Monday, April 17, 2023

Folk Song for June 2024: Click Go the Shears

"Click Go the Shears" is a traditional "bush ballad," which many Australians remember learning in their first years of school. The song describes the process of shearing sheep with blade shears, and the roles of the different people in the shearing shed, including the "ringer" and the "tar boy."

Variations in the Lyrics

Is it a "blue-bellied joe," a "bare-bellied ewe," or a "bare-bellied yoe?" Is there a correct, "authorized" version? Apparently not! We have chosen one set of lyrics, but if you learned it a different way, feel free to use your favourite version.

One or Two Cautions

In the last verse, the "old shearer" takes his paycheque and heads to the pub. You may or may not choose to include this verse.

Also, the original version of the verse about the "colonial experience man" (a young Englishman sent out to the colonies) uses a non-family-friendly word, and this is still used in certain recorded versions. However, even some of our Australian AO informants were not aware of that, as they were taught only the first verse, or (if they did learn the rest) that  he was "smelling like a flower" (or similar words).

So if you would like to simplify the song, especially for younger children, it would be fine to sing just the first verse and the chorus.


1. Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his thin bony hand,
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied yoe —
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 bare-bellied yoe.

2. In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair,
Sits the boss of the board with his eyes everywhere;
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying strict attention that it’s taken off clean.

3. The tar boy is there, awaiting in demand,
With his blackened tar pot, in his tarry hand,
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back;
Here is what he’s waiting for — it’s “Tar here Jack!”

4. The colonial experience man, he is there of course,
With his shiny leggings on, just got off his horse.
He gazes all around, like a real connoisseur,
With brilliantine and scented soap — he’s smelling like a flower.

5. Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques,
So roll up your swags, boys, we’re off on the track,
The first pub we come to, it’s there we’ll have a spree,
And everyone that comes along, it’s “Come and drink with me!”

Video Links

This version by the Stringybark Band includes lots of footage and photos of sheep shearing. (The Colonial Experience man is there, "smelling pretty good.")

Rolf Harris's version is sung with much enthusiasm, and includes some spoken explanation of the difficult words. One verse refers to drinking. (Another way around the problem line: "You can hear him whistling, 'Ain't I the perfect lure?'")

This blogpost, suggested by an Australian AO user, includes a recording of a gentleman singing the song. (Caution: it does include the non-family-friendly word, and an extra verse which you might not want to sing with children.)

This recording by Slim Dusty seems to be popular. (This version includes only the first and last verses, and then switches to other songs..Also, for North Americans: it goes a bit slower!)

Finally, for fun: Olivia Newton-John!

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
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