Banjo and Paterson
20th October 2013
Who’ll Come a Waltzing Matilda With Me?
It was over 10,000 years ago that mankind first began to domesticate the Wild Mouflon of Europe and Asia- a process that was to eventually create today’s modern breeds of sheep and would irrevocably change the course of history for both species. And it was over 100 years ago that renowned Australian poet and journalist, Banjo Paterson told the tale of the swagman and the jumbuck, which was to become enshrined in our country’s history; proudly seen by some as our unofficial national anthem. And although this particular tale was not one of joy for the swagman nor the jumbuck, it was again indicative of just how intertwined the lives of these two species has been throughout time.
In stark contrast to his wild ancestor, the domestic sheep as we know him today relies solely upon his human carers in order to lead a healthy life. Through our selective breeding over many years, we have created a creature who grows wool, rather than hair and who must be shorn regularly to avoid welfare issues. Comparing today’s sheep alongside his wild ancestor, it is easy to see that we have indeed ‘created’ a brand new creature for whom we are wholly responsible.
And so, 10,000 years along the evolutionary timeline of the sheep enter Banjo and Paterson, two Merino cross rams who recently found themselves part of a package deal, living on land that had been sold to new property owners. With a need to develop their yard for their own animal companions, Banjo and Paterson’s new ‘owners’ were unable to cater for ovine residents, however the kindness in these human hearts ensured they would settle for nothing less than the very best for their two surprise charges. However, it was not just a new home the hapless twosome required but also urgent veterinary assistance. You see, in full view of their previous carer, dear Banjo’s right horn had grown askew, dangerously obscuring his vision and pressing painfully on his opened eye. In addition to this, Banjo and his comrade had not been shorn for some time, evidenced by their thick fleeces which would prove problematic come mid-Summer or should a case of fly strike develop. With our Rescue Team despatched, we were to save the lives of the duo, however only time would tell if we could too save Banjo’s sight.
And so, upon arrival back at our sanctuary, following an urgent consultation with our dedicated veterinary team, the most relieved “Baaaaa” we have ever heard rang through the air. Immediate removal of Banjo’s right horn had been prescribed and it was a markedly more comfortable sheep who soon stood before us. With Banjo’s left horn too removed due to it also obscuring his sight, he was indeed a new ram. However, to some extent our help had come too late and a veterinary examination determined that Banjo’s sight could not be saved, although medication and removal of his horn meant he could now blink and close his eyelid and was no longer in pain.
So often when we think of sheep we think of them as creatures farmed for food and fibre seen in their hundreds throughout the vast plains of our Australian landscape. However, so little thought do we often give to the life of just one individual sheep or to the part we humans have played in bringing this creature into existence. Author of ‘The Little Prince’ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best when he wrote, “People have forgotten this truth… But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.” And for the domestic sheep this could not be truer.
And so, today a date with our shearer has been booked and, following his dear pal Paterson with his one good eye, a much happier Banjo can now be seen singing, “Who’ll come a waltzing the fields of Edgar’s Mission with me?”