At the back of the shearing shed the grass is overgrown and the tin walls are rusting. Out front there’s a table with a kettle, milk, biscuits and a home-made almond cake. My job is to boil the water for the morning and afternoon tea, not a big job but important enough to make me part of the team.
Unemployed spider webs hang from the corner of the shed and the brown dog snoozes on the front seat of the van. It is a year since the boards have been trodden by a shearer’s boots and the remnants of last year’s clipping lie on the floor.
It’s not yet hot enough for the blowflies to buzz around and as the cool morning air warms into a sunny day the shed is bathed in the mid-day light.
The last twelve herd alpacas are shorn and it’s now time for the two stud males to make their way into the shed. Like prize fighters before a bout they have to be separated to avoid trouble.
The studs show little respect for each other, however their macho posturing makes little impression on the shearer or his helper, who quickly flip them on their backs exposing their male-hood to all in the shed. We then all watch and listen to their bleating as off comes their fleece.
The radio blasts and the shearer sings along. There are ladies present so he doesn’t swear. But he curses his helpers if they are slow in picking up the fleece or the broom is left in his way.
The sunlight dances on the sweat on his shoulders and I see him catch his breath with a twinge of back pain, a reward for many years of honest hard work. He doesn’t stop but bends to his work again. The ghosts of 200 years of Australia’s shed history come alive in the smoky mist.
Another year is over, another job is done and still more to shear tomorrow. These shearers are big rough boys with hearts that are even bigger.
From shearing shed to shearing shed they move for seven months of the year, working seven days a week, and for the other five months they fish, relax and spend time with their family and friends. True, honest, hardworking Australians.