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The Shearer’s Dream
by [?]

“But then, agen,” he reflected, “there’s the world’s point of view to be considered. Some day I might be flashing past in a buggy or saloon-carriage–or, the chances are it will be you–and you might look out the window and see an old swaggy tramping along in the dust, or camped under a strip of calico in the rain in the scrub. (And it might be me–old Mitchell–that really wrote your books, only the world won’t know it.) And then you’ll realize what a wretched, miserable life it was. We never realize the miseries of life till we look back–the mistakes and miseries that had to be and couldn’t be helped. It’s all luck–luck and chance.”

But those girls seemed to have gravelled Mitchell, and he didn’t seem able to talk himself round. He tramped on, brooding for a while, and then suddenly he said:

“Look here, Harry! Those girls are giving a dance to-night, and if I liked to go back to Bourke and tog up and go to the dance I could pick out the prettiest, dance with her all the evening, and take her for a stroll afterwards, old tramp as they thought me. I’ve lived–but it wouldn’t be worth my while now.”

I’d seen Jack in a mood like this before, and thought it best to say nothing. Perhaps the terrible heat had affected him a little. We walked on in silence until we came to the next billabong. “Best boil the billy here, Harry,” said Mitchell, “and have some tea before we go any further.”

I got some sticks together and made a fire and put the billy on. The country looked wretched–like the ghost of a burnt-out land–in the moonlight. The banks of the creek were like ashes, the thin, gnarled gum-bush seemed dry-rotting fast, and in many places the surface of the ground was cracked in squares where it had shrunk in the drought. In the bed of the creek was a narrow gutter of water that looked like bad milk.

Mitchell sat on his swag, with his pint of tea on the ground by his foot, and chewed his pipe.

“What’s up, Jack?” I asked. “Have you got the blues?”

“Well, yes, Harry,” he said. “I’m generally dull the first day on the track. The first day is generally the worst, anywhere or anytime–except, perhaps, when you’re married. . . . I got–well, I got thinking of the time when a woman’s word could have hurt me.”

Just then one of the “travellers” who were camped a bit up the creek suddenly commenced to sing. It was a song called “The Shearer’s Dream,” and I suppose the buggy of girls, or the conversation they started, reminded him of it. He started his verses and most of his lines with a howl; and there were unexpected howls all through the song, and it wailed off, just as unexpectedly, in places where there was no pathos that I could see:

Oh, I dreamt I shore in a shearer’s shed, and it was a dream of joy,
For every one of the rouseabouts was a girl dressed up as a boy–
Dressed up like a page in a pantomime, and the prettiest ever seen–
They had flaxen hair, they had coal-black hair–and every shade between.

“Every” with sudden and great energy, a long drop on to “shade,” and a wail of intense sadness and regret running on into “between,” the dirge reaching its wailsomest in the “tween” in every case.

The shed was cooled by electric fans that was over every “shoot”;
The pens was of polished ma-ho-gany, and ev’rything else to suit;
The huts was fixed with spring-mattresses, and the tucker was
simply grand,
And every night by the biller-bong we darnced to a German band.

Chorus, boys!”

There was short, plump girls, there was tall, slim girls,
and the handsomest ever seen
They was four-foot-five, they was six-foot high, and hevery size
Our pay was the wool on the jumbucks’ backs, so we shore till all
was blue
The sheep was washed afore they was shore (and the rams was scented
And we all of us cried when the shed cut out, in spite of the
long, hot days,
For hevery hour them girls waltzed in with whisky and beer on