Sunday, January 15, 2017
ANOTHER CHAPTER IN A SHEARERS LIFE
On Friday night, after the shed had finished, Don Freeman said to me, "We're starting a camping-out shed on Monday Chummy, so we'll be leaving the lake on Sunday, lunchtime. Make sure you've got enough gear for the week, including booze and fags 'cause we'll be way out in the bush, miles from nowhere."
"Where we goin' Don?"
"Down towards Hay, on the One Tree Plain. I contract that shed every year. We'll be there for roughly three weeks mate."
"OK mate, I'll be ready."
That evening, being Friday night and the end of a shed, Gundy was firing on all 8 cylinders already.
"Hey Chummy!", he yelled. "Come over and meet Cyclone. This is our pommy roustabout.", said Gundy to Cyclone. "This is Cyclone, chummy. He's a gun shearer!"
Cyclone was as bad, if not worse an alcoholic than Gundy. Once he had a few bucks in his pocket he would not shear another sheep until it was all gone. Cyclone, like Gundy, was a hell of a good-natured man but the booze had him. He was his worst enemy. Very seldom in the Bush will one man tell another man what he should do. Everyone figures that as soon as a boy starts to work, he's old enough to be his own master. 'cause for one thing, he's working and living in a mans' world.
When Sunday lunchtime arrived, Don Freeman picked up Boney and me, Gundy and Cyclone. We drove a long way down to the One Tree Plain. Boney and I had to sit in the back of the Ute 'cause there was no room in the front.
The back of the Ute was filled with stores for the cook. A section of the back was reserved for me and Boney, along with the cartons of beer and numerous flagons of Brown Muscatel wine.
Freemans' dogs had to balance on top of all the boxes. They almost fell out a couple of times as we sped along the Bush roads at 80 miles an hour. After a few hours of driving, we arrived at the shearing shed. There it was, a big, corrugated iron shed sat on wooden pylons out in the middle of nowhere!
The landscape was almost barren as far as the eye could see in all directions. The ground was hot and dry and every so often there was a clump of rough, dry bush grass. It was called the One Tree Plain because nowhere in sight could anyone point out a tree of any size or shape. It was so hot that numerous whirly winds chased each other round and round in circles as they sped across the barren land. There was nothing edible that Merino sheep could live on and how they survived had got me beat!
The yards were already full of big, rough-necked wethers and a few hundred were packed in under the shed in case of a freak rainstorm. Miles and miles off in the distance was a cloud of red dust. This was probably the Jackeroos mustering another large mob of sheep. It would take a full day to bring them in to the shed to wait for their turn for shearing.
The shearers' living quarters were about a hundred yards away form the shed so Freeman drove the Ute in that direction. There was no shade to park it in so it just stayed where it was stopped until it had been unloaded.
Most shearers quarters at camp-out sheds are pretty clean and have good mattresses and beds. The beds, are in most cases, two to a room. Boney and me selected a clean room at the end, before any of the other blokes arrived.
The Shearers Union, which is called the A.W.U. was very supportive towards the shearers. That's the reason the quarters were in such good shape. If it was left up to the Cocky, he wouldn't care if the shearer had to sleep on the floorboards because, by his reckoning, the quarters were only used once or twice a year at shearing and crutching time, so why bother to make them livable.
Each room had a small set of cupboards between the beds for our clothes. The one window had a fly screen to keep out he bush flies and mosquitoes. There were no fans to keep it cool and at nighttime it could be around 90 degrees in those tin rooms. There was no electricity so the two refrigerators in the kitchen ran on kerosene. Half of one fridge would be used o keep the beer cold and the rest of the grog would be wrapped in wet hessian bags and stuck under the floor outside. Whatever bit of breeze there was would keep the beer slightly cool but nowhere near cold.
Boney and I helped Don to cart the stores from the back of the Ute to the kitchen, After we'd finished, Boney said, "Come on Chummy, let's go over to the shearing shed and check it out mate!"
It was about 5 O'clock now and the heat was still stifling. Mirages of water appeared everywhere as we walked across the windy plain. The hot breeze made doing anything hard work so we took our time, laughing and joking as we walked.
We got to the big shed and walked up the steep wooden stairs, hanging onto the steel railing. I was in front, so I pushed open the small corrugated door and we went inside.
"Gaw'd fucking hell!" said Boney as we stood in the shed and looked around. "Just look at all that parrot shit on the floor! It'll take us two or three hours to clean up this mess!"
"Yeah. Just look up there Boney!"
The shearing shed rafters were packed tight with Galahs.
(A Galah is a grey and pink parrot about 9" high. They are very common around NSW and make an awful racket when they sit around on the trees. Bush people even call each other 'silly Galahs.'.)
As we walked around I said to Boney, "Why are they all hanging around in the shed, mate?"
" 'Cause there's no fucking trees around Chummy so they've taken over the shearing shed."
The shed had been closed for months on end so due to the heat inside and the layers of parrot shit all over the place the stink was awful.
"Fucking hell Chummy, we've got to get rid of these bloody Galahs and clean up this board before we can even start shearing."
"Yeah, it's a real mess Boney. How d'ya reckon we should go about it?"
