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Travel: ‘Dinki-di’ in the land down under

The small bow-shaped missile rises against the blue sky, turning into a tiny inverted comma, and then spirals in a long curve to land a few paces away from my feet. Jack, our burly Australian host, picks up the boomerang.

The small bow-shaped missile rises against the blue sky, turning into a tiny inverted comma, and then spirals in a long curve to land a few paces away from my feet.

Jack, our burly Australian host, picks up the boomerang.

“Have a try,” he urges our group, demonstrating how to hold it between thumb and fist.

The boomerang is as unique to Australia as its aboriginal culture and colonial past.

At Gledswood Homestead, that colonial history lives on in the gracious old manor, which once belonged to the Chisholms, an early pioneering family.

Built in 1810, with convict labour, it has been renovated over the years, and those selected rooms, which are open to visitors, still retain an aura of bygone splendour.

Although the estate still covers 26 hectares of rolling countryside in the Camden valley of New South Wales, Gledswood is no longer a working sheep farm.

Instead, it celebrates its heritage by delighting visitors with an opportunity to experience typical Aussie occupations first-hand.

The day’s activities include learning to crack a drover’s whip, and watching a rangy brown Australian sheepdog corral a flock of alarmed-looking sheep across a paddock and into a pen.

Some of the “jumbucks” escape through a break in the fence, rushing blindly into our midst, followed by a determined Jock, who nips at their heels, and causes some of us humans to dodge nimbly out of the way.

The last of the jumbucks herded into the pen, Jock follows us to the Stockman’s Camp hut, where he flops down contentedly in the shade.

Meanwhile, we sit on benches, sip on “billy tea” and sample “damper” — a flat, chewy Aussie bread that would have been packed into the “tucker-bags” of the stockmen.

Like our own North American cowboys, these cattlemen rode and camped on the sheep farms that sprawl across the vast Australian outback.

The real showstopper, however, takes place in the shearing shed.

I cross the timbered floor, littered with curly remnants from the last shaving session and take my place on a wooden bench. For the next half-hour, I am enthralled by Jack’s commentary on the life of a sheep shearer.

Enthralled, but not envious.

These workers were bent, head-at-knee-level, for eight-hours a day, brandishing “blades” (gigantic scissor-like shears) as they shaved away the animals.

A good shearer was expected to denude up to 160 sheep a day.

It took its toll.

Arthritic hands, creaky spines and hip-joints.

The blades endured until 1926, when they were replaced by a mechanical hand-piece, and this evolved in 1994 to wide electric combs, which are still in use in present day.

We hear too, about the grading of wool, the prices each fetch in the market place, and the fact that the very first Merino sheep, (60 head) were imported from Spain and reared only a few kilometres away from Gledswood in the Camden Valley — birthplace of Australia’s enormous wool industry.

Jack regales us with tales of legendary sheep shearers — and then buckles down to a demonstration.

A fat ewe is led onto the platform. Jack flops her over onto her back, shaves away the wool on her head and draws it down over the upper half of her face. He explains, it’s called “pulling the wool over the eyes.”

Jack grins, as the animal relaxes into immobility. He holds the comb against the skin. It looks as simple as peeling a potato — the wool falling away in thick layers onto the floor.

It takes him five minutes, and when he stands up and bows to our applause, Mrs. Ba-Ba now shorn to the skin, takes off in a hurry toward the exit.

All this work, as vicarious though it may be, suddenly reminds me I’m feeling ravenous.

It’s time for the great Aussie barbeque to be served in the dining room.

It’s actually a country hall, where waitresses in 19th century costumes fill our glasses with fine Australian wine and place crusted hedgehog-shaped loaves on each table.

The salad bar is so lavish that I stand irresolute, trying to decide whether I should load up on fresh greens, potato salad and pasta, but the smell of barbecued meat wafting across the room is irresistible.

I take a small helping of salad and walk over to the help myself to the sizzlers — enormous slabs of steak and glistening marinated chicken.

At the close of my meal, the coup de grace is a generous slice of Australian Pavlova desert — meringue, light as a maiden’s fancy, topped with whipped cream and a riot of peaches, kiwi-fruit and strawberries.

As they say Down Under, “Gledswood is ‘dinky-di’ Australian.”

Too right, mateys.

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