Last updated: 2 January 2020
MASTER INDEX of articles written, posted online or recommended by Alex Paterson
Following our tenants' departure and a day before the return of the Taroona family from overseas, we moved to Kingston. I led Silver Venn down the Channel Highway, with Alex, bareback, as her passenger. Sep followed in the station wagon, with Chris and Nic up front, and our meagre possessions on the covered mattress in the back and atop the roof rack. As in Canberra, when Alex was a baby, Sep was proud that we could still move house so easily. But things were changing. We had purchased Sherwood Forest and a pony, in foal, due some time soon. Life was starting to get complicated.
The Kingston property was welcoming, with a sunny, north easterly aspect. It was warm and sheltered by Tasmanian standards and the views superb in all directions. The house was of weatherboard, painted in a soft shade of light blue. It was rectangular, wider on the eastern side, as far as the rose and lavender scented, sheltered courtyard and the double glass doors of the main entrance. The generous living areas of lounge, dining room, and two of the four large bedrooms were fitted with huge plate glass windows, ensuring uninterrupted views to the north, east and west. The third bedroom was also spacious and the fourth, at the end of the hall, was chosen by Alex, who liked his privacy. Although smaller than the others, his room was big enough for his two bunk beds and all his treasures.
There was a huge, walk-in pantry on the right hand side of the hall and bathroom, shower, toilet and laundry were at the south east end, all in good condition. Named 'Sherwood Forest', it was wonderful for small boys and Silver Venn, in foal to Creamy and best of all, it was our very own place.
Not long after the move, our businesslike old pony gave birth to a little taffy foal we named Wee Jock. Later, he became a dark chocolate colour, with dapples and a creamy mane and tail. He was very pretty, amiable, but impish too. Before his birth, the little boys played games all day in the paddock,
'To be near Silver, just in case the the foal gets born,' Alex explained. They resisted efforts to bring them inside for baths and tea - the prospect of new life had them intrigued.
Weeks passed and nothing happened, but their acute interest was maintained. Walter Ayres, our farming neighbour on our southern boundary, leaned over the fence one evening to introduce himself and he offered some sound advice,
'Your pony is close to foaling and must not be disturbed. It would be better for her if the children stayed behind your garden fence until the foal is born. It happens very quickly and any unwarranted noise or sudden movement could be disasterous,' he warned.
Our boys were upset by Walter's warning, claiming that they had never disturbed the expectant mother, and only wanted to be 'near enough to see the foal get born'. Finally, they agreed to play their noisy games in the garden, behind the hedge, where they could take time off, at intervals, to lie down quietly and peep through the shrubbery without Silver knowing.
Surely they would get bored and wander off - they did not. They were spellbound with expectation. One evening, Walter came over to our place, congratulating the lads for staying away from Silver, then said to me,
'You' ll have to start checking her through the night, at least two hourly and even more frequently, once her teats wax up. When that happens, the birth will be very close. Any problems must be dealt with quickly, or you could lose both mare and foal. By the time you call the Vet, it could be too late. Here's my phone number, just in case.'
Accepting his card and phone number,I thanked him for his concern. Such prospects were daunting. I watched our pony like a hawk for tell-tale signs and became exhausted by the night-time checks. Silver regarded my visits with disdain. At last, one morning, very early, when only the first light of dawn had spread over the paddocks, I went out to milk the goat that Ruth had loaned to us when Chris and Nic became itchy and croupy again, after leaving Nanny at the White House, and I saw our pony, checked only half an hour earlier, and not even 'waxed up' yet, now in a sheltered spot, as close to Walter's house as the boundary fence would allow. She was sniffing and pawing the soft turf as she turned in a small circle. Instinct told me that she wanted privacy.
The milk pail and the wash water were returned to the house and I went down the hallway to waken the family. Sep had been disturbed so often, for so long, that he just turned over. The sleepy boys clambered into their dressing gowns and slippers, but were well awake and bubbling with excitement as we slipped silently behind the hedge and peeked through.
