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  • doug.butler 29 Oct 2013 at 10:44
    "Our Special Commissioner" was C. E. W. BEAN

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THE WOOL LAND          


      THE SHEEP.                



I "Ifs a cur'ous thing." said the bullock

driver, shifting his pipe from on« corner of his straight, strong, comprehensive mouth, t» the other, "It's a cur'ous thing, when you think

of it, that though wo most bas made our whack , out of 'em, you never 'card tell a good yara about a sheep."

The bullock-driver heaved himself slowly up and strode out of the fierce firelight into th« blackness. We could hear him kicking down a rotten pine stump. Presently he returned, and flung it on top of the blaze. That extra- ordinary country-though the whole West I* extraordinary for that matter-was nothing; but dead pine forest. We were on the edge of probably 100 square miles of pine trees, all as straight and shiny and leaden and dead as any doornails. Beyond that was ragged mallee) and spinifex-green tufts of porcupine grass, which will blaze Uko kerosene if you drop a. match on them Being mallee and spinifex- tha country between Mount Hope and the Wil- landra had been overlooked or understocked, and the grass was standing high In it at a time when Riverina and the south were get- ting one of the worst gruelllngs on record.

Consequently bullock teams had flocked there, as mysteriously as migrating birds, to be kept alive on other people's grass for bo long a* other people suffered thom, and perhaps last a little wee bit longer. When the managers cot really angry they moved on, and often did * little carrying just fcr the look of the thing. So carrying was dirt oheap, and It was a rosy time for Mount Hope.

We were at Fourteen Mile Well, on the boun- dary of Roto run. Tho bullocky's team must have been somewhere near, enjoying them- selves in the Roto grass, which was luscious and long. The bullocky was camped right un- der the well His waggon, all sheeted in, showed vaguely like some huge rounded boul- der in front of the fire. Behind black against the sky wa could see the great winze of tha well, and the low, long iron of the trough occasionally glinted In the firelight. Far away, like a cigarette end In the dark, a tiny spark showed where we, too, had campod for tba night under a wilga tree. The chink .... chink ... .of hobbies came to us, always get« > ting farther away. Our horses, too, wera en-

joying themselves on Roto grass. The bul« , locky shifted his pips again.


"You see, a 'orso is different," he said. "Al 'orse has the feelings of a man; and a mara-, she's Just a woman over again. I had an old mare once that had a foal, and she waa that Jealous of It she wouldn't allow any 'orso to come near It. You kown how 'orses will always como up to a foal. Well, it they carn« anywhere near her foal she latherod out at them quick and lively. She'd let the station children come up and play with It, but the scraggy stock 'arses she couldn't bear. When 'orses came near that foal she'd lay back her cars and charge them like a bull. I've sepa her rush at 'em and wheel round In such a terrible hurry that sho missed her footing and tumbled fair over on ber back.

"Well, one day there was someone corns along with a good sort of a 'orge-a beautiful big, well-groomed riding 'orso, and they let 'Im out in the paddock with her. I was Balf frlghtenod what might happen to him, for I knew he'd take notice of tho foal. Right enough! He went straight up to him, and bent big neok over him and nosed him. I toll you, the old mare never winked an eyelash. She Just arched her neok-proened herself Ilka you see an old parrot-fairly flowing over withi pleasure and pride.

"Tell me she didn't know the difference between a handsome, well-groomed feller and]

a scraggy stock 'orso?"


"'Orses are Just like 'umans; and so ara , bullocks, though you mightn't think it. Look

"ere, I'll tell you what I've seen 'em do. I I was with two men rounding up some pretty, 1 wtldlih sort of cattle on a ridge in the 'Ills

¡ one day. Thero was a crick ran down tho

I valley on the left, and about half a mile down

the course of it was the plapo where these 1 cattle used to cross It. I knew when we sot

'em going they'd1 make, down along the same track they always took to the crossing-they must havo gone that tvay every day. So I told tho two hands with me to rldo back along the ridge, and then make a circle across the crick and down to this crossing. They were to cooee when they got there, and I was to drive the 1 mob down. When tho cattle crossed they were

to head them down stream-the way we 1 wanted to send them-and stop them from

breaking back.

"The men went off, and I stayed there to hold the cattle. Evory single beast in that mob had his head stuck in the air, watching what we were doing with wldo eyes. From the timo the men rodo off they watched me. They watched mo all the time-never tools their eyes off me for a moment.

