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.


‘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!

Untamable Sleep (a Poem)

O sleep, why dost thou leave me so?
Wherefore dost thou go
When I need thee so dearly?
Thou art like a silken scarf,
That slips from the hold of my fingers.
Thou art like the stars
That seem so beautiful and near
Yet cannot be reached.
Why must I search for thee so?
Why must I coax thee unto me so persistently?
I call thy name, and thou turnest thine head away.
Thou hast the desires
Of another man’s heart in thy bondage.
O sleep, return thou once more unto me again,
That I may rest in thine arms once more.
O wherefore art thou,
Untamable sleep?

This is something I wrote quite some time ago, and today I thought it fit to publish here.

Questions of the Mind

Tattooed on the interior of my skull is a question. It’s a very long question, and it doesn’t ask with words — in fact, it’s more of a curiosity, a desire. I beleive that all matter is a code. When a human talks to another human he uses a code. When she gets annoyed that I generalized all humans with that two-letter word more properly used to describe only men, she is following a code. But what is the key?

Perhaps there are multiple keys, or perhaps there is a key of keys to unlock all codes. Some people seem adept at picking locks. To me, it’s a mystery. Everything is a mystery, an enigma.

I too act according to a code; but I don’t know the key to even my own. Animals follow a simpler code and are more easy to understand. Most of the time they are logical, although mostly in a narrow-minded way. But people … What a bunch of confusion! He wants something from her, goodness knows what … But she says she doesn’t want something that she truthfully does. And here, a rock that the emotions of others splash upon, am I.

Why do people feel? Why love? What logical explanation is there? It seems the only thing worth doing to me, is to question. And as long as I question, I cannot love. The more I seek the less I feel. What if everything we think matters doesn’t, and all that we think are heresies are not? Fools we would seem.

I know not what I write, for the question in my head does not ask with words. Words merely hint at it. Words lower it to the level of paper and pen. Type and print. Dots and dashes. On and off.

The switch — the switch has clicked. Maybe there is a key to the code. Maybe it’s us.

Please Don’t Send my Mother (a Poem)

When I was born my mother had a plan
To raise me right to do the best I can.
She raised me up and covered me with joy
And told me when I was only just a boy
That when I was born she heard the Devil crying
‘Cause I’d grow to be the man to keep on trying.

The Devil tried to kill me as a child
And the fiery arrows burnt my meek and mild.
But my mother knew the Devil had no chance,
And she kept on teaching me the righteous dance.
Oh and there were times I’m sure she felt like dying
But she kept on teaching me to keep on trying.

Oh but what I’ve done has made my mother wail;
If they caught me I’d have ended up in gaol.
Lord only knows how far that I had fell —
And if there’s such a place, I ought to go to Hell.
I’ve had my chance and don’t deserve another;
But if I go to Hell, Lord, please don’t send my mother.

Late one night I was blind drunk in the bar,
But I walked outside and climbed into my car.
When she started up, I drove her through the night
With the lights turned off, the road was out of sight.
When I got back home I could hear my mother crying,
And I heard her voice once more to keep on trying.

But I didn’t listen to the words she said —
I was drinking hard and wishing I was dead.
Sometimes I finished passed-out on the lawn;
Couldn’t feel my legs as I waited for the dawn.
What my stomach couldn’t hold was around me lying
On the ground as I wished I would keep on trying.

What I’ve done has made my mother wail;
If they caught me I’d have ended up in gaol.
Lord only knows how far that I had fell —
And if there’s such a place, I ought to go to Hell.
Oh I’ve had my chance and don’t deserve another;
But if I go to Hell, Lord, please don’t send my mother.

Lord, please help me get out of this hole,
And help me as I try to clean my soul.

Oh what I’ve done has made my mother wail;
If they caught me I’d have ended up in gaol.
Lord only knows how far that I had fell —
And if there’s such a place, I ought to go to Hell.
I’ve had my chance and don’t deserve another;
But if I go to Hell, Lord, please don’t send my mother.

© Oves Tondente

If Only Man Were Like the Grass (a Poem)

I saw a blade of grass today,
And thought about its lot;
It grows from nothing, water, soil,
And gives with all it’s got.

If only man were like the grass;
It, as the weeks and hours passed
Would give and give and give an give
And cause another’s life to live.

I saw the dying grass today,
And saw the fattened kine;
Its sacrifice they feasted on —
On its life they chose to dine.

If only man were like the grass
That, as the weeks and hours passed,
It gave and gave and gave and gave;
A better Earth became its grave.

© Oves Tondente