Monday, August 25, 2008

LEARNING TO SHEAR (part 1) ©


After milking was over, I took the milk across to the butter-shed. The butter shed was a small, well-built shed about 6-foot square. It was covered in, at each side, by mosquito wire. Sometimes old Burt used to hang a freshly-butchered wether in the butter-shed while it set. That way the blowflies couldn’t get at it.
I poured the milk through a strainer and then put the milk into the stainless-steel churn. I started to crank the high-geared handle. After a while, the skimmed milk came out of a spout and the fresh butter stayed inside the churn.
I always fed the skim milk to Burts’ ‘children’, as I called them. They were actually small, black piglets. Even the piglets had a hard time in the Bush. If the old sow gave birth to them outside, the crows would come sweeping down for the afterbirth and many-a-time the crows were not content with that so they’d peck off a newborn pigs’ tail which left the piglet with a small, upturned stump. As the piglets grew so did the level of torture because now the pig had no tail to swish so the bush and blowflies could sit on his arse all day with no interruption. Every now and again old Burt would douse their arses with sheep-dip. The sheep-dip kept the maggots at bay, which in turn made the pigs life a bit more tolerable. If anyone in the Bush tells you they’re ‘living a pigs life’, you know for sure he’s got flies around his arse. Hence the old Bush saying, ‘There’s no flies on me, mate!’ ‘Yeah, but ya can see where the bastards have been.’
When I took the plate of raw butter into Kays’ kitchen everyone was sat around the table, laughing and joking. This surprised me a bit ‘cause there was not usually too many jokes in old Burt. Kay took the butter from me and said,
“This is Bill and Madge Spence, Richard. They’ll be staying on the property for a week.”
“Nice to meet ya.” I said in mi new Aussie accent I was just starting to develop.
“G’day.” They said, as they looked me over, staring for too long at the tattoos on mi now brown arms.
“Where d’ya git those tattoos?” said Bill.
“From Rex Stoker in Bradford.”
“Oh, I know Bradford.” Said fat Madge, as she crammed a piece of fresh toast into her face. “My sister lives there. She’s been there for years. Me and Bill are from South Hampton. We’ve been out here for 17 years now.”
“18!” said Bill, as he sucked, disgustingly, on the bone of a lamb chop.
“Jesus!” said Burt. “I’m outnumbered here. I’m on only ‘fair-dinkum’ Aussie in mi own house. I’m surrounded by a bunch of bloody pommies.”
“You’re not a black fellow.” said Bill. “They’re the only fair-dinkum Aussies in Australia, Burt.”
“Suppose you’re right, technically speaking, Bill…but I was born and raised in the Bush and I work hard for a living, not like those ‘lazy bastards’. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m a fair-dinkum Aussie and it’s my land now!”
They all had a good laugh at that. Then Kay said to me,
“Sit yourself down Richard and have some breakfast.”
“Yeh”, said Burt. “You’d better have a good breakfast this morning ‘cause after breakfast we’re going up the paddock to bring the sheep in. I noticed the other day a few fly-blown weathers in ‘em, so we’ll have to shear ‘em and stick a bit of tar on ‘em.”
“Oh great!”, I said. “I’ve only ever seen sheep-shearing on the telly in England. Maybe I can have a go at it, Burt?”
“Ya can have a go but it’s the hardest job in Australia, mate. I doubt whether you’d even be able to git the belly wool off a’ one.”
“Can you shear Burt?”, I said.
“Yeh, but I’m not real fast at it ‘cause I don’t get enough practice. You’ve gotta have a heart as big as a football and a brain the size of a split pea to make a good shearer.”
“Do ya wanna’ hand today Burt?”, said Bill, whose plate now held 3 naked bones. They had been sucked dry by old Bill, who was now sat back slurping down another cuppa of hot, black billy tea. ‘The dogs will not be too pleased when they get those bones’, I thought. ‘He’s eaten the grisel as well!’
“Yeh, if ya like Bill. ‘Course I can’t pay ya mate but I can always use another hand.”
“She’ll be right Burt. It’ll give me a chance to work off a bit of a’ weight. I seem to pile it on these days, probably ‘cause I sit around so much driving all over the Bush. Maybe Madge here might like to give us a hand, eh Madge?”, said Bill, as he gave her a bit of a dig in her spare tires with his elbow.
“Don’t you worry about me Bill Spence, just look after ya own spare tires and I’ll look after mine, alright?” she said in mock anger.
“Streuth you two, no need to fight over who’s gonna work with me.”, said Burt, having a bit of a laugh to himself ‘cause he’d cracked one of his little jokes.
‘Maybe he knows he’s hard to work with.’ I thought, as I stared at his bushy eyebrows and his slit eyes.
“I’m pretty easy to git along with at work.”, said Burt. “So, if ya likes’ ya can both work with me. We’ll git the job done faster.”
“No thanks.”, said fat Madge. I don’t mind eating sheep but that’s as far as it goes.”
They all had a good laugh over this. Maybe I’m missing the joke here ‘cause I can’t see anything to laugh about, working with hard, old Burt.
After breakfast, me and Burt took off up the paddock with his two black- barb dogs to muster up the sheep. The sheep were scattered all over one of his Bush paddocks and it took the dogs quite a while to round up the big, rough, woolly wethers.
(A wether is a male sheep that has no balls. The Cocky cuts ‘em out so all the sheeps’ strength goes into growing super-fine Merino wool.)
Once the dogs had rounded up as many sheep as they could find, we started on our way back to the house-paddock where the shearing-shed stood. On the way back Burts’ old dogs saw a mob of Roos and decided to chase them. Old Burt had a shit-fit when the dogs ran off and left us to look after the mob of sheep.
“Come here, ya black bastards!” roared Burt. “Git over here ya useless fucking bastards!”
The dogs paid no attention to Burt, whatsoever, so we had to wait for them to come back before we could move on.
“That’s what fucking happens when I let ‘em go Roo hunting! The bastards git lazy. They’d sooner chase Roos than work sheep!”
When the dogs got back, old Burt gave ‘em a real good hiding with a leafy stick.
“Look at the black bastards!, said Burt. “They’re not worth a portion of urine now! They’re rooted from chasing bloody Roos, in the hot sun!”
The two dogs were now laid under a shady tree with their tongues hanging out, having a breather and catching a new breath.
“I’ll shoot ya next time!” yelled Burt at his two dogs who still lay there, panting and heaving.
We waited in the shade of a Gum tree for a while. Then old Burt roared,
“Alright you pair a’ bastards, go back! Go back Rover, you black, lazy bastard! Fetch ‘em up Darkie, ya useless, stupid bastard! I could do a better job myself if I had a couple more legs!”
Next, he turned and had a piece of me,
“And you, ya useless pommy bastard, don’t just stand there looking…open the fucking gate! What d’ya expect ‘em to do, jump over?”
‘Fuck you Burt!’, I said under mi breath.
“What did you you say?” he roared as he came towards me.
“Nothing Burt.”, I said as I ran for the gate.
“Open both sides!”, he roared. “That’s why there’s 2 gates! You’re as dumb as those two fucking dogs, ya pommy bastard!”
At long last and a lot of cursing later, the sheep were now in the yards and old Burt started to settle back down again.
“Let’s go and have a quick cuppa’. We’ll fetch Bill back down to the yards. He can give us a hand. It’ll make it a lot easier.”
When we got back to the house, old Burt was as cool-as-a-cucumber again.