Eighty percent of Australia's twenty three million people live in the coastal cities, but observing their lifestyle, you can see the love of the outback in many of their souls.
You can see this, for example, in the number of four- wheel drives that people own. A daily ritual occurs in the cities which approximates or mimics livestock transportation on outback farms. Every morning, like farmers transporting their lambs and ewes to different paddocks, mothers pack their children into their large four- wheel drives, some even with bull bars attached (to protect them from kangaroos on the road?) and drop them off at their schoolyard gates. The ritual is repeated in reverse early afternoon as they line up in their vehicles outside the schools, waiting for the children to appear outside the gates, to round them up home.
The love for the 'wide brown land'(1) is also seen in the Aussie's love of songs about the outback. One of these songs, 'Waltzing Matilda', about a swagman who steals a sheep, was written by a 'city slicker', but who deeply cherished the spirit in the heart of this mysterious land, and immortalised it in many of his world- class poems. His name was A.B.(Banjo) Paterson.
'Waltzing Matilda' is widely known across the world. It was nearly voted in by the people as the national anthem before most of them came to their senses and realised it would not be sufficiently dignified at official functions overseas.
Another favourite outback song is "Click Go The Shears". The author of the words is unknown, and the music - this may surprise many Australians- is an adaptation of the tune of the American Civil War song 'Ring the Bell, Watchman', composed by Henry Clay Work. It has even been said that the first stanza of 'Click Go The Shears' is a parody of that American song.
It appears therefore that Australian- American cultural connections go much deeper and further back than MacDonald's, Hollywood and Russell Crowe. But America's contribution to our outback consciousness through this song did not end with it supplying the music. 'Click Go the Shears' had waned in popularity. Then, in 1953, Burl Ives, one of America's folk music icons, while touring the Great Southland, was looking for an Australian song to include in his repertoire. Someone suggested 'Click Go The Shears'. He did a grand job of it, recorded it, and the song was popular all over the country again. Soon every child in school knew at least the chorus :
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.
Huh!? It needs a translation.
A 'ringer' is the champion shearer in the shed. A 'blow' is a movement of the shearer's arm and hand. The 'snagger' is a novice lad who is just beginning to shear. The 'blue-bellied joe' is a ewe with no wool on its belly. The 'ringer' dislikes being beaten by any 'punk kid'. Especially when that kid picked an easy sheep to shear.
The song became popular at the time when Australia was 'riding on the sheep's back' and wool was making it very prosperous. However, it is based on a falsehood, or as writers say, poetic license. Shears do not really make a 'clicking' sound. The biggest noise in the shed would be the voices of cussing shearers. And bleating sheep? Curiously, and charmingly, sheep are extremely docile and quiet in the hands of a shearer. Yet who knows what they are feeling.
The prophet Isaiah knew of this characteristic of sheep when he wrote of the Messiah :
Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and He was afflicted; yet He opened not His mouth. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. (MKJV)
At times we may feel helpless and find ourselves in the hands of those who want to 'shear' us. Everything around us overwhelms us and is incomprehensible; fear begins to overtake us and cover us like a thick blanket. At those times let us look to that Sheep for our comfort and strength, and remember His peace and quiet victory while in the oppressor's hands and His love for us that brought Him there.
1. Dorothea Mackellar 'My Country'
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