"We'll kill as many of 'em as we can because if not they'll come back at nighttime and shit all over the place again."
"How we gonna' do that mate? If we shoot at 'em and miss, the bullets will put holes in the roof."
"Ya probably right Chummy. Give me a minute to think, mate."
There must have been at least 300 Galahs in the shed. Some were sitting while others were flying around and squawking like hell. As I looked around, there was shit on the floor, shit on the wool table, all over the wool press, the wool packs were covered in it and it was even in the wool stalls.
"Tell ya what we'll do Chummy. Let's take that full bale of wool and roll it over to that end of the shed."
After that was done, Boney said, "Alright mate, grab that end of the wool table and we'll carry it over to the opposite side."
As soon as the table was in place, he said, "Here Chummy, take this."
"What's the straw broom for?"
"It's not a fucking straw broom!" he said with a big grin on his face.
"It looks like a straw broom to me, mate."
"Use your imagination Chummy. It's a double-handed shuttle-cock racquet!"
"Where's the shuttle-cocks?"
"Up there stupid!" as he pointed to the Galahs.
"Now, I've got the picture mate! I'll use the table and you use the bale."
"That's the idea Chummy. You scare 'em down to my end for a while and I'll smash 'em with the broom. We'll take turns at batting. Let's see who can get the highest number."
He drew a line in the parrot shit and said, "That's your half and this is mine. We'll count 'em up later."
I shooed all the Galahs down to Boneys' end of the shed and as they approached him, he swung the straw broom with a double back-hander.
'WHACK!' He knocked three Galahs out of the air in one blow. A double-handed forearm smash sent two more crashing to the floor.
"Alright Chummy, your turn.", he said as he giggled out loud. "I'll shoo 'em down to your end now mate. You take a couple of serves. The double-handed forearm smash seems to be a good point-scorer!"
As I stood on the table at the ready, the long-handled straw broom was over mi shoulder, cocked and ready to serve.
"Here they come Chummy!", yelled Boney.
Three hundred Galahs were now squawking like hell and flying straight for me. As soon as the live shuttle-cocks were in range, I let fly with a powerful over-head serve! One large Galah was knocked out of the air. An unconventional, two-handed upward reverse stroke sent two more to the deck. A clumsy double-handed sideswipe sent three more crashing through the ether!
"OK, your serve Boney!", I yelled, amidst the loud squawking.
I shooed the Galahs back down to Boneys' court. A well-aimed sideswipe sent three Galahs to bird heaven. A single-handed clumsy shot missed altogether and Boney fell off the big wood bale into a pile of Galah shit.
"Fault!", I shouted from my end as he slipped around in the white shit trying to scramble back up on the 'baseline' pack. Another mighty double-handed backhand sent three more Galahs to the deck.
"Alright Chummy, your serve!", yelled Boney as he shooed them back again.
After half-an-hour of strenuous badminton on center court we called 'Time-Out'
for a rest and cleanup. It wasn’t' too bad but Boney was covered in Galah shit and feathers as he walked up to me, smiling from ear to ear.
"We'll take a breather and swap ends Chummy. That wool pack is a bit hard to balance on. You've got the advantage on the table."
"Alright mate.", I said as we laughed. "We'll swap ends and play one more game and then we'll open the doors and chase the rest out. I don't think they'll come back in a hurry.
At the end of the game, we counted up the Galahs and then opened the two large doors. The remaining parrots flew out and were never seen again. It took Boney and me three hours to scrub the floor with hot, soapy water we'd boiled in the outside copper.
By this time all the other blokes had arrived. The cook made up some tucker and after dinner we sat around in our rooms reading, talking or playing cards. Gundy and a couple of the other shearers sat around drinking plonk till about 11 O'clock.
It was pretty hard to sleep that night 'cause it was so hot. We just lay on our backs sweating like hell, drifting in an out of sleep.
The following morning being Monday, everyone was up bright and early. Even Gundy didn't look too worse for wear. Breakfast was at 6 and Dons' brother Jazzer was doing the cooking. Jazzer was a few years younger than Don, which would have made him around 40. Don was a fairly handsome sort of bloke which was more than could be said for Jazzer! He was about 5'9" and a thick-set bloke. Most of his bulk was comprised of fat. He had a mop of black, curly hair and a pretty large beak for a nose and a ginormous set of choppers on him. His teeth would not have looked too bad had he have cultivated the habit of cleaning them. Instead, they were a greeny-yellow color. He had a habit of standing with his mouth open and the teeth could easily be seen protruding below his top lip. He was also quite a heavy smoker. He used to grip the ends of the tips in his large teeth. Have you ever seen a horse with its' lips peeled back as it chomps on the bit? Well, stick a fag in-between the horses teeth and there you have Jazzer!
As far as his cooking skills went, he was rated at half-a-star. Jazzer was also able to shear. When he pulled into gear his named changed to Jabber. (That's another story!)
After breakfast, we all made our way over to the shearing shed. As we entered the shed Gundy noticed a large pile of dead Galahs off to the side of the steps. When Boney related the game of Badminton, Gundy had to smile which was unusual for him at 6:45 in the morning.