"I sat on my 'orse, and waited and waited} i for that cooee-them watching me. And at

last, from far down the crick behind the wattles and the gum trees In the valley, came the sound of a 'cooee.' That instant every, single pair of horns in tbo mob turned right 1 round-all together, as quick and clean as if ' they were soldiers drilling-looking in the di-

rection the sound came from.

"Well, I began cracking my stockwhip and singing out, and they started off. But do you think they went down t,ho tiack to the crossing' place. They'd gono down it hundreds of times. In ordinary times they'd have gone down it full bang, tearing over wattles and suckers. In ordinary times nothing could have stopped


"But this time, aa I cracked the whip at 'em, they came straight up tho rldgo towards me. I made all the noise 1 could, but they carno straight ahead. When thoy got up to me the mob Just split lu two, and went past me quite cIobo on elthor side. 1 knew it was useless, bo I Just lot them go. They weren't going down the valley for me. They'd heard) that cooee, and they knoAV something was up,


"Oh. cattle are clever-dead crafty. You know the noise they ordinarily make going along a road. Well, you'd think you c'd hear them if they wero anyways near you, wouldn't you? Do you knoAV, I've had 'em steal past mo lu camp not 20 yards away, and me not hear them? It's the truth. After I've camped at night I've known them steal away on tholr toes-yes, on the tips of their toes, It must

have b'n, Just like men.

"But what gen'ly gave them away, though-. eaoh beast has got a mato. They'd lose sight of their mates in the dark and start lowing to one another to find thom. But even then it was no bellowing Uko the way they bellow to ono another at ordinary times. It was-moo oo. .. . maw-aw. . . . muu-u. . . . You know the Avny they ordinarily answer ona another-ono high, anothei low, only so soft like jott'd scarcely rockoniso It.

"I've had 'em go by not 20 yards off, with mo in my tent thero not hearing them at all. But when I used to hear that moo-oo. . . . mow-aw . . . muu . . . u . . . I'd

know It w's time to get my 'orse quick and go ,

after 'em.

NO YARNS ABOUT SHEEP. , "That's Uko cattle. Bul you nevar 'eard a story of Bheop like that, did you? I've 'eard a man say a donen times this past week 'As silly as a sheep.' It a fellow calls you a Bhocp It's good enough to Clip him undor the Jaw, isn't it? But I never 'card a etory about a sheep yet."

Now, that yarn Is true-for the man that told It was true.; and the moral is quite true, too, when you come to think of It. Everyone has a yarn to tell about his dog and his horse« and even his cow and his cat. But who ever tells yarns about his sheep-even about tholr vices ? The sheep hasn't got any. It hasn't appar-

ently any character at all. Tho bett way to ' desorlbe it is to doaorlbe what it hasn't got. Rudyard Kipling sajs'-"The horse he knows

above a bit, the''bullock's not a fool"-which, was right according to the bullocky-"the ela-' phant'» «, gentleman, the battery, oqiU'4 «<

mule; but, the commissariat camel, when all Is .aid and done, he's a Infant and a ostrich and

an orphan child in one." . , '.

A sheep isn't even that. He's just a sheep. Probably that's why nobody takes any interest In him-any personal interest, that is.; Oc- casionally a lamb loses its mother and has to bo spoon fed. Tho station children grow fond of It and pet it; and its 'tail Is left long and It Is called "Clara." In the end Clara In- variably turns up on the dinner tablo1 to bo carved, and becomes for a day the family joke.


By far the moBt rich men In Australia owe every penny to their sheep. But no ono makes a friend of a shoep any more than ho would of a sixpence. They aro counted over like so many, sovereigns. That Is all. They are fed because- feeding pays. When rain fails, and tho paddocks are cuten out, and the mothers aro too weak to suckle, and the poor scraggy lambs stagger after thom in Jerks as if they were made of wire, and the stock routes are dry dust, and the crowq alt along the fence-then it is just possible that if some of the mulgt trees in the paddocks were cut they 'would save the shoep till the rain came. But scrubcuttlng costs money, and the rain might not como; and many owners say tho boat thing is simply to let tho Bhcop starve. From one huge far outside station in tho drought, a distracted manager wired to his principals: "Half flock dead of starva- tion." A wire came back at once: "Kill rest." Indeed, in the absence of railways, it is hard to see what else there was for it.

From his lambing to the day he Is executed]

or boiled down or starved tho sheep is just a counter in his owner's wealth. His life

is simple-almost boresome. He simply feeds. I

Once a year-If he is not wanted for moat he is penned up and shorn. In five minutes, when the shearer who has finished him rams him staggering and crabwlse, and looking something between a goat and a badly peeled blood orange, down a slide into the counting pen beneath the wool Bhod-he is done with for the year.

