Click go the shears – February 2017

Staying at Naracoorte for a three week holiday earlier this year, I took the opportunity to go and visit my cousin, Graham, who now runs the farm at which I spent many of my childhood holidays. Not much has changed, except the pine trees out front are taller.

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Out the back, over the hill, with large gums standing looking on silently from the wheat-coloured paddocks, I drive up to the shearing shed. It has been raining all morning, but it is a January kind of warm and muggy.  I hear the radio first, AC/DC Highway to Hell, then smell the sheep and climb the aging ladder up to the nerve centre.

It is 8:30am and they’ve already been at it for an hour. The thick oily-urea smell of sheep gets in my nostrils and before I know it I’m wiping my nose with the irritation.

Two shearers, Hayden and Corey, repleat with double-layered dungarees and quick-grip moccasins are bent nearly double (partially supported by a padded and sprung shackle which hangs from above) holding the sometimes un-cooperative sheep still, while they remove last year’s coat. The shears, no longer the clicking variety, make a mechanised shrill buzzing sound, glide through the wool, separating it instantly from the sheep, leaving a discarded pile on the floorboards. The number of fleeces is clocked on a small silver counter and they earn $2.94 each one (double for a ram).

To the uninitiated, it is a pile of wool. To the roustabout, Mykia, jetting around the floor in her tennis socks, the pile contains many distinct possibilities. The rectangular section of belly wool is separated, the cruddy bits discarded and a sample is taken (from a spot originally found close to the ribs of the sheep). Then with an action akin to collecting up bedsheets you’re taking to the wash, it is swept up into a big heap to be weighed.

“6.4!”  Kilograms that is, the weight of one fleece.

The figures are being carefully recorded and matched with numbered ear tags to assist with selecting the strongest potential breeders for the following year.  This pile of wool is then flung across the wool table – a waist high collection of spanned metal rods that let the dags drop through to be efficiently swept up with a flat plastic-swivel-headed broom, known as a sweep.  It is like magic to see how the fleece expands and contracts like a rubberband and when it lands, moving as one entity.

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Now the edges, the parts that come from the legs and tail, get separated and thrown over onto separate piles, to keep the quality of the wool high. The wool classer, Ron, similarly gathers the fleece into a loose pile to pluck a strand which he then flicks – the closest thing to clicks you hear in a shearing shed these days.  If it fails the test, the wool is classed as tender, and the fleece joins a small pile (around 3% in this shed) of wool which is not so strong – where the sheep may have suffered stress during the year. Then the pile of wool joins the 180-204 kilograms of other fleeces in the baling machine, where it gets compressed under pressure.

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Behind the red metal swing gates, Matthew, pen-er-upperer (I think that’s a word) and his red dog, Rusty, continue to herd the flock closer to their disrobement.  The rams wait patiently in separate corrales, they will get their turn at the end. Graham takes a turn at shearing, but assures me his skill is in taking care of the sheep rather than getting the wool off. To my untrained eyes, he looks enough like a pro.

Graham’s is a fairly small concern, however Ron, a veteran in the district, speaks highly of it’s quality.  He’ll get a good price for the wool at sale, but not so much this year for the quality, but more due to the high market value; such is the seemingly arbitrary nature of the commodity market.

Over smoko, the shearing shed gossip of shearers coming and going, travel stories and local personalities continue while Lizzy the kelpie surveys the shed.  I joked later that I only managed to shear 60 sheep, but actually I am in awe of the physical endurance required to do this work. Click go the shears, seems such an upbeat ditty to describe such a back-breaking vocation.

Subterranean track-work blues and the Sunday Walk

For the past several weekends, by some twist of fate, the quest for gainful employment has resulted in me traipsing the near East of Melbourne city in a combination of train, tram and foot. There has not been one day so far where some part of my journey has not been disrupted. Track work to Victoria Parade trams one week, Clifton Hill trains the next, my frustration at not being able to plan a solid route and arrival time for my weekend work days has been getting me down, and anxious. At the same time, I have started dreaming again of another long walk in France. Little did I know that the conflicting ideas of work and play were to blend into the best idea I’ve had in a long time.

Walk to work!

Excitedly on Saturday night, my walking pants were a snug fit, and I slipped my feet into the most comfortable hiking boots I’ve ever owned. Walking the 8 kilometres to work was an option. Make a day of it. Pretend you’re walking in France.

Why not?

The way is direct, and follows my train route for part of the way, and tram routes for the rest, so I could always hop a wheeled mobile if I needed to, but I can try the freedom of the legs instead.

6:00am and my alarm beckons … I arose with the anticipation of a path not yet travelled. Morning pages until 7:00am, and then shower. Breakfast and a 7:55am departure. I have to be at work by 9:30am.

Leaving Northcote station, brisk but not biting. Up Hartington, and the bells of the convent were ringing out. Past old Greek ladies dressed in black arriving in cars, and by foot – slightly more funereal yet just as smart as weekday CBD-suited women. Down my little cut-through to Merri train station, with fig-tree aromas, refreshed bollard graffiti critical of a certain catholic cardinal and in the distance two balloons – probably hovering over my destination.