Up in Silver's chosen birthing spot, she was busily licking a steaming, dark brown, wriggling mass. No one dared move a muscle. We were transfixed. Silver worked methodically, licking the birth membranes off his nose, his face and then his little body and his legs. The harder she licked, the more he responded and soon he lifted and shook his head. As he did so, she nudged him round the tail. He tried to rise on his fragile legs. He struggled valiantly, then fell down flat.
The boys became agitated.
'He'll hurt himself', Alex whispered.
'Shush,' I implored. 'Not if we're quiet.'
After a couple more tumbles, the foal remained upright, teetering perilously. Silver whickered to him softly, giving him confidence as we watched. With her muzzle she pushed his head in the direction of the milk bar, then gave him gentle little prods from behind. At last he found a nipple. He drank deeply, as his mother fondled his rump. She did not permit him to drink long - she just moved her back leg gently forward, disconnecting his grip. He was angry. He snorted in protest and kicked his back legs into her flank. Silent now, she watched as he circled to try the other side. Briefly, this was allowed and it was clear that we had been blessed with a healthy, lively foal. In awed silence, we withdrew.
The boys raced inside to waken Dad. Their excitement and joy were infectious. We hugged one another and I shed a few tears of relief before returning to the milking shed. Miracle or no miracle, the chores still had to be done.
Our sunny new house was set into the hillside, close to our northern and eastern neighbours. It boasted wall to wall carpets, light fittings, some blinds, a small, but well planned kitchen with an up-market stove and a two door refrigerator and freezer; the latter, we had bought ourselves for our tenants. A servery with a sliding door opened into the dining room. Two sets of spacious bedroom cupboards lacked proper shelving so we had to shop around for those and other basic household needs.
We slept on mattresses on the floor till Sep built a double bed for us, purchased two single bunk beds, with drawers underneath, for Alex's room and constructed high wooden double bunks for Chris and Nic. Initially, they shared the first one he completed, with Chris opting for the lower bunk and Nic, the high one, accessible by climbing up the rails at the bottom end. There were lift-out safety rails for the top bunk, to avoid tumbles and facilitate bed making. Big, circular wheels made bunk moving easy. When Sep made the second set, each boy had his own, with Chris in his bottom bunk, and Nic, up high, in his top bunk, on the other side of the spacious room. It had views of the the top side of the garden, the paddock and Walter's farm. Our bedroom had grand views over the valley, Kingston Beach, the Golf Course and the Chanel Highway, all the way up to Bonnet Hill.
The fourth bedroom was really large, with an entire wall of fitted cupboards, able to seclude amost everything if the room needed tidying. This lovely sunny room had a Wedd slow combustion heater and a door, open porch and steps down into the garden. It became the sewing, ironing, and general rumpus area in very cold or wet weather. We moved one of the single bunks from Alex's room in there when Gran came to visit, or Sep's brother Ted, a construction engineer, came to stay. His company, Hornibrook, was considering putting in a tender for a proposed new bridge across the Derwent River, if Ted's deliberations and in depth, site investigations proved positive. Because of problems with instability in the Derwent River bed, Ted's plans proved too costly and another company built the accident-prone, new bridge.
One chilly, wet day, the lads were playing in there, out of the rain. They made a paper fire on the carpet, then promptly extinguished it before the house went up in flames. They were amazed when I was upset with them, saying they were just experimenting in fire control. I found a rug to cover the the damaged carpet and their fire lighting was thencefooth restricted to the paddocks and kept under close control, then banned altogether after a serious misdemeanour. When we were all down at the northern end of Kingston Beach one hot day, Sep spotted smoke on our hillside, so we hopped aboard the wagon and found flames racing across our ploughed paddock. A week earlier, three boys had made a cubby in the roots of a fallen pine tree near our front gate and had lit a tiny fire to keep warm. They had carefully extinguished it with buckets of water before they came inside for baths and tea. But one of the old roots must have caught alight, then smouldered its way some thirty yards under the driveway and into the ploughed paddock, which had dead grass and roots in it. They received harsh words from their Dad and no further incidents occurred. He wasted no time in building a super safe, stone barbecue, on the tree sheltered, lower side of an always very green lawn. There they could light a fire whenever they found their own kindling and wood - a great solution but they soon became bored with that exercise, unless they had friends coming for a meal, and then it was fun to do the cooking.
As our borrowed, elderly, pink skinned Saanan dairy goat, Felicity Jane, developed skin cancer, I purchased a lovely, regally bred, tan-skinned goatling named Maranoa Snowbelle as an eventual replacement. She soon presented us with a tan skinned doe kid which we bottle reared on her dam's copious and deliciously sweet- tasting milk, sufficient for all our needs. Snowbelle went on to be State champion dairy goat, and also type and production champion for all the years we were at Kingston. Chris really liked the goats and, soon after he commenced his formal education, he learned to milk.
There was an old motor shed and workshop near the house when we first arrived, and after building our beds, Sep demolished that rickety edition and replaced it with a well lit, double garage and workshop, on a concrete base and a large outside parking area for guests. Ever dexterous, he then constructed a masterly built, well balanced, very strong wooden double pony float. Without taking a breather, he then began building a goat house and milking stand, outside in the paddock, near the garden gate, and soon extended it to incorporate a tack and feed room and two pony loose boxes, the whole structure of pale blue weatherboard, with an iron roof and a solid concrete base, matching the light blue house and new garage, all his work masterly built by a true craftsman.
Our house had been modernised around an original four room farmhouse and some of the workmanship was not up to Sep's high standards of excellence, but it was warm, welcoming and weatherproof and it served our needs well, if the good health and happiness of all of us was any kind of yardstick. We had been accepted into the community with open arms. Wherever we had moved,this genuine goodwill had followed us and given us all that warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging.
By the time the goathouse and pony accommodation was completed, Silver's playful foal, Wee Jock, started badgering the goats, so Sep then commenced building fences, a job that he continued for many a long year after we moved to greener pastures on the North West Coast.
Kingston Primary School.
When the new School year commenced, Alex with trepidation, found the grit to recommence his education, now at the Kingston State Primary School, just down the road at the bottom of Hutchins Street. He fitted in there happily, even although he had missed over a year and was now among the older children in his class. He was still very small, but amazingly, as his literacy and numeracy skills were good, he did not feel out of place. Initially, I accompanied him and collected him in the afternoon but he soon made friends and asked to walk home in their company. Chris declined to attend Pre School, saying 'it was baby stuff' and 'Nic will be lonely,' We did not attempt to force the issue because he was a tireless worker and had no time for childish games - with the possible exception of lighting fires - but that may have been untrue, as we never sought individual culprits of misdemeanours when they were playing together.
For some reason, neither Sep nor I liked the idea of cross examination. Instead, our boys were treated as a group, responsible for caring for one other, which they did well, ever mindful of Taroona near tragedies, although I later found that the elder lads talked Nic into blame taking as they grew older. Sep had a soft spot for him, not noticeably shared, and probably because he had met him at birth, instead of months later, as with Alex and Chris and Father and son had bonded.
Chris was a serious-minded child, seldom interested in trivial pursuits. He liked vacuuming the floors and helping me in the garden. Perhaps we should have attempted to foster his interest in fun activities, because, with the exception of the ponies and horses we later acquired, he never developed those talents and remains super diligent and sometimes aloof.
The garden area around the house was of one acre and mostly grassed, with numerous shrubs and trees, thoughtfully placed to ensure that their growth would never impede our panorama of 5 star views. By cleaning out the poultry shed, first up, after our arrival, to temporarily house Felicity Jane, the resulting compost heap soon created the basic ingredients for the establishment of a vegetable garden. It came into production with amazing speed, as the site was sheltered and wonderfully warm.
The entire property was just right for boys - lots of room to play or build cubbies , both inside the house or outside, within our five acre boundaries - a rule we hoped they observed, at least initially. Most of our neighbours had young children, so friendships were soon made across the boundary fences and mutual parental permission given for supervised visits between them. No problems eventuated, and our boys were very happy and well behaved, or so we hoped.
For our first Kingston Christmas, Sep, who was not adept at climbing trees, supervised agile little Alex with the job of decorating a tall, vigorous, young pine tree, close to our house, with multicoloured fairylights which could be seen for miles from the Channel Highway, atop Bonnet Hill and engendered instant acclamation for us all. It was a good start, and became an annual Kingston highlight throughout our years of residence in the district.
