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The Shearer’s Dream
by [?]

Mitchell and I rolled up our swags after New Year and started to tramp west. It had been a very bad season after a long drought. Old Baldy Thompson had only shorn a few bales of grass-seed and burrs, so he said, and thought of taking the track himself; but we hoped to get on shearing stragglers at West-o’-Sunday or one of the stations of the Hungerford track.

It was very hot weather, so we started after sunset, intending to travel all night. We crossed the big billabong, and were ploughing through the dust and sand towards West Bourke, when a buggy full of city girls and swells passed by. They were part of a theatrical company on tour in the Back-Blocks, and some local Johnnies. They’d been driven out to see an artesian bore, or wool-shed, or something. The horses swerved, and jerked a little squawk out of one of the girls. Then another said:

“Ow-w! Two old swaggies. He! he! he!”

I glanced at Mitchell to see if he was hit, and caught his head down; but he pulled himself up and pretended to hitch his swag into an easier position.

About a hundred yards further on he gave me a side look and said:

“Did that touch you, Harry”

“No,” I said, and I laughed.

“You see,” reflected Mitchell, “they’re more to be pitied than blamed. It’s their ignorance. In the first place, we’re not two old tramps, as they think. We are professional shearers; and the Australian shearers are about the most independent and intelligent class of men in the world. We’ve got more genius in one of our little fingers than there is in the whole of that wagonette-load of diddle-daddle and fiddle-faddle and giggles. Their intellects are on a level with the rotten dramas they travel with, and their lives about as false. They are slaves to the public, and their home is the pub-parlour, with sickly, senseless Johnnies to shout suppers and drink for them and lend their men money. If one of those girls is above the average, how she must despise those Johnnies–and the life! She must feel a greater contempt for them than the private-barmaid does for the boozer she cleans out. He gets his drink and some enjoyment, anyhow. And how she must loathe the life she leads! And what’s the end of it as often as not? I remember once, when I was a boy, I was walking out with two aunts of mine–they’re both dead now. God rest their fussy, innocent old souls!–and one of ’em said suddenly, ‘Look! Quick, Jack! There’s Maggie So-and-So, the great actress.’ And I looked and saw a woman training vines in a porch. It seemed like seeing an angel to me, and I never forgot her as she was then. The diggers used to go miles out of town to meet the coach that brought her, and take the horses out and drag it in, and throw gold in her lap, and worship her.

“The last time I was in Sydney I saw her sitting in the back parlour of a third-rate pub. She was dying of dropsy and couldn’t move from her chair. She showed me a portrait of herself as I remembered her, and talked quite seriously about going on the stage again.

“Now, our home is about two thousand miles wide, and the world’s our stage. If the worst comes to the worst we can always get tucker and wood and water for nothing. If we’re camping at a job in a tent there’s no house-cleaning to bother us. All we’ve got to do when the camp gets too dirty is to shift the tent to a fresh place. We’ve got time to think and–we’re free.