Stuart is eighteen, but more boy than man. When his uncle offers him a job rousabouting in the shearing shed during his mid-year break from university, he has no idea what to expect. He’s always been more of an indoors kind of guy.
He knows he’ll be working with some pretty rough men. Men who work the shearing circuit, going from farm to farm shearing sheep until there are no more sheep left to shear. His only hope is to try and fit in.
As it turns out, he has no choice. His uncle has arranged for him to share a room in the shearer’s quarters with one of the shearers. The very idea makes Stuart, who has always been unsure of himself and insecure, want to back out of the whole deal and return to town, to the comfort of home. But he doesn’t. He is determined to bite the proverbial bullet.
The work is hard and Stuart does his best. The shearing shed is a place where a man has to prove himself; to show what he’s made of. Does Stuart have what it takes? What will he learn about himself in the process? About life? About shearers?
I knew my job better and was able to get a system going. After skirting every six fleeces I’d sweep around the shearers, taking care not to get in their way. I was also much faster at skirting the wool and was better able to recognise the grade of the wool. However, every muscle in my body was stiff and sore. Each movement, big or small, hurt like hell, but I didn’t let on.
At the end of the day, after I’d helped my uncle bale up the last of the wool, I joined the shearers around the back of the shed.
“How do you feel today?” asked Baz, handing me a can of beer.
“Bloody sore,” I said, ripping the tab of the can.
The others erupted with laughter.
“You’ll have to go easier on him, Tank,” said Matt.
I nearly choked on my mouthful, which drew more laughter from the guys.
“I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Matt,” Baz said.
I glanced at Tank, who was sitting next to me grinning. If he wasn’t going to say anything, I sure as shit wasn’t.
That evening, I was the first one to peel away from the group and take a bath. I wasn’t going to be left with the dirty water and five minutes to wash in it again. Besides, I was feeling like a bit of time to myself. The shearers were in a boisterous mood and in truth it made me a bit nervous.
I sat back in the tub listening to the conversation just beyond and enjoying the tranquil feeling of being immersed in warm water. Wafts of Baz’s cigarette smoke reached my nostrils, mixing with the ever present smell of sheep shit. Overhead the sky was grey with great swathes of burnt orange streaking across it. Crickets were chirruping unseen and a kookaburra starting laughing.
It was then I saw it. A movement from the corner of my eye. I looked down to see the slender, body glistening in the half light. Automatically I called out “Tank!”
He yelled back, “What?”
“There’s a snake,” I replied.