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The Hero of Redclay
The "boss-over-the-board" was leaning with his back to the wall between two shoots,
reading a reference handed to him by a green-hand applying for work as picker-up or
woolroller -- a shed rouseabout. It was terribly hot. I was slipping past to the rolling-
tables, carrying three fleeces to save a journey; we were only supposed to carry two. The
boss stopped me:
"You've got three fleeces there, young man?"
Notwithstanding the fact that I had just slipped a light ragged fleece into the belly-wool
and "bits" basket, I felt deeply injured, and righteously and fiercely indignant at being
pulled up. It was a fearfully hot day.
"If I catch you carrying three fleeces again," said the boss quietly, "I'll give you the sack."
"I'll take it now if you like," I said.
He nodded. "You can go on picking-up in this man's place," he said to the jackeroo,
whose reference showed him to be a non-union man -- a "free-labourer", as the
pastoralists had it, or, in plain shed terms, "a blanky scab". He was now in the
comfortable position of a non-unionist in a union shed who had jumped into a sacked
man's place.
Somehow the lurid sympathy of the men irritated me worse than the boss-over-the-board
had done. It must have been on account of the heat, as Mitchell says. I was sick of the
shed and the life. It was within a couple of days of cut-out, so I told Mitchell -- who was
shearing -- that I'd camp up the Billabong and wait for him; got my cheque, rolled up my
swag, got three days' tucker from the cook, said so-long to him, and tramped while the
men were in the shed.
I camped at the head of the Billabong where the track branched, one branch running to
Bourke, up the river, and the other out towards the Paroo -- and hell.
About ten o'clock the third morning Mitchell came along with his cheque and his swag,
and a new sheep-pup, and his quiet grin; and I wasn't too pleased to see that he had a
shearer called "the Lachlan" with him.
The Lachlan wasn't popular at the shed. He was a brooding, unsociable sort of man, and it
didn't make any difference to the chaps whether he had a union ticket or not. It was pretty
well known in the shed -- there were three or four chaps from the district he was reared in
-- that he'd done five years hard for burglary. What surprised me was that Jack Mitchell
seemed thick with him; often, when the Lachlan was sitting brooding and smoking by