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Shearing in the Riverina   By: (1826-1915)

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Rolf Boldrewood

"Shearing commences to morrow!" These apparently simple words were spoken by Hugh Gordon, the manager of Anabanco station, in the district of Riverina, in the colony of New South Wales, one Monday morning in the month of August. The utterance had its importance to every member of a rather extensive "CORPS DRAMATIQUE" awaiting the industrial drama about to be performed.

A low sand hill a few years since had looked out over a sea of grey plains, covered partly with grass, partly with salsiferous bushes and herbs. Two or three huts built of the trunks of the pine and roofed with the bark of the box tree, and a skeleton looking cattle yard with its high "gallows" (a rude timber stage whereon to hang slaughtered cattle) alone broke the monotony of the plain ocean. A comparatively small herd of cattle, 2000 or 3000, found more than sufficient pasturage during the short winter and spring, but were always compelled to migrate to mountain pastures when the swamps, which alone in those days formed the water stores of the run, were dried up. But two or three, or at most half a dozen, stockmen were ever needed for the purpose of managing the herd, so inadequate in number and profitable occupation to this vast tract of grazing country.

But, a little later, one of the great chiefs of the wool producing interest a shepherd king, so to speak, of shrewdness, energy, and capital had seen, approved and purchased the lease of this waste kingdom. Almost at once, as if by magic, the scene changed. Great gangs of navvies appeared, wending their way across the silent plain. Dams were made, wells were dug. Tons of fencing wire were dropped on the sand by the long line of teams which seemed never tired of arriving. Sheep by thousands, and tens of thousands, began to come, grazing and cropping up to the lonely sandhill now swarming with blacksmiths, carpenters, engineers, fencers, shepherds, bullock drivers till the place looked like a fair on the borders of Tartary.

Meanwhile everything was moving with calculated force and cost, under the "reign of law". The seeming expense was merely the economic truth of doing all the necessary work at once, rather than by instalments. One hundred men for one day rather than one man for one hundred days. Results soon began to demonstrate themselves. In twelve months the dams were full, the wells sending up their far fetched priceless water, the wire fences erected, the shepherds gone, and 17,000 sheep cropping the herbage of Anabanco. Tuesday was the day fixed for the actual commencement of the momentous, almost solemn transaction the pastoral Hegira, so to speak, as the time of most station events is calculated with reference to it, as happening before or after shearing. But before the first shot is fired which tells of the battle begun, what raids and skirmishes, what reconnoitring and vedette duty must take place!

First arrives the cook in chief to the shearers, with two assistants to lay in a few provisions for the week's consumption of 70 able bodied men. I must here explain that the cook of a large shearing shed is a highly paid and tolerably irresponsible official. He is paid and provided by the shearers. Payment is generally arranged on the scale of half a crown a head weekly from each shearer. For this sum he must provide punctual and effective cooking, paying out of his own pocket as many "marmitons" as may be needful for that end, and to satisfy his tolerably exacting and fastidious employers.

In the present case he confers with the storekeeper, Mr de Vere, a young gentleman of aristocratic connexions who is thus gaining an excellent practical knowledge of the working of a large station and to this end has the store keeping department entrusted to him during shearing.

He does not perhaps look quite fit for a croquet party as he stands now, with a flour scoop in one hand and a pound of tobacco in the other... Continue reading book >>

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