To ensure that Chris and Nic did not lose out on seeing the children who had befriended them on Tennis Days at Taroona, I continued to join the group of young mothers with whom I had played whilst living there. Those pleasant interludes kept the boys socialised until they, each in turn, went off to school with Alex and his friends. Chris hated his nit - picky teacher in grade I, but fell in love with his grade 2 teacher, Miss Wain. He blossomed under her tutelage; until her death in a road accident some years later, which devastated him. Happy-go- lucky Nic fell in love with all the pretty girls and did not ever make them cry. Alex had a good 'best friend,' Neill, who was English. There was a Dutch settlement in Kingston and their children settled in well and made friends with the Aussies until their Elders built their own church and school and war broke out amongst the children. Our boys were upset and disillusioned. They learned some nasty tricks, just to survive, as the Dutch kids of similar age were near twice their size and immensely strong.
For our first year in Kingston, Silver Venn was busy rearing her cheeky foal and was not ridden. Then I halter broke Wee Jock and led him from the saddle for short outings on surrounding roads and tracks, which he enjoyed. Trotting along beside his dam, he moved gracefully and was interested in, but unafraid of the big wide world outside his home paddocks. When safely weaned and gelded, he could be left in the paddock while Alex tried to master the intricacies of staying on board his fickle mother. Like all Mr Seymour's ponies, she loathed children. Perfectly mannered for me, she just quietly dropped her shoulder when Alex climbed aboard and presto, he was back on the ground. When led by me, our Silver made no attempt to dislodge her tiny rider, and, in the absence of another pony for me to ride, and from which to lead her, with Alex on her back, we both became disheartened, because I soon 'ran out of puff'.
News travels quickly in a semi-rural district and the local Pony Club fraternity responded promptly. Pat Sargison, a knowledgeable, caring wife of Ross and mother of Peta, Tony and Philip, soon came to introduce herself and offered her assistance. An accomplished horsewoman, she was ready with timely advice. Her first suggestion was that Alex would be much safer in a small, properly fitting saddle, which we were able to purchase, second hand, from a rural property on the Richmond Road, on the eastern shore of the Derwent River. Her second suggestion was matter of fact.
'Send Alex and his pony to Bryan Connelly's residential riding school for two weeks during the coming school holidays.'
Once under saddle, and my earnest supervision , Silver's behaviour improved and Alex was soon able to ride around the top part of the fenced garden, with the reins held gently in his left hand, and with his right hand on the pommel, to ensure that he remained balanced. Bryan found a place for pony and rider at his next residential school. He knew about Mr Seymour's child hating ponies and assured me that two weeks hard work would overcome any problems. Alex was excited about going to the riding school and not the least bit concerned about leaving us.
At the end of the school, I collected a cock-a-hoop little boy and a genial pony. Alex could really ride now and clean his tack, groom and feed his pony properly, pick up her feet and muck out her stable - at Bryan's place, anyway. Things were rather different, back home, at Sherwood Forest. Silver Venn was very erratic in her behaviour, and our poor little Alex was crestfallen,
Then along came Carol, out of the blue, and into our lives. She just turned up on a scruffy looking little horse she proudly called Peter Pan. She said she would help Alex and she did. She and Peter Pan led Alex and Silver Venn a merry dance through the bush and sand mining areas between our place and hers, miles away at Huntingfield. Poor Silver was kept going at such a cracking pace that she had no time for disobedience. Whenever she even looked like being horrible, into the soft sand she was led, where she sank in so deep that it was not possible for her to tip Alex overboard; his feet were almost in the sand.
Soon we received an invitation to join the Pony Club and Alex now felt confident enough to go, presuming Carol would be there to deal with any problems. Sep stayed at home with Chris and Nic. I drove slowly behind Alex and his pony, with the blinker lights on, to warn other drivers of the fragility of pony and child, and I carried the tethering rope, hay, rug, water bucket and grooming kit, in the wagon.
The rally was held on Carol's family property, Huntingfield, and the club carried the same name. As we approached, I glanced Peter Pan grazing in a distant field. On arrival, we saw no sign of Carol, but were welcomed by the other riders and those parents who were there to help on the canteen or to instruct. The Sargisons were also absent. Ross and Pat were sharing alternate events on their bay, anglo-arab hack, Dasha, at a country show, and Peta, Tony and Philip were taking turns in the ring on Cheeky, their pretty bay pony.