From the moment be is lambed a sheep is cither so much wool tor so much meat; and wool or meat he romains until he dies, unloss

he Btrlkes very evil days ana* becomes tallow. He is a pretty pastoral picture to the town man. But up-country they have tholr eyes either on his fleece or on the chops and fat and lean Inside of him, and on ono more than the other, according as ho 1b to be wool or meat; occasionally on both equally. And that is-in the simplest of language-the cluo to a great deal of the science of the sheep; in this 'way.

You may, on a very rough average, be able to maka out of the wool of each sheep about 5s each year. Your business will bo to keep him alive for 12 months and then shear him, and turn him out again and repeat tho pro- cess. Probably you Intend to sell him after some years for what he will fetch as meat.

In that case ho,is primarily wool and only incidentally meat. _,.

On the other hand, it Is possible to get o. kind of sheep which will fatten so quickly after he is lambed that he may be sold ,a few months later ion something like 12s or Us without your having even boen put to tho trouble of shearing him. Sometimes it may be difficult to got him away, or the season may fail and he may bo too thin, and you may shear bim that year or perhaps ¿wo yoars,

and tatton him and sell him afterwards. Each year you will get something out of his wool -It may be 4b or 5b. But your chief aim is to fatten him and soil him to butchers or cold ' stores. And so In this case he is primarily meat and incidentally wool. It is an exceedingly attractive way of making good profits, and making them quick, And there baa grown up a whole class of busy men in Australia whose ono aim is scientifically to select and breed and nurse, so that the In- terior of each fat, woolly lamb may be well filled with good lean palatablo meat so quickly that he may be sold to be oaten whon lie is 4 or 5 months old.

But it íb one thing to take a fat lamb from .his mother in a paddock alongside the railway

line and truck him in a day to Sydney, and quite another to drive him, half-woancd, from tho Daroo over 100 milos of drought-stricken stock route ou the chance that he will sur vivo it and die In tho Bheep truck. For that very plain reason, whilst the "Inside." stations may grow for meat if thoy care, tho "outside" stations grow for wool. And tho outsldo country will continue to grow wool as

long as there is any outside country*to do it.

Now, it so happens that the sheep which j have the most mutton on thom and least wool I

aro the English ones, tho bhert-wool sheep tho Shropshlrcs and Soutbdowns-especially; and the long-wool sheep-Leicester, Border ¡Leicesters, Lincolns, Romney Marsh sheep-to a lesser extent. And the sheep .which bave most wool on them and least mutton are tho (Spanish ones-the merinos-and the American "Vermont sheep, which are very close to the Spanish ones.


Between the big-framed coarse-woolled puro-bred English sheep and the little flne woolled pure-bred merino there have been made any number of crosses. But becauBO Australians bred their merinos and little else for a century for tho sake of their wool alone, and only thought seriously of theso fat Eng- lish lambs quite recently when some- one invented a way of Bending them fro- zen to Europe, they have como to call every pure-bred shoep except tho fino wool merinos and Vermonts, as well as the real cross-bred between tho two, "crossbreds." That la how a pure Shropshire, with a written pedigree that would turn even baronets green with onvy, comes to be a crossbred. Naturally, a cross between a Shropshire and a merino is also a crossbred. But a cross between this last and a merino comes back so near to the Australian merino and so far from these interlopers, that he la called a "come- back." /

The theory of crossbreeding Is quite simple -much simpler than tho practice. Tho moro merino-the better for tho wool, the woise for tho meat. The moro crossbred-especially "Downs"-the botter for the meat, the worse for the wool. Consequently on tho inside sta- tions, noar the big cities and tho railways, you may boo nowadays, from the railway car- riage windows, as you pass,' quite a few fat BngllBh crossbreds. But outBide-on tho wide sheeny pebble-strewn plains, where one belt of lignum halt hidden In a barely appreciablo depression makes the only visible feature, and throws the only visible shade, and a few of Its dead twigs and wisps of grass you can almost count, are tho only apparent feed, the proud little sheep with big ruffles round bis nock, and little .yolk in his wool, who lives as long as tho Australian climate allows bim, and dies when it*doesn't-the Australian shoep, par ex- cellence-Is the morlno.

Now the wool of such sheep as are not killed comes to the shearing sheds. And tho wool of such as aro killed, morlno or crosB brod, comes mostly to Sydney on their backs -whero wo shall moot it later on. And that Is all that it is necessary-for presont purposes -to know about the sheep.

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