Click go the shears . . .
We’ve just finished this year’s shearing. And as I worked in the dusty confines of the shearing shed and as the burr of the shearing motors became a comforting background sound, I noticed things I have never bothered about before.
There is a rhythm in the shed. Almost balletic in its style. As I worked on the board as a rouseabout, I realised that like any good dance, one has to be part of the rhythm and if one is feeding into the dance pattern, one has to step in at just the right time.
My job as a rouse is to work with a paddle, an implement like a broom, and to sweep the wool away, so that as each sheep is pulled in and shorn, it’s done on a clean board. Given that there is no break, that the shearers finish one and immediately go to the catching pen and pull out another, the pressure is constant and this is where I began to notice rhythm. Over-zealous a couple of times, I hit David in the heel as I swept his station and in order not to offend, (he is quite high in the chain, the rouseabout is lowest of the low), I studied his feet.
He pushed the shorn sheep into the shute and stepped off with his right foot, his left pushing at the fleece in an almost half-circle. I found that if I reached in an arc behind his right foot, I could then follow the left foot in a seamless movement, taking the loose wool with me. (The classer has already picked the fleece up and thrown it on the sorting table by now and I sweep the dregs)
We have a two-stand shed, small in the world of Australian wool-growing, and we are quite cosy inside. As the rouse, I am responsible for the whole board and so after learning David’s pattern, I then began to watch Craig’s. His shearing style is like Taichi. He never just stops a movement, he continues the stroke off the sheep and into the air in a graceful unstrained action that must surely be far more beneficial for his body. Once his shorn sheep is tucked down the shute, he slips out of his back harness in an undulating movement, steps round on the right foot and reaches into the catching pen. Smoothly. So if I once again follow his right foot with my paddle, we have no impact.
It seemed to me I was drawing smooth circles on the floor, something like a waltz, and it was almost mesmerising in its flow. I can tell you if anyone had told me that a dance pattern would emerge from a day in the shearing shed, I would have laughed. But it’s true. Not exactly Dancing with the Stars, but not a clod-hopping high-step either.