A re-enactment of the famous Tom Roberts’ painting sees the grand old shearing shed at North Tuppal Station transformed to its 19th-century glory.

Story By Darren Linton

There's a buzz along the boards but it isn’t caused by the constant whir of electric motors that drive modern shearers’ blades and vibrate the dust out of the cracks between old timber. Instead there are 72 shearers lining the long, narrow corridor – some with simple hand shears – and spectators are crammed into every vantage point. Even the wool classers and rouseabouts hustle for a clear view. North Tuppal Station’s historic woolshed hasn’t looked or felt like this for a century.
This is a step back in time to an era when hard men roamed with a swag, catching mail carts from one outback shed to another to fleece the flock. The first section of the North Tuppal shearing shed, now used as the catching pens, was built in 1863, and the current layout hasn’t changed in more than 100 years.
Station owner Bruce Atkinson reckons that, apart from water getting to the timber stumps over the years, the magnificent shed is still in pretty good nick. “Our family has owned the shed since 1928 – I’m the third generation to own the property,” he says, with pride. “It’s been sitting here quietly for 80 years. It was built so well it looks after itself.”
It’s even better today given the interior has been lovingly refurbished by 400 volunteers who contributed 10,000 man-hours to bring it back to working order. The hard graft is worth it, just for this moment – the re-enactment of the iconic Tom Roberts’ painting Shearing the Rams. The popular outback image was originally sketched not too far from here at Brocklesby Station near Corowa, NSW, in the spring of 1888. A copy, dog-eared and soiled but clear enough to get the picture, is propped on the shed floor.
The chosen few are being directed into position – the old man on the right with the sheepskin hat and the corn pipe; the lad on the left clutching a fleece; the shearer emerging from the pens, a ram secured in his strong hands; and in the centre, the shearers in action, using their blades to strip the wool with easy, precise blows.
The click of the shears is drowned out by the click of cameras. “It’s awesome,” shearer Michael Rowe says as he surveys the scene. He’s travelled from near Ballarat, Vic, to take part and has picked up the blades for the first time in years. “You’re part of history; this will go down in history like Ned Kelly,” he adds, without a hint of irony. Soon the whole shed is buzzing again – along all 72 stands rams are being hand shorn.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010