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Shearing in a Bar

[ Roud 24811 ; AFS 145 ; Duke Tritton]

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Shearing in a Bar on his 1981 Fellside album Emu Plains. this track was also included in 1996 on his compilation Undiscovered Australia. He noted:

This was one of the songs of ‘Duke’ Tritton, a New South Wales bush worker, sheep station hand, shearer, fencer, gold miner; for a while he was a professional boxer. He die in his late 70s in 1965. He was a ‘discovery’ of the folk song collector, John Meredith, and one of the best of the latter-day bush singers. He used to sing this song with actions.

Danny Spooner sang Shearing in a Bar on his and Wyndham-Read’s 1989 Sandstock album All Around Down Under. and in 2004 on his CD ’Ard Tack. Gael Shannon commented in the first album’s notes:

Danny’s favourite shearing song—for its honest admission, or for the story of its composition?

“Well that came to me by being up at the Tarcoon pub one afternoon, one Saturday, and I supposed there’d be thirty or forty shearers there from various sheds, and every one of them was talking about his shearing … shearing and nothing else. And the point that struck me, nobody seemed to gash them, no matter how rough they were. Well, I got stuck into that, and I thought, ‘Well that’s an idea,’ and I made up a story about it in rhyme.” (Duke Tritton, Time Means Tucker, Akron Press 1984). Duke was a bushman, shearer, swaggie, author and poet. Martyn and Danny heard him sing at the Melbourne Town Hall a year or two before he died in 1965.


Danny Spooner sings Shearing in a Bar

My shearing days are over, though I never was a gun,
I could always count my twenty at the end of every run.
I used the old “Trade Union” shears, and the blades were always full
As I drove ’em to the knockers, and I clipped away the wool.
I shore at Goorianawa and didn’t get the sack;
From Breeza out to Compadore I always could go back.
And though I am a truthful man, I find when in a bar
My tallies seem to double, but I never call for tar.

Shearing on the western plains where the fleece is full of sand,
And the clover burr and corkscrew grass, is the place to try your hand.
For the sheep are tall and wiry where they feed on the Mitchell grass,
And every second one of them is close to the cobbler class;
And a pen chock full of cobblers is a shearers dream of hell,
So loud and lurid are their words when they catch one on the bell.
But when we’re pouring down the grog you’ll have no call for tar,
For a shearer never cuts ’em when shearing in a bar.

At Louth I caught the bell sheep, a wrinkled, tough wooled brute,
Who never stopped his kicking till I tossed him down the chute.
My wrist was aching badly, but I fought him all the way;
Couldn’t afford to miss a blow; I must earn my pound a day.
So when I’d take a strip of skin I’d hide it with my knee,
Turn the sheep around a bit where the right bower couldn’t see,
Then try and catch the rousie’s eye and softly whisper, “tar”;
But it never seems to happen when I’m shearing in the bar.

I shore away the belly wool and trimmed the crutch and hocks,
Opened up along the neck while the rousie swept the locks,
Then smartly swung the sheep around and dumped him on his rear
Two blows to clip away the wig—I also took an ear—
Then down around the shoulders and the blades were opened wide
As I drove ’em on the long blow and down the whipping side.
And when the fleece fell on the board, he was nearly black with tar,
But this is never mentioned when I’m shearing in a bar.

Now when the season’s ended and my grandsons all come back,
In their buggies and their sulkies—I was always on the track—
They come and take me into town to fill me up with beer,
And I sit on a corner stool and listen to them shear.
There’s not a bit of difference; it must make the angels weep
To hear a mob of shearers in a barroom shearing sheep,
For the sheep go rattling down the race with never a call for tar,
For a shearer never cuts ’em when he’s shearing in a bar.

Then memories come a-crowding and they wipe away the years,
And my hand begins to tighten and I seem to feel the shears.
I want to tell them of the sheds, the sheds where I have shorn,
Full fifty years and sometimes more, before these boys were born.
I want to speak of Yarragin, Dunlop or Wingadee,
But the beer has started working and I’m wobbling at the knee;
So I’d better not start shearing, I’d be bound to call for tar,
Then be treated as a blackleg when I’m shearing in a bar.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard