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The Merino Sheep

by Banjo Paterson (1864-1941)

. . . the story continues . . .

Then the dogging and shrieking and hustling and tearing have to be gone through all over again. (This on a red-hot day, mind you, with clouds of blinding dust about, the yolk of wool irritating your eyes, and, perhaps, three or four thousand sheep to put through). The delay throws out the man who is counting, and he forgets whether he left off at 45 or 95. The dogs, meanwhile, have taken the first chance to slip over the fence and hide in the shade somewhere, and then there are loud whistlings and oaths, and calls for Rover and Bluey. At last a dirt-begrimed man jumps over the fence, unearths Bluey, and hauls him back by the ear. Bluey sets to work barking and heeling-’em up again, and pretends that he thoroughly enjoys it; but all the while he is looking out for another chance to “clear”. And this time he won’t be discovered in a hurry.

There is a well-authenticated story of a ship-load of sheep that was lost because an old ram jumped overboard, and all the rest followed him. No doubt they did, and were proud to do it. A sheep won’t go through an open gate on his own responsibility, but he would gladly and proudly “follow the leader” through the red-hot portals of Hades: and it makes no difference whether the lead goes voluntarily, or is hauled struggling and kicking and fighting every inch of the way.

For pure, sodden stupidity there is no animal like the merino. A lamb will follow a bullock-dray, drawn by sixteen bullocks and driven by a profane person with a whip, under the impression that the aggregate monstrosity is his mother. A ewe never knows her own lamb by sight, and apparently has no sense of colour. She can recognise its voice half a mile off among a thousand other voices apparently exactly similar; but when she gets within five yards of it she starts to smell all the other lambs within reach, including the black ones – though her own may be white.

The fiendish resemblance which one sheep bears to another is a great advantage to them in their struggles with their owners. It makes it more difficult to draft them out of a strange flock, and much harder to tell when any are missing.

Concerning this resemblance between sheep, there is a story told of a fat old Murrumbidgee squatter who gave a big price for a famous ram called Sir Oliver. He took a friend out one day to inspect Sir Oliver, and overhauled that animal with a most impressive air of sheep-wisdom.

“Look here,” he said, “at the fineness of the wool. See the serrations in each thread of it. See the density of it. Look at the way his legs and belly are clothed – he’s wool all over, that sheep. Grand animal, grand animal!”

Then they went and had a drink, and the old squatter said, “Now, I’ll show you the difference between a champion ram and a second-rater.” So he caught a ram and pointed out his defects. “See here – not half the serrations that other sheep had. No density of fleece to speak of. Bare-bellied as a pig, compared with Sir Oliver. Not that this isn’t a fair sheep, but he’d be dear at one-tenth Sir Oliver’s price. By the way, Johnson” (to his overseer), “what ram is this?”

“That, sir,” replied the astounded functionary – “that is Sir Oliver, sir!”

. . . the story continues . . .

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