A Day in the Life of a Sheep Shearer

The alarm sounded. I hated the alarm — it meant that there was work to be done. All that blissful sleep … dashed on the rocks! It was like this every morning; I would sleep the night away, sometimes even forgetting the pain of my work. And then, just as my sleep was reaching that perfect state where the body starts to recover from the previous day’s work — the alarm. The sheets stuck to my back as I hinged myself in direction of the alarm clock, every morsel of my joints and tendons aching with regret at choosing the hard life of a shearer. ‘But it’s money,’ I tried to convince myself as I stumbled to the bathroom. A splash of cold water helped my eyes to open and I saw myself in the mirror. ‘Do I really need money?’ Another splash of water. ‘Surely there’s another way to make a living.’

But as I drove through the countryside, watching the earth awaken under a red dawn, I reminded myself of what I loved about this job. It’s a chance to see the countryside, and work side-by-side with honest, hard-working men. I smiled to myself, smugly, remembering that today was going to be an easy day. Only four hundred crossbred ewes, and four of us on the job! Heck, we’d be out of there in five hours! And it was a Friday too. I daydreamed about the weekend, and mentally wrote a list of all the useful things I would get done later in the afternoon. I was just coming to the part where I do that thing I’ve been planning on doing for quite some time, when I had the rather odd sensation that my mobile phone might be ringing. I dismissed it as a noise coming from the workings of my ute. But then I heard it again, and this time I was certain it was my phone. It was the contractor.

‘One of the blokes is crook, so I need you to turn around and go to a different job, and there’s a few there so it’ll be a big day for ya.’

‘Okay mate, no worries.’ Damn! A few! That means a lot.

The drive up to the other shed was kind of gloomy and depressing, knowing I would have to work late on a Friday. I had to pick up a rousabout too, and for some reason I’m always nervous when I have to have someone in the car with me. When I picked Clarence up it was a bit better though, as I tried to put on a brave face, and reassure him that I would work hard and that it would be fine. This reassuring someone else helped me to calm myself down a little bit, and I almost enjoyed the rest of the drive to the shed. The very straight roads kept coming towards us and the sunrise was quite beautiful. But then I got to the shed.

Talk about mud! In between the gate and the shed was about 200 meters of nothing but mud! I tried to see the funny side, and pointed the nose of my ute in the general direction of the shed. Then I pushed the skinny pedal to the boards, and off we skipped. It was almost graceful as we bumped and skidded, eventually getting well and truly bogged right where (amazingly) we needed to be. I turned to Clarence and gave him a grin. ‘We aren’t getting out of that without help!’

This little gag was still cheering me up when I stepped into the shed to inspect how many sheep were actually there. All I saw was a giant sea of wool and ears as I looked across the holding pens. My heart sank. I wanted to cry.

‘There’s 60 ewes to shear, and you’ll have to crutch their lambs as you go, and after that there’s another 80 Lambs to shear and about 200 to crutch.’ A Prophet of Doom had appeared from behind a wool bale — it was the farmer. I tried to put on a brave, not caring, I’ve-done-this-before kind of face. ‘I’ll see if I can get them done.’ The farmer must have sensed doubt in my voice, because his expression sank into a one of helplessness — not unlike the expression on my face that I was trying so hard to hide.

An hour late. An hour from home. A late Friday. Still, things could be worse … yes, I’m sure they could.

I dove into them, working as quickly as I could. The ewes were actually not that bad to shear, and I managed to get into the zone quite easily. I knew that there was no way I would be able to finish the whole job in one day, but maybe I could finish the shearing …

I want to take a moment now to talk about the zone. When I’m in the zone, I shear my best numbers. All I can see is wool. My vision goes slightly blurred, and although I can’t see as well I can just feel where to put my hands. My heart gets pumping, and time slows down. I lose certain senses, other than the slight loss of vision. No feeling of pain exists when I’m in the zone. I forget everything about my past, and all my worries disappear. But a very strange thing happens; after I have been in the zone I don’t really remember working. All I remember are sensations and the burn of my body afterwards. If I’m In the zone all day, I go home and remember nothing about any particular sheep. In fact, the only proof I have that I shore more than one sheep that day is that the tally book says so …

I finished the ewes and crutched all their lambs, then I started on the other lambs. Talk about wild! They were like snakes. squirming and wriggling, biting and kicking. I tried to get into the zone again but I couldn’t seem to do it. Even though a freezing cold gale was blowing through the shed I was sweating like a waterfall. Then the cold air chilled my wet back and it ached and hurt. Surely Hell would feel like a promotion compared to this!

Nonetheless I kept going, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to finish even If I tried my hardest. I kept glancing out the window, too, watching the puddles outside get deeper, and the mud that bogged my ute get runnier. No, I definitely wasn’t getting out of there without help. I found myself daydreaming as I shore along, thinking about the times I’d been bogged in the past. Most of these times were when I had a four-wheel-drive, and I would go out on expeditions purely for the purpose of getting myself in boggy situations. Wham! One of the lambs decided to kick me in the precise area of my groin. That reminded me that I was still here, and there were still hundreds of sheep out there. But stuff it! I’ll work until five o’clock and then I’ll knock off. Who cares if there are a few left? That could be another problem for another day.

Five o’clock finally came. I even shore for an extra fifteen minutes just so I could feel like I’d worked overtime. Clarence didn’t know where the farmer was, and neither did I, so I found his number and rang him on the electric telephone.

‘Hello?’

‘Yeah g’day it’s Oves.’

‘Aah yeah.’

‘I’m bogged mate.’

‘Oh, where abouts are ya?’

‘Just where I was parked.’

‘I think you’ve got the wrong number mate.’

‘Sorry, is this the farmer?’

‘… Yeah …’ It seemed he couldn’t figure out who I was,

‘It’s Oves. The shearer mate, I’m bogged where I was parked outside the shearing shed!’

‘Ooh! Yeah yeah I’m with you now! Ha! ha! I was thinking, “Who the —- is this?” Yeah I’m down the road with the tractor, I’ll be there in a minute.’

‘Thanks mate! Good on ya!’ I hung up my phone and watched in the distance for the tractor. There it was.

Soon we were on the road again, all the mud from the bog flicking merrily off my wheels and splattering on the underside of the tray. What an exhilarating feeling! To be driving away from that place! I wanted to hug Clarence, I wanted to scream joyous noises at the police station as I drove by, imaginary tunes where thumping through my head. But I didn’t hug poor Clarence or scream at the cops though, I was trying to be dignified.

The week had ended at last!

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