Offcuts: Ducks on the pond

Tom Roberts' painting 'Shearing the Rams' depicting an Australian shearing shed in the late 1800s. Photo: Wikipedia.

If I was to say to you “ducks on the pond, the babbling brook is coming”, would have you any idea what I meant?

As most of you reading have spent plenty of time in wool sheds, I’m guessing you probably might.

But for me, I’d need an interpreter and you might as well be speaking Chinese.

Further research has led me to discover it means something close to the following: stop the swearing lads, the cook (in this case a female) is about to enter the shearing shed.

Rhyming slang has long been part of Australian language and culture, and is something quite unique to us – apart from our English ‘cousins’, I can’t think of another country where it’s as prominent as here.

I distinctly remember watching the cricket on television as a youngster and hearing the commentator Greg Chappell say one of the fieldsman was having a “Barry Crocker” as another ball went through his legs to the boundary.

Of course I had no idea what he was talking about, but after consulting my old man found out it meant he was having a “shocker”.

The importance and cultural signifiance of wool and shearing to Australia’s history is well-known.

It only makes sense then that from the combination of the trademark Australian sense of humour and the banter between shearers and rouseabouts throughout a long, hard day in the shed, a whole new language would emerge.

So we’ve decided to put together a glossary of shearing shed ‘lingo’ and where possible, the stories and meanings behind the terminology.

Some of the lingo may still be used in 2018, while other phrases may have existed during wool’s golden age in Australia and since vanished from the vernacular…

Babbling Brook – Shearer’s cook.

Baitlayer – Another name for the shearer’s cook.

Blue-tongue – Young shed hands, named so because they were accused of spending most of their times ‘catching flies’.

Bluey – A shearer’s bundle of possessions, usually wrapped in a blanket or swag.

Cobbler – A sheep which is difficult to shear, sometimes left until last.

Cut-out – When shearing at a particular shed has been completed.

Darling Shower – A dust storm that fills the wool on sheep with sand.

Ducks on the Pond – A warning yelled out by shearers to cease profanity when a lady is about to enter the shed.

Dungas/Dungarees – Shearing pants.

Flea Taxi – Sheep Dog.

Gun – The top shearer, or the best shearer in a shed or gang. Usually able to shear more than 200 sheep per day.

Guesser – Wool Classer.

Humping your Bluey – To carry your bundle of possessions in search of your next wool shed job.

Jacky Howe – A navy or black singlet worn by shearers, cut from under the arms to almost the waist to allow them to move freely. Named after the gun shearer John Robert “Jacky” Howe who in 1890 set a long-standing world record by shearing 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes (he is said to have worn a shirt with the sleeves cut off).

Jumbuck – A sheep.

Lounge about – Young shed hand boys.

Mad Eight – Reference to eight men who in 1923 shore 18,000 sheep in a fortnight at Williambury Station, WA using hand shears.

Plum jams – Lambs.

Pony Boy – Young assistant who carried the fleece to the classing table.

Moccy’s – Shearer’s shoes.

Monkey’s Eyebrows – Short wool shorn from lambs.

Quart Pot – A very young lamb.

Ringer – Fastest shearer in the shed.

Rousy – Rouseabout.

Sheep O – More sheep needed in tha catching pen.

Snagger – Shearer.

Tongs – Sheep Shears.

Water Burner – Another alternative for shearer’s cook.

Wool Spider – Prickle in your skin.

If you’ve got any worthy additions to our glossary of shearing shed slang, we want to hear it!

We’re particularly keen to hear from current shearers and rouseabouts about the modern day terminology used in the shearing shed, so get in touch with us through our Facebook page (https://bit.ly/2pJ8CA9) or at kmckay@qualitywool.com.

Kane McKay