A chronic asthmatic, Reg Sharpless left England in 1923 in search of a dry place to recuperate. Sharpless settled in Sydney for several weeks, but with no improvement in his health, he was advised to shift to a dryer climate-somewhere west! This meant Sharpless had two choices: Hay or Bourke (these were the two western most extremities of the railway line at the time). The toss of a coin made his decision, and Sharpless headed for Hay by train, a journey which took approximately 20 hours. Within three weeks Sharpless found himself with paid employment on Mossgiel Station, 30 miles from Ivanhoe, as a jackaroo. His only problem was that he had no idea what a jackaroo actually did!
In time Sharpless learnt that his job entailed everything imaginable-he was 'a jack of all trades'. The working day began at 7am and did not finish often until 6.30pm. This was the routine, six days a week, with Sunday being a time for rest and recreation, which, more often took the form of tennis, shooting, swimming or picnicking. His daily duties included sheep maintenance, mustering and droving, crutching, general maintenance of vehicles and equipment, fencing, mending telephone lines and repairing wells, windmills and bores. Sharpless wrote later in his diary that he had been asked to use skills and abilities from at least eight different trades including carpentry, painting, engineering, bricklaying, coachbuilding, plumbing and shepherding. For this type of work Sharpless got board, food and a pound a week in wages.
Mossgiel Station was approximately 250,000 acres. Paddock sizes varied from 10 acres to 10,000 acres. These huge portions, in comparison to the 'mother-land', were one of the factors Sharpless had to adjust to. Another was the different flora and fauna. Of these, Sharpless had the greatest difficulty with snakes. He recounts on numerous occasions his first few encounters with these 'joe-blakes', with the winner not always being one Reg Sharpless.
Owing to the enormous distances between properties and people, there were very few occasions when social outings were possible. However, there were two regular events which were never missed by Sharpless and the other jackaroos. These took the form of dances in aid of local hospitals and charities. As a result, people from as far as fifty miles would attend, including Sharpless and his drum kit, which became somewhat of a novelty. Another of his hobbies included photography, and his estimate of six hundred photographs taken during his stay at Mossgiel must have been a conservative appraisal. One of these photographs is the now famous shot of the two bogged wool teams, entitled 'The Bog' (pictured above).
Sharpless remained at Mossgiel Station for a period of two and a half years, before returning to England, as he had promised his family. In later life Sharpless published a book entitled Pommy in the Outback (1982), detailing his stay on Mossgiel Station. Reg Sharpless died in 1985 at the age of 84.
Compiled by: Wayne Doubleday.
Sources: Papers, Reginald Sharpless, RW283, CSURA.
Photographs: 'Smoko' (RW283/7/2/18), 'The Bog', 1925 (RW283/7/4/49).