Click Go the Shears
Along with the Lime Juice Tub, Click Go the Shears was probably the most persistent of the old-time shearers' songs. It was still frequently to be heard in the sheds of the Western Line of N.S.W. twenty-five years ago. The theme of the dogged old shearer who'll never say die is familiar in Australian folklore (for instance, in Goorianawa, The Back-block Shearer, and in this album, One of the Has-Beens). The tune is that of the American Civil War song, Ring the Bell, Watchman. The opening verse is a parody of that song, which Henry Lawson heard sung in the bush (see his essay: The Songs They Used to Sing). The tune was also used for the revival hymn: Pull for the Shore, and for a temperance anthem that some of us remember from meetings of a juvenile temperance guild called The Ropeholders, where we raised out eight-year-old voices in the chorus: “Sign the pledge, brother! Sign! Sign! Sign! Asking the aid of the Helper Divine!”
Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Click Go the Shears with A.L. Lloyd helping out on chorus in 1971 on the Topic album The Great Australian Legend. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:
The great old stand-by among shearing songs. It started out as a parody of the popular American Civil War song, Ring the Bell, Watchman by Henry Clay Work (the bell in question was rung to signify the end of the war).
and in the accompanying booklet:
Characteristically, among Australia's mythological heroes is Crooked Mick, the giant shearer. He'd shear five hundred sheep a day; more, if it were ewes. He worked so fast, his shears ran hot; he'd have half-a-dozen pairs of blades in the water-pot at a time, cooling off. He was a bit rough, though. He kept five tar-boys running, dabbing on Stockholm tar each time he cut a sheep. They say that once, in the old Dunlop shed, the boss got annoyed at the way Mick was handling the sheep, and said: “That'll do, you're sacked.” Mick was going all out at the time, and he had a dozen more sheep shorn before he could straighten up and hang his shears on the hook.
A.L. Lloyd sings Click Go the Shears
Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Graspin' his shears in his thin bony hands,
His bleary eyes are fixed on a blue-bellied ewe,
Sayin', “If I get you, gal, I'll make the ringer go.”
- Chorus (after each verse):
- Click go the shears, boys, click, click, click.
Wide is his blow and his hands are movin' quick,
And the ringer looks around and he's beaten by a blow
And he curses that old snagger with the blue-bellied ewe.
In the middle of the floor in his cane-bellied chair
Sits the boss of the board with his eyes everywhere.
He notes every fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying close attention that it's took off clean.
The colonial-experience man, he is there, of course,
With his shiny leggins, just off his horse;
Castin' round his eyes like a real connossoor,
Brilliantine and scented soap and smelling like a whoor (Who said that?)
The tar-boy is there and waiting on demand
With his old tar-pot and in his tarry hand.
Sees an old ewe with a cut upon her back,
This is what he's waitin' for: “Tar here, Jack!”
First you take the belly-wool and niggle out the crutch,
Go up the neck, for the rules they are such,
Clean around the horns and the first shoulder down,
A long blow up the back and turn her around.
- Click, click, click, that's how the shearin' goes.
Click, clicketty click, oh my boys it isn't slow.
A fellow pulls out a sheep and it lands him a kick,
And still you hear the shears a-goin': Click, click, click.
Now the shearin's over and we've all got our cheque,
Roll up your swags and we're off along the track.
The first pub we'll come to it's there we'll have a spree
And to everyone that comes along it's: “Have a drink on me!”
Down by the bar the late shearer stands,
Graspin' his glass in his thin bony hands,
His eyes are on the barrel which now is lowerin' fast,
He works hard, he drinks hard, and goes to hell at last!
- blue-bellied ewe
- a ewe with fleece to thin that her skin shows through on her belly
- swathe cut by the shears
- a clumsy shearer
- a table on which each fleece is spread, as it is shorn, for the wool-classers to determine its quality
- youngster with the job of dabbing antiseptic Stockholm tar on sheep cut by the shears
- bundle of belongings and camping-gear, usually rolled in a blanket, and hung from the shoulder - also called “bluey”, “drum”, and more rarely “matilda”
- one who used hand-shears, not machine-shears
Acknowledgements and Links
Lyrics copied from Mark Gregory's Australian Folk Songs website and adapted to the actual singing of A.L. Lloyd.
See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Click Go the Shears.