Film: 1914

Farming + Rural Life | 1950 | Sound | B/W


A film about a sheep shearing team in Australia in 1950s

and the shearing season for the property owner from the drafting of the sheep prior to shearing to sending the wool clip to the woolstores, and the strict rituals of the shearing team, the concept of the top shearer, the hierachy in the shed, their food and living conditions, and the skill hard work and the strong unionisation of the industry.

Australian flag flutters against a sunny sky. Sheep yards are filling with a herd of sheep, there is a sheepdog working them into pens, it looks late afternoon, the long paddock stretches back into the distance. Sheep dogs work Merino sheep in heavy wool. Two farm workers help move the sheep into pens, one closes a gate. A worker divides the lambs from the ewes using a swinging gate in the sheep race, other workers are filling other pens. A grazier, wearing a hat, swings the gate to separate the sheep, then looks into the distance.

A truck is seen coming across the paddock to the shearing shed, there are several people in it and on the tray of the open truck. It pulls up; the shearing team has arrived. The "boss" or leader of the shearing team shakes hands with the grazier, and introduces the female cook, the wife of one of the shearers, she also shakes hands with the owner. The shearing team take their suit cases off the back of the truck. An older shearer in a thick coat takes his case. A young man takes his case and a sack from the truck tray. The older man goes into the shearers quarters, the small building is corrugated iron and unlined, there is an old chest of drawers and a clean-looking mattress on the single bunk. He tests the bunk and looks in the mirror. The older shearer takes off his hat and lies on the bed.

Perc, the spokesman for the men and the Australian Workers Union representative, is outside one of the shearers' huts with other shearers, they sit on old wooden crates or stand about smoking in the late afternoon sun as Perc organises a draw for the stands of the shearing shed. He puts numbers in his hat and each shearer draws a number to determine his position on the floor of the shed. They solemnly draw out numbers in turn. They look at their numbers.

The shearing team prepares for the start of shearing the next day by doing their chores, one young man is outside washing his clothes in an old-fashioned tin tub, another shearer sits in the sun outside the shearers hut and carves wood into animals, another sits with him and chats. Steve's hobby is carving animals, he uses a file to work an emu out of the wood. Another shearer looks on. The emu takes shape in Steve's hands. The grazier is finishing preparations in the shearing shed, sweeping down cobwebs with a straw broom from around the shearing equipment and the wooden beams. The station owner oils the equipment.

The shearers arrive in the shearing shed wearing their shearing clothes, a towel flung over their shoulders and each man carries his own combs and cutters for the hand piece. A shearer hangs the leather carrier for his combs and cutters on a nail near his stand in the shed, and places a few of his cutters on a nail beside it for easy access. He takes off his jacket underneath he wears a wool flannel shearers shirt. He puts his foot on a ledge and ties a leather lace around the top of his high-cut shearers boot. Another shearer has his own hand-made moccasins, made from sacking, we see the sheep waiting to be shorn in a pen behind.

A shearer puts a cutter into the handpiece and tightens it with a key, then attaches the handpiece to the metal rod that comes down from the overhead equipment. The farmer starts the fuel-driven shearing plant which is outside the shed. Inside the shed we see the old mechanism spin into life. The old iron wheel above the shearers head begins to spin. An old alarm clock shows exactly 7.30 am and a hand rings a bell. Each shearer enters the holding pen in the shed behind their stand, and drags a sheep out backwards, he moves around to his position beside his stand, bends double over the sheep which is resting upwards on its back haunches, the shearer adjusts his handpiece and pulls the rope cord beside him. The cord has swung a lever above his head this engages the cog on the spinning wheel and the combs and cutters in the handpiece begin their cutting action.

The three shearers begin on the sheep's bellies, this wool is kept separate. Next the face is shorn. There is a long low shot of several shearers working in a line. The wool throwers and rouseabouts in the team watch until the first fleece is shorn and they then spring into action. A shearer has the sheep on the floor and is sweeping away the wool off the sheep's back in long blows of the handpiece. There is a close-up of the shearer exposing the clean white fleece. Then he runs his handpiece down the rear legs of the animal. A tidy-up around the sheep's tail and the shearer straightens up, he pushes the shorn sheep through the open door of the race directly behind him and the rouseabout picks up the thick fleece he has quickly gathered together and carries it away, the shearer moves into the pen to take another sheep.