In spite of Carol's absence, the day went quite well for Alex; perhaps his pony was mindful of Peter Pan's proximity and was not going to run the risk of returning to the sand pits.
At lunch time I asked about her.
'Where's Carol?' I enquired at the canteen, and nobody seemed to know. I had heard that she and two friends, Peter Hodgman, and Valerie Whale, had founded the pony club a year or so earlier, but were required to hand over to responsible adults for the club to become one of the Foundation Members of the Pony Club Association of Tasmania. It was only the second club formed in the State. A kind lady came over to explain Carol's absence.
'Carol is very headstrong'. she said.
'When she goes through our property, it's like the Charge of the Light Brigade. There's a bridge over the creek and four five-bar gates in a row. She thunders along at full gallop, jumping everything, including the bridge. It's so dangerous. We're terrified she'll be killed and it upsets our horses too. She also jumped all the gates coming to rallies at Huntingfield. We told her she couldn't come unless she set a good example for the younger children. So now she stays away. I don't think she's even a member any more.'
I told her how wonderful Carol had been with Alex and his pony; how patient and kind.
'He could not have mastered our Silver Venn without her help.' I said. She just looked at me and smiled. The discussion was over.
Follow My Leader.
Soon after Alex became part of the pony club scene, Carol rode to our place to invite him and Silver Venn to their first gymkhana, saying that there would be room in her Dad's truck for his pony, stating,
'It would be silly to travel all the way to New Norfolk with only one pony in your double box and one horse in our stock truck.'
Sep agreed. He decided to accompany his family, as he was studying for his science Masters degree and knew he would surely find a secluded, shady spot to park the wagon where he could spend his day on German and French language studies, as required for his course.
The gymkhana was held on the recreation ground, along the river flats and steep banks of the deep, dark, fast flowing Derwent River. A row of mighty oak trees stood near the river's edge. Because the river was so threatening, I knew I would spend the entire day ensuring that Chris and Nic never left my side and that Alex would be watching Carol in the pony jumping arena at the conclusion of his ring events.
Silver Venn had arrived safely, at the bottom end of the truck, with a frothing and foaming Peter Pan up front. Silver had been shampooed, snow white. She looked beautiful. Little Alex was as proud as Punch. Maybe he might score a ribbon.
Off they went, into the ring for the 12.2 hands and under class - little ponies and little children, all looking very determined indeed. Their circles around the judge were reasonably controlled at the walk and trot, but when she called for the canter, our Silver had had enough. She shot off towards the trees, Alex valiantly striving to restrain her, with just enough success to turn her this way and that. They performed a flawless bending exhibition, in and out, between those mighty trees, with the entire class following behind, in perfect order.
At the end of the ground and out of sight, they met the perimeter fence and a shocked and shamed Sep - his son, up to no good!! Without missing a stride, Silver, and the entire class, sailed round the station wagon and trotted back to resume the circle, with all the others in fine formation behind. They were greeted with clapping and cheers; Alex and his pony scored a ribbon, but only a red one, for second place. A red ribbon. He thought it was wonderful! But with my blessing, he skipped his two remaining classes.
Carol enjoyed her usual splendid day, with Peter Pan making the jumps look very easy. But he seemed cross when loaded to return home. It had become chilly down by the river, with a sneaky breeze, and he wore no rug. Smug Silver Venn had hers and took her place at the back of the truck, but was soon trembling and clearly intimidated by Peter Pan's rage - for he was lashing out, trying hard to reach her. Carol's Dad, Tom, assured us that he could not possibly do so, and as the truck became mobile, the horse settled down.
We followed close behind in the station wagon, ready to blow the horn to stop the truck if Peter Pan suddenly loosened his tether. Sheltered by the truck cabin, he seemed reasonably content and we perceived nothing untoward, right down the Derwnt Valley Highway.