Past plate-sized red camellias plopped face-up in my path on Bridge St then onto High St, Westgarth, the bakery already filling up, including my go-to listening professional. On towards the Merri Creek, over the bridge, watching the water below, now subsided from the rains several weeks ago leaving large river stones exposed. The traffic: only slight, but in Hoddle St, pungent already. Past the beautiful yellow leafed trees, vestiges of autumn, letting them go in the Clifton Hill park. On over the freeway past a paddy-van and two policemen in a standoff with a leftover from Saturday night’s partying.

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Left into Johnstone Street, on familiar turf, not taking my path to 3MBS, but turning right onto Nicholson St. Great café to check out sometime – Admiral Cheng-Ho, perhaps a foretaste of the suburb I would walk through next. Casting eyes left, another convent spire punctures the fog in the distance to the east. The road ahead, narrow for a main one, flanked with car-parking bays and, it would become apparent, coffee shops a plenty. Mavis the Grocer across the road, Three Bags Full, and the colossal Mihn Phat Asian Supermarket led me to Victoria St.

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Crossing to leave Nicholson and become Lennox, I was in housing commission country. Three locals loudly arguing the toss about something providing a kind of welcome committee. The characteristic, now tired high-rises a symbol of bureaucratic treatment of poverty and ever-growing neglect, fortunate only that they are not in the northern hemisphere this week. Despite this, a community veggie garden smiles at me. I say a silent prayer for their English counterparts, 58 presumed dead in the Grenfell Tower disaster. A figure no terrorist could match. We have our eyes on the wrong enemy.

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A beautifully muralled Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association, past the All Nations Hotel and Richmond West Primary School. This has been suburban Australia since the 70s. Continuing along Lennox St, I am grateful to have found a long street that may take me all the way to my Cremorne destination. Off the main drag I pass street cats and locals walking their dogs past Edwardian woven-wire fencing (something I thought was peculiarly Adelaidian, but has obviously migrated east). I start to wonder about how my time is going, whether I’ll make it as I climb the hill up past the back of Epworth Hospital to Bridge Rd. On the other side, as I gather speed on the downhill, I check my time, and have plenty.

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I am delighted to find several Art Deco apartment blocks that overlook the city skyline ripe for my future prospects for rooms with views in my favourite era of habitat. I hit Swan St next to Mahalo Poke and try to venture further East, but not so far to hit Church Street yet. I want to approach my building from the back streets if possible. The next through-street, Green, is bedecked by the most detailed and spectacular mural.

By miracle, just shy of the East Richmond train station, there is an underpass. Here is the cut-through I desire. Walking south, atop the subterranean Burnley Tunnel, the landscape again changes, this time to industrial. Just shy of the Yarra, I spy the old Cremorne sub-station, and aptly named Electric Street delivers me to my office.

9:22 am. I’m early. Maybe I can walk home too.

How long would your walk to work be?

 

 

 

 

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Endings or Beginnings

As I start to reach the last few days before take off, you know the ones, where you have lots you want to do, but in actual fact the list just turns into ‘what am I realistically going to get done before I go’, and ‘what will just have to wait until I get back’, I’ve been rummaging again through my morning pages, and the words “And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings” Meister Eckhart, jump out at me.

Facebook has an uncanny knack of offering just the right pearl at the right tiime, “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings” Lao Tzu.

It is hard to see the magic in a process that has made you fearful and sick.  It is no secret that my worklife has been crazy for the last few months. The repercussions of maintaining my own truth in the face of almost overwhelming pressure at work have seen me nearly cave. But I have managed (probably due to the unending ears and shoulders of my Philosophy class, some chosen colleagues, family and friends – you know who you are) to just keep it together to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. Moving states twice and packing up to attempt a new life overseas, were all easy by comparison!

I read somewhere this week about fear being like a beacon – where you sense it, that is the direction to head in. There was great fear present in my recent decision to leave my job. Letting go of parts of our lives that we have built into our fabric are always going to bring up many strange and unwanted emotions and ideas. When we attach meaning to what we do, particularly when we feel it is worthy, helpful or just and then contemplate life without it, what then does our life mean? What do I ‘do’ instead? For me this process of leaving was much more than just about how I pay my rent when I no longer have work.

I can remember my grandfather talking to me once when I had just got a new job at the Bureau of Statistics.  He was quizzing me about how that job might help people.  This is a family theme that has been strong, and it weighs heavily on me when considering my path for the future.  Do I need to have a job in which I am paid to help people?  Am I comfortable in letting go of that expectation of myself, to always be helping, fixing, sorting out, advocating?  This process brings me to a new place in which I might choose to do those things and not get paid to do them.  Or is there even a possibility that if I do what I love to do, and follow my heart, as the popular mantra seems to suggest, that I might help, just by being me.

Are these realisations actually what might be referred to as the magic of a painful ending?

This ending has been the source of many beginnings also.  I have reached a new comfort with sharing my difficult times with other people, letting them see me being vulnerable – not an easy thing for me.  As the days go by and I begin acknowledging the huge change I have just made, I realise this is right:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come their way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!” W.H. Murray.

You know you’re onto something when a friend emails you a small job opportunity which joins the old life you never really left (earthy and natural) with your unfolding passion for writing. I described it to her as re-arranging my neural pathways. Some may call it magic. It was palpable – the feeling in my brain of accepting that this is a new way to think of myself, as a writer. Even four hours a month, it would be a beginning. I’m going to trust it.