Another shearer is just behind the "ringer" or the man who will have the highest tally of sheep shorn. The rouseabout takes the bundle of wool to one of the wool tables where the wool thrower stands, to the rear are the bales into which the classed wool is thrown. The rouseabout gathers up another fleece and throws it widely: the fleece holds together and falls spread on the table. The rollers work quickly picking out parts of the fleece, throwing the dirty poor quality sections of the fleece and rolling the remaining fleece up, one takes it to the table of the wool classer. Considered the "aristocrat" of the shearing shed, the wool classer divides the fleece into grades then throws each fleece into different wire pens to be baled.

The wool presser now takes the fleece and physically stamps it into a hessian wool bale, and a wooden box beside it. He jumps off the wool in the bale and swings to the floor on a counterweight on a rope which pulls the wooden box full of wool onto the top of the full bale. Now the presser must press the wool from the box into the bale, and he and another man work hard to push the lever up and down to force the wool into the bale. The presser is finally able to remove the full bale which has been sewn down, and with the help of an iron hook takes the bale across to the old scales on which he weighs the 350 pound wool bale. He applies the property's stencil to the wool bale and blacks in its name and number and the grade of wool the bale contains.

The shearers cook is working hard in the shearers kitchen, a corrugated iron unlined hut with an old wood stove. There is a cast iron pot on the old cast iron wood-burning stove. The oven door is opened and she takes out a big pan of scones. The cook has prepared two large trays of cakes and scones in the primitive kitchen. The shearers cook and a rouseabout carry the trays and two large teapots across the paddock to the shearing shed.

A young shearer has heard the "smoko" bell rung, and is taking the opportunity to give one of the rouseabouts who aspires to becoming a shearer a lesson, and they finish the sheep he has nearly completed. Another shearer removes his cutters and combs from his handpiece, and uses a brush to remove the oil and grit. The shearers place their combs and cutters into pigeons holes with their stands' number. The boss of the board is seen taking thd combs and cutters from one pigeon hole, he begins to sharpen them on a spinning wheel. Sparks fly from the wheel as he sharpens a comb and inspects it several times.

The shearers have morning tea sitting on the stacked wool bales in the end of the shearing shed, eating their cake and scones and drinking tea from enamel mugs. Everyone eats morning tea together, some shearers have their towels around their necks. An older shearer drinks his tea and looks on. Outside the shearing shed, each stand has its own holding pen, into which the individual shearers push their shorn sheep down a sloping race. The boss of the board empties each shorn sheep from the pen, and counts each shearers tally of shorn sheep. He writes each individual shearers into his official tally book. Inside the shearers have finished morning tea and sit on the floor of the shed, some roll cigarettes, one lies outstretched on a wool bale, another leans with his back against one. There is a close-up of one seated shearer, he is rolling cigarettes from a tin of tobacco on his lap, and he has papers, matches and two made cigarettes on the floor beside him. Some of the shearers look at their next pen of sheep. The older shearer discusses his pen. A close-up of the sheep packed in the pen.

The older shearer has taken out a sheep, he bend and picks up the handpick, pulls the cord to engage the combs and cutters, pulls the sheep up straight and bends over double and proceeds to shear its "belly". From another angle the wool is seen coming away with each movement of the handpick. First we see the shearing of the belly section. Then the left flank of the sheep. Next is the difficult wrinkly neck of the sheep. Then the sheep is laid out on the floor and the shearer performs the "long blows" from the sheep's flank to the top of the head. This is when the clean white fleece is most evident. The shearers hand sweeps the length of the sheep's back. He has nearly finished, and he tidies up a little as the rouseabout crouches and gathers up the fleece, and the sheep is pushed down the race to the outside of the building, the shearer pulls the cord to stop the handpiece and moves to take out another sheep to shear. The fleece is thrown high and it flies out and covers the wool table. A sequence of wool bales being moved. Outside the shed, workers use hooks to load the wool on to two pieces of timber which are used as a ramp. A jeep is seen pulling the wool bales onto a large semi-trailer via a high pulley on a long pole. Two men stand on the bales stacked on the truck and use iron hand hooks to pull more heavy bales onto the truck. At the shearing shed door another bale is tied to the rope. One of the workers waves and the bale is pulled up the ramp. A shearer lights a cigarette beside his stand. A sequence of shearers faces. The farmer and workers wave off the semi-trailer. There is a close-up of the workers faces as the shearing season is finished. The truck moves away taking the properties annual wool clip to the wool sales.

To request more details on this film, please contact us quoting Film number 1914.