Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Original Click Go the Shears ?

From the Bacchus Marsh Express Saturday 5 December 1891 p. 7.

Oh, down at the catching pen an old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his long bony hands ;
Fixed is his gaze on a bare belled ewe,
Saying " If I can only get her, won't I make the ringer go."

Click goes his shears; click, click, click.
Wide are the blows, and his hand is moving quick,
The ringer looks round, for he lost it by a blow,
And he curses that old shearer with the bare belled ewe.

At the end of the board, in a cane bottomed chair,
The boss remains seated with his eyes everywhere ;
He marks well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
And he watches where it comes from if not taken off clean.

The "colonial experience" is there of course.
With his silver buckled leggings, he's just off his horse ;
With the air of a connoiseur he walks up the floor ;
And he whistles that sweet melody, "I am a perfect cure."

"So master new chum, you may now begin,
Muster number seven paddock, bring the sheep all in ;
Leave none behind you, whatever you do,
And then we'll say you'r fit to be a Jackeroo."

The tar boy is there, awaiting all demands,
With his black tarry stick, in his black tarry hands.
He sees an old ewe, with a cut upon the back,
He hears what he supposes is–" Tar here, Jack."

"Tar on the back, Jack; Tar, boy, tar."
Tar from the middle to both ends of the board.
Jack jumps around, for he has no time to sleep,
And tars the shearer's backs as well as the sheep.

So now the shearing's over, each man has got his cheque,
The hut is as dull as the dullest old wreck ;
Where was many a noise and bustle only a few hours before,
Now you can hear it plainly if a pin fall on the floor.

The shearers now are scattered many miles and far ;
Some in other sheds perhaps, singing out for "tar."
Down at the bar, there the old shearer stands,
Grasping his glass in his long bony hands.

Saying "Come on, landlord, come on, come !
I'm shouting for all hands, what's yours–mine's a rum ;"
He chucks down his cheque, which is collared in a crack,
And the landlord with a pen writes no mercy on the back !

His eyes they were fixed on a green painted keg,
Saying " I will lower your contents, before I move a peg."
His eyes are on the keg, and are now lowering fast ;
He works hard, he dies hard, and goes to heaven at last.
                                                                                 C. C.
Eynesbury, Nov. 20, 1891.


Until this discovery it was thought that the first published version of the song was in Percy Jones' article  "Australia's Folk-Songs" in 1946.

This discovery lead to an ABC LANDLINE Broadcast: 2/02/2014

See Transcript Below

PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: Along with Waltzing Matilda, Click Go the Shears is one of Australia's most recognisable folk songs. But new research has uncovered a much earlier version of the song under a totally different name. The discovery also puts the ballad at the heart of the national shearers' strike, which changed the shearing industry and wool production forever.

SEAN MURPHY, REPORTER: It's one of Australia's most popular folk songs, but this version, performed by Jason and Chloe Roweth in the historic Errowanbang Woolshed in the central west of NSW, has only recently been rediscovered.

MARK GREGORY, HISTORIAN: It's one of the most important discoveries I've made, I think, in terms of my work in Australian folk song. To hear it sung the way that Chloe and Jason recorded it recently, it just conjures up that time even more than the very popular version that's been sung ever since 1952.

SEAN MURPHY: Mark Gregory found the lyrics in the National Archives as part of a doctoral thesis on songs and poetry linked to the Australian labour movement. It was published as the Bare Bellied Ewe in Victoria's Bacchus Marsh Times in late 1891. This is more than half a century before the song became popular in the 1950s, when American entertainer Burl Ives toured Australia and sang a version put together with bits and pieces of the original song.

MARK GREGORY: The first time most Australians would have heard the song was actually in 1952 sung with an American accent. So its popularity stems from that date, really, in many ways. Although there were shearers who knew it, so, it was known. And it was always known as a song sung to an American Civil War tune or song called Ring the Bell Watchman.

SEAN MURPHY: The published date of Mark Gregory's discovery is significant because it places the song at a time when Queensland shearers almost caused a civil war. The great shearers' strike of 1891 spread into NSW and Victoria and was the biggest workers' revolt of its time.

ROSS FITZGERALD, HISTORIAN: The industry of shearing was pivotal, but also the clash between the shearers and the squatters and the station owners who were trying to decrease the pay of shearers and were trying to break the nexus of the union movement in shearing. Absolutely paramount to Australian history and Australian culture. And it's hard for us now to realise just how central shearing was to Australian society, the Australian economy and also to Australian culture.

SEAN MURPHY: Historian Ross Fitzgerald says the shearers' strike of 1891 and another strike three years later were the genesis of the Australian Labor Party.

ROSS FITZGERALD: And it's interesting that the defeat of the shearers in 1891 and 1894 led the labour movement in Queensland to move away from direct action into parliamentary representation via the Labor Party in Queensland.

SEAN MURPHY: Today's shearing sheds are still strictly regulated by the clock, with two-hour sessions between lunch and smoko breaks. Part of that is a hangover from a time when union power dominated the industry. In Mick Taylor's team of nine shearers, not one is a union member.

SEAN MURPHY: Today's centralised wage fixing system, with unions, farmers and the industry negotiating a fair award is a far cry from when the Bare Bellied Ewe was sung in sheds like this by workers fighting for what is now often taken for granted.

MARK GREGORY: The strike was a defeat, but the union continued and it continues to this day because the AWU, the Australian Workers Union, is a continuation of that old shearers union.

JASON ROWETH: I think it's a terrific version of Click Go the Shears, or Bare Bellied Ewe, as we've started to call it. It's very nice when someone, like Mark, or anyone, comes along and uncovers a piece of the great mystery of Australian bush music. These days of these great sheds, that's a thing of the past, that's not coming back. But it's not that long ago and it's certainly in my family's memory and anyone who lives in this part of the world will know what it was like to be in a shed like this when it was really going and that's all I could think about while singing this song.

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