By Heidi Scheffers


It must be about two-thirty in the afternoon because the sweat under my armpits is just reaching my belt. I probably dragged this broom across the shed floor a million times today, and for a million days before that, for all of seven summers since I was ten. The shearers yell to each other over their whirring razors and thumping boots; the din rings off the timber walls and bounces off the floorboards. The other blokes aren’t too much bigger than me. Fuck, I’m just about as tall as most of them.

I prod the calluses on my palms and don’t wince anymore at the raw blisters simmering beneath a film of sheep oil. It’s just what happens when you’re sweeping aside the merino sweats – the rank, black stuff from around their hooves and arseholes. Got to make room for the shearers, so they can handle the good stuff. Merino wool, creamy and flawless.

Merino’s a bit different to the regular stuff, my dad once told me.


‘When do I get to shear like the big boys, Dad?’ I asked him as a boy.

His gaze was trained on the silos over my shoulder. I watched a Kite whistle across his watery irises. It soared to the right with fully extended wings, then dipped to the left, before gracefully arcing back up to the right. I know the sound of its cry, but the living, breathing bird was far away. This is only a moving image in a round frame. Then a moving cloud shifted the light and the reflection faded. I’d never caught sight of my own face in his pupils. All these years, I’d never found myself, framed in black, front and centre.


‘When you’re big enough. And then you’ve got to be good enough,’ he grunted, loping away.


You can tell it’s merino when the fibres have a shiny, crimped wave to it. Like wheat fields when a chopper’s landing. Or the two minute noodles me and Joel buy on our trips into town. Or Tanya’s golden hair drying after we swing the rope into the dam.

I look back down at my steel-clad toes, surrounded in filth. I’m just as drenched with sweat as the guys shearing. I’m just as tall as them. Just as grimy. In the corner there’s a pair of clippers, just sitting there on a stool. Pete must’ve gone out for a tea or a smoke or something – lazy bugger. My father is silhouetted against the doorway, hunched back turned as he looks out on the farm.

No one even hears the broom clatter to the floor as I cross the floor in three quick steps. I grab an ewe by her forelegs and sit down on the stool, clippers at the ready. I begin. I know how it’s done. I nip the clippers into the fleece just under her right foreleg, building up a flow as the blades shave smoothly and steadily down her flank. Then it’s across to the left, and back up and back down, just like I’ve watched the other men do. I don’t know if it’s nerves, or exhilaration, or just the heat causing beads of sweat to hang over my brow, but I’m doing it. I wipe the sweat from my forehead, and start to build the tempo. I carve back up and down the ewe’s chest and throat, watching the line of men ahead of me. Seeing how well I fit in. But in my grasp, the sheep stops fitting. She thrashes into my calves and I feel a sickening thud in my chest when a thin trail of blood trickles down her freshly exposed neck. Just a nick, nothing major, happens all the ti-


Dad thunders towards me, ablaze. I’ve never seen him this furious. He flings me off the stool onto the ground. The clippers smack to the floorboards beside me, spinning inches from my ears. The ewe scatters to her feet.

‘It’s fine. You’re overreacting!’ I fire back, rubbing my ringing head.

‘She was our best ewe you idiot, you could’ve killed her!’ His tiny eyes are popping out of his bonfire face, and his veins throb dangerously at his temples.

The merino slinks off, only slightly bewildered.

He grabs me by the collar now, his meaty fist is shaking. Up close, I can see how old he is. I follow the twisted mess of wrinkles and frown lines, cracking like a dry river delta that flows from his eye sockets. His eyes are bulging, red blood vessels straining in the white. In the dark pin points of his eyes, I come face to face with myself. My head floats in them from above, floundering, cold, a half drowned kid who fell down a bore hole. Although it’s barely more than a whisper, his voice booms through the shocked silence of the shearing shed. Lips curling, his receding gums spit an announcement to all the men: ‘Useless boy’.

Within a second, he casts me aside again. He walks away without a second glance, just as he has done so many times before. The last thing I see is his heaving chest. Then my vision clouds and I’m out of the shed.

Fuck this. I seize my bike and before I know it I’m whizzing down along the fence line towards the scrub. My muscles are electric; my tongue is metallic with fury.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Branches scrape and cling and dig at my arms, my calves, and my shirt.

‘Fuck’ I hiss, as a twig slices across my forehead into my scalp. I keep going because I don’t bloody care.

The river bank squelches when I fling my bike on the ground. I think about how I’ll have to wipe down my handlebars later. My breathing evens, my vision clears. In…and out. I imagine my breath blowing in and out across the dam, rippling the surface, back and forth. It’s nice and full for a change, which is good. Lifts the spirits. Helps that it’s been given a break to refill while the sheep are away at the front paddocks for shearing. I’d rather think about the dam though. Sighing, I pull my fishing rod and tackle box from where I keep it in the hollowed out tree, and cast a line.

Quiet for a while, then movement. I pull it in. A ­­­­cod flops on the rocks. I watch it wheeze there, eyes pulsating, gills spluttering, and feel my brows knit together when an image of my father’s own puffing, strained face from minutes earlier comes to mind. Ugly old cod, I think to myself, as the cod’s life splutters away on the banks. Little did I know that right in that moment, my father was also taking his final failing breaths.


Now I stand in the shearing shed doorway. As a cool draft passes through, I try and grasp at some of the thoughts Dad had while he stood here. Then it dies. All I’m stuck with is my pale face gasping from his eyeballs a month ago. And a bird, a Kite, arcing around in futile circles.

I turn to the view. Along the boundary, there’s the long clay road that stretches out into town. The too-long road. Sorry mate, the shearers had said to me, we couldn’t quite get him to hospital in time. Then there are the old gums that follow the ripping grass down into the dam. I like how solid they are; even in really dry years, they keep a bit of green in the tips of their leaves. Thick and swelling, they always feel like they’ll be our – or my – insurance against droughts. On the right, car bodies hide in the shade, rusted to the colour of fallen leaves after Dad’s tinkering. They’re better off at the tip now. In the wind that has just picked up again, the bale shelter on the left moans. I need to fix that too. And there is fencing to keep in order, so much fencing.

What to do next. There’s still a year left of school. I’m sifting through the jokes Joel and I have made about our plans for after then, and I know there’s something, when the shelter has another bout of creaking, and in the distance, a Kite cries.




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