Back," was made, by the Cyclone Company of Australia in association with
the Australian Wool Bureau.

A 30-minute documentary, it tells the story of wool from the shearing shed to the shop counter
and traces the history of the sheep industry from its earliest pioneering days.

The film compares the old methods of sheep handling--in rough,--made-on the-spot wooden yards
and crude, timber shearing sheds -- with modern practice aided as it is, by steel equipment
installed to cut costs on progressive sheep properties.

The sheep station scenes, filmed in Victoria, South Australia, and N.S.W., show the "new look"
that has been given to large and small properties in recent years.

The film demonstrates how the woolgrowers' investment in skilfully designed--all-steel shearing
sheds, shearers' quarters, mustering yards and chain-wire fences and gates has paid dividends
through virtual elimination of maintenance costs and the speedier handling of sheep during shearing.

Australia's champion shearer, Fred Jarvis, appears in the film's shearing sequences. He shows
how a sheep should be shorn--while, on the sound-track, the words of an old ballad describe,
in song, the shearing operation.

Melbourne film producer, Barry Scott, who made "On Whose Back," said: "Many of the early shearing
shed ballads were adapted from Irish laments sung by the first migrants to come to Australia.

"Most of these shearers' ballads have been forgotten for generations but, with the help of the
Australian Folk Song Society, we found four of the catchiest and most descriptive of them for the film.

"We are thrilled with the result. The songs blend ideally with the scenes of the film--far
better than if they had been written especially for it.

"The music itself is truly authentic to the subject. It is provided by a mouth organ and a guitar
--the traditional shed "orchestra."

The film is available for screening through branches of the Cyclone Company in all capital cities.
Copies have been issued to State Film Centres in each capital.


From the Bourke newspaper the Western Herald 21 Jul 1961 Page 14.

This article refers to the original version of "Click Go the Shears," as sung by shearers almost 100 years ago.
The most likely candidate for the song is the "Bare Belled Ewe" that was published 70 years earlier in the
Victorian newspaper the Bacchus Marsh Express of 1891.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory