Australia was built on hard yakka. Convict labour chipped away at hard rock to build roads, quarry sandstone, and to build our first public buildings; early settlers forged their way into thick and unpredictable bushland to build modest homes and rambling sheep-runs; gold diggers sweated on riverbeds to cradle and pan elusive nuggets; shearers rolled up their sleeves to peel away greasy wool; stockmen, as drovers and boundary riders, sat high in the saddle under blazing sun to protect massive herds of cattle. There were, of course, many other work endeavours and, just as importantly, the colonial women worked like demons to build, clean and service their homes.
There is an old saying: hard work never hurt anyone. Maybe so, but bush work certainly produced its aches and pains. Shearers in particular, usually worked and lived in poor conditions and, because of the nature of the work where they were paid for each sheep they shore, worked until they dropped. There are many accounts of shearers, especially the older brigade, crawling on all fours to get to their bunks, where they would immediately fall asleep, exhausted and racked with lumbago, rheumatism and arthritis.
The selection in this section covers some tragic stories and some tragically humorous ones. The bush workers tended to abstain from alcohol when ‘on the job’ and, of course, shearing stations banned all alcohol during the season. These ‘dry’ environments provided a good opportunity to homemade entertainment, chiefly playing cards, reading, playing music, or singing and reciting poetry. Many of the bushbrigade wrote poems and sent them for publication to The Bulletin, the ‘bushman’s bible’.
IN THIS SECTION: