I have been following an old shearing mate recently on Loserbook as he and his wife traipse around the world doing the tourist thing and some of the photos showed him catching up with the people we both used to shear with back in the day.
Shearing is a great industry, the people are the salt of the earth and all involved can and should be justifiably proud of working in what is often called one of the world’s toughest professions. Seeing some old shearing faces from the past put me in a reflective frame of mind and I realised that shearing gave you a lot of things (money, travel, grease boils) but perhaps the most important thing it gave you was mates and memories.
I could tell you a few stories about this old mate of mine, about the time we had a big night on rum, no sleep and during the first run, while right in the middle of the long blow he expertly chundered down the porthole and barely lost a blow. Or the time we went out to do our best tallies on ewes at Greenvale station and he had a crack at five hundred, missed it by a hundred the wrong way and did six hundred.
Yes, I could tell you a lot of things but I’m going to tell you about the day I thought I had the skinny blond little &%$$#@# on the ropes. We were shearing in Southland for Stephen Dodds, at Malcolm McKee’s farm between Riversdale and Waikaia and he had run in a mob of milk lambs (small, fast shearing and as an added bonus he wanted the bellies left on) which we didn’t get a lot of in the South Island so we were all keyed up to have a crack and pop out some tallies. The lambs were shearing well and I was fizzed up and, incredibly, by lunchtime I had shorn the same amount as my mate.
I remember taking my comb and cutter off and thinking to myself “I reckon I can take him”. We didn’t talk all lunchtime. I loaded up a couple of handpieces, lined my oiled cutters up ready for quick changes, filled my catching pen up tight to make the lambs sweat and paced up and down the board getting psyched up. He nonchalantly sat with his back against the catching pen door ignoring me and barely moved.
During the morning we had been shearing about one hundred and thirty a run and I think one hour we both cracked seventy each which was my best tally by a long chalk. I knew the pressure would be on after lunch so as we dragged the lambs out onto the board and popped the machines into gear, I pulled out everything I had and went for broke. I pumped out eighty lambs for the hour which was a jump up of ten an hour on before lunch. I was pretty proud of that. Actually, I still am but that facts show that my mate put eight around me (he did eighty-eight), which completely blew my mind and I realised right then that whatever it was that made you a “gun” shearer, I didn’t have it.
As we changed our handpieces on the hour and had a quick break he wandered down the shearing board and said “Don’t you ever %^$#@@$ try that again”. And I never did!