Wovember Words: Banjo Paterson

On Saturday you were treated to the Shearer’s Rap, by Adam McClure. Long before the Rapping Shearer there was another Australian wordsmith, whose work primarily focused on rural life in the outback. Louise looks at Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poem Shearing at Castlereagh. 


One of the first school projects I can remember from primary school was on Australia. My school had composite classes and learning was usually thematic. I distinctly remember learning Waltzing Matilda and sung it with my class mates around a paper-mache Coolibah tree. It was only last year, when I was looking for some Australian folk songs for Wovember, that I discovered more poems by Banjo Paterson, author of Waltzing Matilda. 

Eldest son of a Scottish immigrant, Banjo was raised on sheep stations in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. A man of many talents – journalist, solicitor, farmer, traveller, composer…also, reportedly as a crocodile hunter!- but Paterson is best known for his poetry and ballads, which include The Man From Snowy River, and for his style of portraying the tough, independent pragmatic bushman in rural Australia.

Waltzing Matilda is itself a great example of this and as been adopted as the country’s unofficial national anthem, but I wanted to share Shearing At Castlereagh with you for the distinct imagery it conjures, not only of the sights, sounds and smells of the shearing shed, but of the process of the shearing and everyone involved; from the Ringer – the most qualified shearer on the station – to the children picking up the fleeces.


Shearing The Rams, by Tom Roberts (1890)

Shearing at Castlereagh (1895)

The bell is set a ringing, and the engine gives a toot,
There’s five and thirty shearers here are shearing for the loot,
So stir yourself, you penners up, and shove the sheep along,
The musterers are fetching them a hundred thousand strong,

And make your collie dog speak up-what would the buyers say
In London if the wool was late this year from Castlereagh ?
The man that ” rung ” the Tulbo shed is not the ringer here,
The stripling from the Cooma side can teach him how to shear.

They trim away the ragged locks, and up the cutter goes.
And leaves a track of snowy fleece from brisket to the nose;
It’s lively how they peel it off with never stop nor stay
They’re racing for the ringers place this year at Castlereagh.

The man that keeps the cutter sharp is growling in his cage,
He’s always in a hurry, and he’s always in a rage.
“You clumsy fisted mutton-heads, you turn a fellow sick:
You pass yourself as shearers, you were born to swing a pick.

Another broken cutter here, that’s two you’ve broke to-day ;
It’s awful how such crawlers come to shear at Castlereagh.”                 Crawler: abused person. From Convict period
The youngsters picking up the fleece enjoy the merry din;
They throw the classer up the fleece, he throws it to the bin;               Classer: wool sorter

The pressers standing by the rack are waiting for the wool.
There’s room just for a couple morn, the press is nearly full;
Now jump upon the lever, lads, and heave, and heave away;
Another bale of golden fleece is branded Castlereagh.


Paterson has been criticised for having an overly romantic view of Australian, but I do love the window to the outside world here with the wool being bound for London, like the bulk of Australian wool at the time . However a centralised wool auctioning system soon after would mean that larger percentages of wool were being sold and bought in Australia from the end of the 19th century onwards.

After discovering the Shearer’s Rap I read online that Adam McClure was described as Banjo Patterson at racing pace. I thought as he had heralded in our HARVESTING WOOL section of WOVEMBER that it would be lovely to have Banjo and his poem be a fitting end before we move on to PROCESSING WOOL. What a lovely pair of Aussie shearing bookends they are!

The images used today are two paintings by prominent Australian artist Tom Roberts (1856-1931). Perhaps two of his best known works are Shearing The Rams and The Golden Fleece which were inspired by his interest in historical agricultural methods. Shearing The Rams took two years to complete and much of the work was done in the shearing shed itself, in Brocklesby Station, near Riverina, NSW. These images, now in the public domain, are the perfect accompaniment to Paterson’s poem and truly add another level to the imagery of the poem. In both images you can even see the “youngster picking up the fleece”! 

The Golden Fleece, by Tom Roberts, 1894

The Golden Fleece, by Tom Roberts, 1894

This entry was posted by louisescollay.

9 thoughts on “Wovember Words: Banjo Paterson

  1. I am so grateful to be reading all the offerings here about wool harvesting. And I particularly love this poem. As I gear up for my own shearing date of my 30 or so Shetland sheep…all this is getting me into a positive spirit…which I need as it is very hard work to gather in the sheep the day before. My husband and I have a system…but it needs to be improved. It is rare if I escape the day without being put on my ass. At the end however…I celebrate…as.I look into a stall of wooly ewes in all the different natural colors. The shearing day itself is the true joy for me and I marvel at the skill of the shearer, gathering in and labeling each fleece, mentally noting my plans for each one. And as we go through each sheep…the shearer and I evaluating the condition of each animal now that the wool is off and we can get a good look at her. I then determine if worming is in order by checking not only her weight but also under her eyelids to see how red they are. Pale eyelids mean that there is some parasite problem and she gets a dose of wormer. Shearer will give the hooves a clip and it is onto the next. And so goes the dance on shearing day…at least at Sweet Tree Hill Farm.

    • Thank you for such an insight into your shearing day. We are glad to be of service in helping with the positive spirit – though as a crofter’s daughter I empathise too! Shetland sheep can be the MOST obstinate independent of breeds, can’t they!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this splendid poem and pictures. I can almost smell the intoxicating scent of the sheds, full of fleecen.

  3. One of my favorite Banjo Patterson essays is The Merino Sheep that postulates the following:

    “The truth is that he is a dangerous monomaniac, and his one idea is to ruin the man who owns him. With this object in view he will display a talent for getting into trouble and a genius for dying that are almost incredible.”

    Many pleasant days have been spent in that section of NSW and where we lived for a few years in Canberra.

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