By India Meyers
On Saturday, March 23rd, we met up in Brisbane after our week of independent travel to begin the rest of our field studies. Our first stop was at the Jondaryan wool station. For a few of us who had travelled to cooler areas such as Tasmania for independent travel, hopping off the bus into the heat was a surprise. Midday we arrived at Jondaryan and ate lunch. The surroundings had a countryside feel that was warm and welcoming. Our hosts showed us to cabins that used to be the original quarters of the Jondaryan shearers. The room I was in included a bunk bed, fan, mini-fridge, and free shampoo!
After settling in to our rooms we walked over to the Jondaryan woolshed where our tour guide gave us an introduction to the history of the wool industry. He explained the use of sheep for not only wool but also lanolin oil and meat. In the 1800s, wool was exported from Newcastle, Australia to London, England. In 1839, 70 workers began work on Jondaryan. Our tour guide described an average shearer’s workday as a “run” that lasted from six am to six pm! Workers would earn five pounds for every twenty sheep they sheared. Our guide also told us that there are different types of wool, including coarse, fine, medium, and extra fine. Whereas in the 1800s shearers could only cut off 1.9 pounds of wool per sheep, today with enhanced shearing practices, shearers are able to attain sixteen pounds of wool from one sheep. In addition, there are various percentages of fleece on different parts of a sheep’s body. Our guide demonstrated this by showing us how to shear a sheep. It was surprising to see how quickly he cut the wool, and even more exciting when one of the sheep that was standing behind the shearing area jumped over the wooden gate right at us! While the shearer was preparing to shear one of the sheep, there was constant communication between the sheep about to be sheared and the one behind the gate.
|Photos courtesy of Julie Peterson|
|"Pulling the wool over your eyes" in action!|
After making damper, we had free time until dinner to explore more of Jondaryan. On the property, in addition to sheep, there were also chickens, horses, peacocks, and an assortment of other birds such as cockatoos and parrots. We were given food to feed the goats and sheep, who were more than excited to be fed. A few times they attempted to jump on us but for the most part were only eager to get food. Some of the chickens were also loose from their pens and enjoyed running around.
Soon after visiting the animals we walked back to the cabins and relaxed on the grass. It was the perfect time to read, chat about the day, or in my case, drink tea on a warm day. Because it was pretty hot outside, a friend and I walked over near the dining area and bought mango popsicles. Earlier in the day, other people bought ice cream and cold drinks to cool off.
In the evening, as it slowly became darker, the light from the setting sun made for a beautiful view of the countryside. At this time, dinner was ready to be served. That night, we had a choice of cooked pumpkin, vegetables, pork, and lamb covered in juicy gravy. The dining house almost resembled a restaurant neatly set with white tablecloths and silverware. It was a nice change to the days of camping we had done two weeks before in Lamington. During dinner we were introduced to a local historian, who later that evening talked to us about his interest in the history of Jondaryan.
In an outdoor kitchen building next to the cabins, we set up a fire and this historian began by talking about his specialty in Australian native plants. He explained that he has traveled around Australia to places many people have never been to. For example, he told the tale of when he ventured from East to West across the Simpson Desert in 1969. According to the indigenous people, this desert was thought to be inhabited by the rainbow serpent. According to our host, “Life is full of interesting things. All you have to do is find them.” Listening to his story prompted a lot of questions about the expedition and his participation in many other adventures.
He also talked about Australia’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda,” and its connection to the shearers who worked in Australia during the colonial period. In the song, the word “swag” represents the gear/ bundle carried on the back of workers as they journeyed to find work. The anthem describes the “waltzing” of men who walked between wool stations for work. “Matilda” was what they called their bundle of swag. The shearers did everything with their Matilda from sleeping to eating to travelling.
The historian told us that the first union to be formed in Australia was initiated through the strike by the Shearer’s Union of Australia. Shearers demonstrated for better working conditions and pay. There was a bad feeling between the shearers and landholders who held power over their employees. According to him, there was “little true justice for the average living person.” The first shearer’s strike was at the Jondaryan station.
At the end of the night, everyone had time to settle down for bed. While some played a round of poker next to the fire, others were surprised by the huge amount of earwigs in the bathroom! Showering and brushing our teeth was definitely a difficulty but by the morning, they were all gone. I fell asleep quickly but suffered from multiple mosquito bites on both of my feet. Others also had to spray off the mozzies before bedtime…not to mention the multitude of insects that had taken over the bathroom, because they then began to appear in our rooms, too!
We woke up to a nice breakfast and condiments laid out to make sandwiches for lunch. Before leaving, we thanked our hosts and packed up the bus to head off to Carnarvon National Park. Even though we only spent one day at Jondaryan, it was still a nice experience. The people there were generous and kind, the animals cute and sometimes hilarious and, it had a history that sparked curiosity and interest. After independent travel time, Jondaryan was just the beginning to the rest of our travels in Australia.