Shearing at “Armitstead”

The Woolshed
‘Armitstead’ Homestead in the distance.

Shearing was always a highlight of the year and went on for about a month,  shearing the “Armitstead” sheep and then the sheep on the neighboring  property, “Shadyside”. My Father knew all about Sheds and Shearing. He had worked in sheds in Victoria and NSW as a Woolclasser.  At “Cromdale” near Echuca in Northern Victoria where He and his Brother Roy lived and ran their Property, they had a large shearing shed.  Many thousands of sheep were shorn on contract for other property owners in the district.

The shearers were hired through the shearing co-op, Grazcos. The Co-op was formed in 1919 as the Graziers Co-op Shearing Company Limited,  and they arranged teams of shearers for property owners all over Australia. Our team of ten men, were four Shearers, a rouseabout, piece picker, wool roller, presser, the cook and the Overseer-Expert-Classer, who was also the team boss so to speak. The Expert part of his job was to keep the machinery maintained and running smoothly and to grind the combs and cutters for the shearers, and he would count the shorn sheep at the end of each run.

We always called him the woolclasser and and he lived with us in the Managers house during the shearing.

The shearers would turn up in all types of transport, some on the train, on bikes or even Taxi. The men usually arrived from the mainland over a weekend ready to start on a Monday morning at 7:30 am. They would work four- two hour runs with a half hour smoko 9:30,  one hour lunch break and afternoon smoko at 3:00 finishing at 5:30. The shearers liked shearing our crossbred sheep, because they had no wrinkles on the skin like the Merino. They would stay on in Tasmania after our shed cut out to shear at other sheds in the state. Shearing gangs were always an unpredictable  lot, with regard to punctuality and behaviour, and it was not uncommon for someone not to turn up on time or to snatch it (leave) after a day or two. They worked hard and played hard.

On one such occasion  My Mother was called upon to cook for the shearers until a replacement could be found. We had two Aunts staying with us at the time, They were Illa and Mary from Melbourne,  and were great fun.  Well Mary went to help Mother in the Cookhouse at the Shearers Quarters, which was 500 Meters up on the side of a hill, and Illa stayed home to keep the home fires burning, and look after the three of us. By this time Wendy, my second Sister had arrived and was still quite young.

One of my jobs was to cut the wood and morning sticks and to keep the woodbox full for the kitchen fire. Well my hand was a bit too close to the axe and I cut my hand while cutting the small sticks. I raced inside to Illa, who panicked somewhat, but calmed enough to bandaged my hand then insisted we walk up the hill to Mother in the Cookhouse.  Well my Mother was a Nurse and not very impressed with my problem, but she took me over to shearing shed where the well stocked first aid kit was kept. She patched me up pretty good but said it should have stitches.  However shearing is a busy time and no one had time to get me to a Doctor. I still have the scar on my hand. I spent the rest of the day in the shearing shed, a far more exciting place to be than the working on the wood heap.

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