When The Ladies Come To The Shearing Shed

A poem by Henry Lawson

‘The ladies are coming,’ the super says
To the shearers sweltering there,
And ‘the ladies’ means in the shearing shed:
‘Don’t cut ’em too bad. Don’t swear.’
The ghost of a pause in the shed’s rough heart,
And lower is bowed each head;
And nothing is heard, save a whispered word,
And the roar of the shearing-shed.

The tall, shy rouser has lost his wits,
And his limbs are all astray;
He leaves a fleece on the shearing-board,
And his broom in the shearer’s way.
There’s a curse in store for that jackaroo
As down by the wall he slants,
And the ringer bends with his legs askew
And wishes he’d ‘patched them pants.’

They are girls from the city. (Our hearts rebel
As we squint at their dainty feet.)
And they gush and say in a girly way
That ‘the dear little lambs’ are ‘sweet.’
And Bill, the ringer, who’d scorn the use
Of a childish word like ‘damn,’
Would give a pound that his tongue were loose
As he tackles a lively lamb.

Swift thoughts of homes in the coastal towns,
Or rivers and waving grass,
And a weight on our hearts that we cannot define
That comes as the ladies pass.
But the rouser ventures a nervous dig
In the ribs of the next to him;
And Barcoo says to his pen-mate: ‘Twig
‘The style of the last un, Jim.’

Jim Moonlight gives her a careless glance,
Then he catches his breath with pain,
His strong hand shakes and the sunlights dance
As he bends to his work again.
But he’s well disguised in a bristling beard,
Bronzed skin, and his shearer’s dress;
And whatever Jim Moonlight hoped or feared
Were hard for his mates to guess.

Jim Moonlight, wiping his broad, white brow,
Explains, with a doleful smile:
‘A stitch in the side,’ and ‘he’s all right now’,
But he leans on the beam awhile,
And gazes out in the blazing noon
On the clearing, brown and bare,
She has come and gone, like a breath of June,
In December’s heat and glare.

The bushmen are big rough boys at the best,
With hearts of a larger growth;
But they hide those hearts with a brutal jest,
And the pain with a reckless oath.
Though the Bills and Jims of the bush-bard sing
Of their life loves, lost or dead,
The love of a girl is a sacred thing
Not voiced in a shearing-shed.

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