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The bewildered sheep are lead away and we are mustered into the adjacent shed to meet Mickey, a fair-dinkum shearer of some forty years' experience, who regales us in authentic style with tales of yore and wild times on the shearers circuit.

Stiffened by years of back-breaking work and aided by yet more volunteer sheep, Mickey takes us through the exhausting process. In his heyday, Mickey and his mates would shear 300 sheep a day for weeks on end, then move on to the next property and start all over. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the equipment, I become the first subject and stepped forward for a haircut. Mickey quickly has my ragged growth strewn around the floor and I run my hand across the toothbrush texture of my scalp with satisfaction.

Mickey the real shearer."That'll do yer fer a month or so," Mickey observes wryly, "an notter 'air outta place! Y'know I never spent a penny on an 'aircut all me life."

Next it's the sheep's turn and Mickey shows the assembled voyeurs the intricacies of removing nine months of wool growth without puncturing the animal's vitals. We all have a go and, for a man of Mickey's years, he shows remarkable patience with a clumsy crowd of no-hopers. The sheep isn't consulted, yet weathers the over-handling with little complaint.

Dinner is a boots'n'all affair of camp oven roast meat and vegetables served in the suitably rustic mess hall. To offset any possible Samsonian effect, I take an extra serve of the flavoursome offerings. Howie had promised us an early start, so I left the merry-making to the other guests and hit the sack early.

The Dag is a "work in progress" station, so any day's itinerary can vary from one to the next depending on what has to be done. This day began at 0600 when the 4WD arrived to take me on a personalised tour of the immediate vicinity and we made a beeline for the nearest hill for a sunrise view of the station. Howie described the apparently verdant outlook as "green drought" and only a few weeks before the view would have been quite different. Even so, with the fluffy veil of early morning cloud creeping over the adjacent range and the golden rays gradually filling the valley below, it's hard to imagine anything other than the sort of landscape sought out by a Drysdale or Streeton. Way down by the almost dry creek, Anika and Nathan were already bringing in the first flock of the day.

Trail Riding doesn't get much betterAfter breakfast, it was time to get amongst the horses. I'm regular rider, once every ten years, so there was some remedial work to do first of all. That aside it soon became a pleasant ride in the brisk country air, so long as I stayed away from the sheep. The Dag is one of those stations where you could ride all day and still not come to the end, so our little exploration barely scratched the surface, although we did visit Howie's herd of Simmental down by the river for lunch. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, Anika, an equestrian champion in her native Germany, would trot, canter and gallop her steed each and every which way, just to remind me I was a no Man From Snowy River.

We detoured slightly on the return to trip to observe the royal sport of ferreting. Frank, the senior station hand, is a keen (no, expert) ferreter and proudly introduced us to "Poppa Smurf" who would fearlessly plumb the depths of the rabbit warrens, flushing out the furry prey, usually after a nip on the butt. After fifteen minutes or so we had two bunnies in the bag.

Our visit was coming to an end, but before we headed back to Sydney, there was time to look around the town. There's the pub, a Sport and Rec club, the historic Lantern Store and Gallery as well the new old-fashioned Woollen Mill that turns out stylish knits on one-hundred-year-old machinery brought in especially for the task. It should also come as no surprise that most of these busy little enterprises are part of the Howarth tourism portfolio!

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Now, nearly eight years on, the scope of The Dag continues to evolve, and a growing range of "escape" packages are now on offer ranging from overnighters through to "work for board" roustabouts who'll stay for a couple of weeks or more.

CountryLink and The Dag offer a popular Outback'n'Back package that delivers you by rail to Tamworth and home by coach via the Hunter Valley Vineyards for a trifling $144. It's adjustable too if you want to stay on. See Outback 'n' Back Brochure (PDF)

More committed types can sign up for either the "Roustabout" (work for board) or "Jackaroo/Jillaroo" program ($373) where you can really get amongst it and learn some real life farm skills.

More details at: www.thedag.com.au

If you prefer to stay in town, tariffs at the immaculate Jenkins Street Guesthouse start from $119 per double with breakfast, or more conventional lodgings can be had at the Hills of Gold Motel with bed and breakfast at $66 per double.

More details on all the fun stuff in Nundle: www.nundle.info

This story was originally commissioned for
OUTthere Magazine
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