Gunbower’s gun shearer
Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his long, bony hands,
Fixed is his gaze on a barebellied ‘Joe’,
Glory if he gets her, won’t he make the ‘ringer’ go.
Click go the shears boys, click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick,
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
And curses the old snagger with the blue-bellied ‘Joe’.
It’s an Australian classic that began somewhere back in the 1850s, its author lost in time.
It began even before Gunbower’s Colin ‘Pa’ McGillivray was born.
And that would be 86 years ago. But it could have been written about him because the octogenarian, who reckons he has about five million shorn sheep stretching back into the mists of his own time, can still be found out on the board.
About, he reckons, 70 years after he first took up the comb and started dragging sheep from the holding pens and across the board to his stand.
Today Pa looks as though he is about to bend into another sheep — having spent so much of his life head down, back bent and battling big Merinos — especially the rams — at some of the biggest sheep stations in the country.
While he is now focused on his own property in his hometown, there is arguably nothing that could slow him down — not even a recent short stint in hospital.
Which he has dismissed as nothing more than ‘‘just a bump in the road’’.
Because the way he sees it, someone has to shear the sheep and he is pretty sure he will do it better than most — even though he may not give the guns and the ringers as much of a go these days.
But finally, determinedly, even his wife Betty thinks it’s time to slow down.
‘‘She’s seen a lot over the years,’’ Colin said.
‘‘I think I drive her nuts sometimes, I’m not sure how she’s put up with it — and me.
‘‘I’ve had my fair share of incidents where she has just shaken her head at me.’’
But no matter what happens; Betty says she will always be along for the ride.
‘‘I just go with the flow and let him do what he wants,’’ she said.
‘‘As long as Colin is happy and healthy and I’m happy to let him do what he wants.’’
Although, there have been some moments in their journey where Betty did seriously start to question whether the sheep or their marriage was Colin’s number one priority.
‘‘One day we went to Shepparton to do our Christmas shopping,’’ she recalled.
‘‘Colin dropped me off at the shops and said he was going out to the auction — but only to have a look. He promised me he wouldn’t buy any sheep.
‘‘When he came back to pick me up, he had this massive smile on his face, so I knew something had happened.
‘‘I opened the boot and there were three sheep sitting there.
‘‘I would say I should have been surprised; but I wasn’t — this sort of thing happened all the time with Colin.’’
Then there were the times where Colin went rogue.
Most notably, when the local police officer pulled him over for having the sheep in the passenger seat of his beloved ute.
‘‘I had them strapped in,’’ he said.
Not ashamed to tell the story, Colin was more than happy to speak about the day’s activities.
‘‘I bought a few sheep and didn’t have enough room to fit them all in the back of the ute,’’ he said.
‘‘So, putting one in the front seat was the only option I had.
‘‘The police officer wasn’t too happy with my excuse. But I did manage to get the sheep home.’’
While Colin now has new stateof-the-art sheep yards this has not always been the case.
You wouldn’t know it, but his old yards sit just off the side of the Murray Valley Hwy about one kilometre out of Gunbower.
Most likely you have seen them without ever noticing them — other than to perhaps register a scrappy mess. After all, Colin built them from scrap material.
Colin has always found a use for anything he could find for free, including wooden pallets, old gates and wire to construct them.
At one time a prominent Facebook page had them ranked as the worst sheep yards in the country.
‘‘My parents always taught me to not waste anything that could still be used,’’ he said.
‘‘The yards don’t look great, but I was able to make them work. I’ve had a lot of sheep go through those yards and I’m proud of what I was able to achieve there.
‘‘The ‘award’ gave me a good laugh because people would always laugh at what they had seen.
‘‘But my idea of making the most out of everything even goes into my shearing, when I take every piece of wool that I can.’’
During the 1980s, Colin spent a lot of time at Dunlop Station in NSW — one of Australia’s most famous sheep stations.
And he still remembers his daily work like it was yesterday.
‘‘There were 50 shearers who would do 80,000 sheep,’’ he said.
‘‘It was a lot of work, but we never complained about it. It was physically demanding, but my body always adapted.
‘‘I’m very lucky I had a good back.
‘‘I’ve also worked in central Australia and that was a real challenge. In the shed temperatures could get as high as 70°C, but I still didn’t raise a sweat.
‘‘I could have gone again and again.’’
Colin also maintains he has never injured himself while shearing— although there has been one injury.
‘‘When I was working at Kerang, I fell on one of the steps and spilt my shin open,’’ he said.
‘‘I didn’t think it was too bad at the time, but I ended up with 50 stitches.’’
And as you might expect, this old veteran hasn’t been afraid to leave his comfort zone during his lifetime.
Shearing sheep was only the beginning when it came to working with animals. He was also the town’s part-time groomer.
‘‘Alpacas were always the worst animals to work with because they would spit at me — it would drive me nuts,’’ he said.
‘‘Dogs weren’t too bad, but I did have some fun when a customer might annoy me. I would say I decorated the dog when no-one was looking.
‘‘One of the better experiences was when I went to Kyneton after a woman asked for help on her property for a week.
‘‘I lived on a diet of German sausages and probably didn’t eat for a week once I got home.’’
While he might be slowing down, Colin is doing everything he can to ensure his legacy as a shearer lives on.
With 14 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren it’s very likely there will be a shearer among them — or a classer or rousie at least.
‘‘The great grandkids love coming out and shearing the sheep,’’ he said.
‘‘The girls actually enjoy it more than the boys.
‘‘Some of them think I’m mad, maybe I am, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
Man of the land . . . Gunbower shearer Colin McGillivray. The octogenarian reckons he has shorn about five million sheep over the years.
Hard at it . . . Colin McGillivray shears yet another sheep. He says he won’t slow down, not even after a recent stint in hospital, which he dismissed as ‘‘just a bump in the road’’.