Les McIlveen has no regrets about his lifetime career as a shearer.
"None whatsoever," he said. "It was very good to me, it clothed and fed my family and educated them including sending our youngest son to university.
"I was proud to be a shearer and I've met a lot of good people."
Les said shearing is a tough game, but only as tough as you make it.
Shearing was a family tradition; his grandfather shore in the sheds around Boomi, before he became a mail contractor with horse and buggy travelling the 91 miles (146km) opening 81 gates on his way.
"Dad was a crutcher and during the school holidays I used to go out and pick up and learn to shear and learn to crutch at first," Les recalled.
"My grandfather and father shore in the district for years but I forget all the properties they weren't big properties, maybe 3500 to 4000 acres (1416ha to 1619ha).
Les started shearing because it was the best job at the time for a young lad.
"I went to work on a property owned by Jimmy Murphy but I left there when I was about 18 and then I got a job at Goondiwindi with a big shearing contracting team and then I just travelled all over Queensland," he said.
With that contracting team, Les finally made his was into northern Queensland where one of the first sheds he shore was a 14 stand shed near Corfield between Hughenden and Winton.
"There would be 35 to 40,000 sheep there, and we probably had 30 men including roustabouts and cooks," he said.
"Then we would go to Afton Downs which was closer to Hughenden and with 15 shearers we also shore about 35 to 40,000 sheep.
"Then we would go to Dunluce - it was a nine stand shed just outside Hughenden and they used to shear between 25 and 30,000."
Les said the sheep were a lot smaller in those days than they are today and cutting about six pounds (2.7kg).
"You know the belly wool would nearly cut that today," he said.
"But it was pretty light country and they would run one sheep to 10 acres (four ha).
"If you shore at Afton Downs you were in the running for the last shed of the year Carandotta that was way out on the Georgina River west of Dajarra."
Les would catch the train from Hughenden about four o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday and arrive at Dajarra where he hop onto a truck for the 100 mile (160km) drive and live you there for four or five weeks.
"It would depend on the lambing at Carandotta but we would shear anywhere between 45 and 55,000 - big sheep numbers in those days not like they are today," he said. "We will never see them again - well I don't even know if they even run sheep out there now probably all cattle."
Les lived in Tambo when he got married in 1963 and until he left in 1979 it was his base from where he went shearing.
"I had a wife and young family and I had to keep working in those days - I gave it away in '79 and got a job on a feedlot outside Dalby," he said.
"My youngest son wanted to go to university so in '85 I came back to shearing and put him through university and now he is a professor in psychology."
Among the many great sheep families Les shore for he recalls the Tait family who owned Mt Enniskillen, Barcaldine Downs, Powella and Bimberah in the Blackall/Longreach districts and operated as Clark and Tait.
"I don't know how many sheep they shore but at Barcaldine Downs we used to shear 25 to 30,000 at the stud and a further 25kms further on at Barrs Gully which was the flock sheep and they would probably shear 25,000 there."
Another was Richard Turnbull who owned Lansdowne near Tambo and Les thought they would shear between 40 and 45,000 sheep depending on the lambing.
The shearers quarters on Landsdowne and Barcaldine Downs were good but at Carandotta with no power Les said it was all carbide lights and no air conditioning so they took their mattresses outside and slept under the stars.
At daybreak the mattresses would be put back into the room before a dust storm blew up which were quiet frequent in the sixties.
Another sheep breeder who Les respects highly is Michael Middleton, who had The Lagoons at Binalong.
"He had some of the best woolled sheep in the district and if they never cut 10kgs he wanted to know why," Les said. "He was always looking at 12kg and he was a very good wool man probably one of the best in this [Harden/Yass] district."
Les' shearing career began in the late 1950's and the biggest changes he has seen has been the introduction of the overhead electric gear replacing the old shaft driven by belts from a diesel engine and electricity.
"I didn't know very much about the wide combs," he said. "My brother-in-law was still shearing and he was keeping me in touch as I was on the feedlot but when I came back to shearing I only had narrow gear and I still believe I got a better cut with the narrow gear."
The most sheep Les ever shore was 338 in a day in a shed at Condobolin, though he never kept a tally of any of his sheds.
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