Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Sheep-Washers Lament




Words: Unknown
Tune: Traditional Irish (The Bonny Irish Boy)



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Come now, ye sighing washers all,
Join in my doleful lay,
Mourn for the times none can recall,
With hearts to grief a prey.
We’ll mourn the washer’s sad downfall
In our regretful strain,
Lamenting on the days gone by
Ne’er to return again.

When first I went a-washing sheep
The year was sixty-one,
The master was a worker then,
The servant was a man;
But now the squatters, puffed with pride,
They treat us with disdain;
Lament the days that are gone by
Ne’er to return again.

From sixty-one to sixty-six,
The bushman, stout and strong,
Would smoke his pipe and whistle his tune,
And sing his cheerful song,
As wanton as the kangaroo
That bounds across the plain.
Lament the days that are gone by
Ne’er to return again.

Supplies of food unstinted, good,
No squatter did withhold.
With plenty grog to cheer our hearts,
We feared nor heat nor cold.
With six-and-six per man per day
We sought not to complain.
Lament the days that are gone by
Ne’er to return again.

With perfect health, a mine of wealth,
Our days seemed short and sweet,
On pleasure bent our evenings spent,
Enjoyment was complete.
But now we toil from morn till night,
Though much against the grain,
Lamenting on the days gone by,
Ne’er to return again.

I once could boast two noble steeds,
To bear me on my way,
My good revolver in my belt,
I never knew dismay.
But lonely now I hump my drum
In sunshine and in rain,
Lamenting on the days gone by
Ne’er to return again.

A worthy cheque I always earned,
And spent it like a lord.
My dress a prince’s form would grace.
And spells I could afford.
But now in tattered rags arrayed,
My limbs they ache with pain,
Lamenting on the days gone by,
Ne’er to return again.

May bushmen all in unity
Combine with heart and hand,
May cursed cringing poverty
Be banished from the land.
In Queensland may prosperity
In regal glory reign,
And washers in the time to come
Their vanished rights regain.


From Paterson's Old Bush Songs, this complaint of declining conditions from the perspective of a dying industry.

These notes from Wikipedia:

Up until the 1870s squatters washed their sheep in nearby creeks prior to shearing.[4] Later some expensive hot water installations were constructed on some of the larger stations for the washing.[5] Sheep washing in Australia was influenced by the Saxony sheep breeders in Germany who washed their sheep and by the Spanish practice of washing the wool after shearing. There were three main reasons for the custom in Australia:
The English manufacturers demanded that Australian woolgrowers provide their fleeces free from vegetable matter, burrs, soil, etc.
The dirty fleeces were hard to shear and demanded that the metal blade shears be sharpened more often.
Wool in Australia was carted by bullock team or horse teams and charged by weight. Washed wool was lighter and did not cost as much to transport.
The practice of washing the wool rather than the sheep evolved from the fact that hotter water could be used to wash the wool, than that used to wash the sheep. When the practice of selling wool in the grease occurred in the 1890s, wool washing became obsolete.


The illustration to this post is a photograph of sheep-washing in the West Sussex village of Burnham around the turn of the twentieth century.

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