We had not followed this closely in the morning, unaware of Silver's peril. Then through Hobart, and onto the serpentine Channel Highway, we tagged along. Peter Pan was restless, but not lashing out. Through Taroona and up past the White House and the Shot Tower he behaved calmly, until the truck topped the rise on Bonnet Hill. Then, as the the cold southerly hit him, he really went beserk. Sep blew the horn. Tom pulled over and stopped. He shortened Peter Pan's tether and roped him off so that he could no longer swing his hindquarters. That worked.
We reached Kingston, with Silver shaken but unharmed. We unloaded her at the bottom of Hutchins Street, said our 'thank yous', and Alex led her home. We all agreed that Peter Pan's shocking travelling behaviour resulted from his discomfort when cold winds blew on him. We decided to tell Carol to rug him in future. Perhaps she did, but as we had our own pony float, Silver did not travel with him again.
Chris soon wanted his own pony too. Anne Cuthbertson, on the eastern shore of the Derwent River at Rokeby, bred beautiful grey show ponies by a Fenwick Stud sire, out of Arab x Welsh Mountain pony mares. She had heard that we may be interested in the purchase of a yearling colt for Chris - one that would reach 14 hands, as our middle son was growing apace and would soon be much taller than Alex. We went over to Rokeby and fell in love with this regal young prince of ponies, who was very expensive indeed. Sep was impressed, in spite of his professed loathing of horses, the price tag, and the knowledge that the pony would not be sufficiently mature to commence his education, under saddle, for another two years. The colt had already received preliminary training, was easily loaded into the float and travelled well on the journey to his new home.
Chris immediately worshipped his elegant pony with passion. I initially tried to name him Sashada, but Chris called him Sasha, right from the start. He responded to that name, and to Chris.
As an entire, Sasha joined Wee Jock in a paddock, well separated from Silver by the double fencing of our access road to Hutchins Street, and another, third paddock, with an easy swing steel gate in the fenceline that Sep erected, between the corner post of our garden, and across to Walter's boundary fence. He also built a pony shelter shed, separated into two by the dividing fence, which he clad, on both sides of the fence, within the structure, to avoid any possible injury from fragile pony legs getting caught up in the fence wires. The shelter had a scillion roof. It was high and open, facing north and east, and lower and closed, facing south and west.
Sasha settled in to our scheme of things with consummate calm. He was easy to catch, lead and groom. Chris could not believe his good fortune in being taller than his brothers and needing a much bigger pony than either of theirs. He did not escape the ritual of being sent off to Bryan Connelly's residential riding school though, and there, like Alex, learned the rudiments of horsemanship - On Silver Venn! When they finally came home, Chris was triumphant, because he had found the old pony reasonably cooperative, and he had really liked the big, two storey, heritage home where all the children were billeted, upstairs, in single sex dormitories, and then shared their meals together, downstairs, in the grand old dining room. There were many more girls than boys!
He had not expected to enjoy his two weeks at Bryan's with crabby old Silver, but found that he had actually bonded with her, once he became accostomed to Bryan's rigorous regime, and all the initial aches and pains of so much activity had quickly disappeared. He too, came home at the completion of the School, amazed that he had learned a great deal and had actually quite enjoyed himself.
Pat came to visit soon after Chris' s return from Bryan's and was surprised at his competence with both Silver, under saddle, and with Sasha, who came to his call in the paddock, the lead rope was clipped on to his headcollar and he followed Chris down to the stables. There he was groomed and his feet picked up and gently tapped, one after the other, with no resistance whatever.
'Three cheers Chris, you are going so well, we may give him a brief introduction to being driven, on long reins. Would you like that?'
Chris was not sure, and finally agreed to watch Pat, as he had not been involveded when I was working Wee Jock on long reins, because he was Alex's pony. Pat introduced Sasha to the bridle and bit and the pony accepted both so readily, I felt sure that Anne must have gone through this sometimes scary routine well before we purchased him.
Pat had loaned the long reins to us, and each pony already had his own well fitting, dressed and comfortable leather bridle and thick, jointed, stainless steel snaffle bit, so far only experienced and well accepted by old Silver, Wee Jock , and now Sasha too.
Inside our garden gate, there was a big gum tree in the the centre of a large gravel turning circle for motor vehicles and the area proved ideal for these early educational lessons. Surrounded by shrubs and trees and away from other livestock, the ponies felt confident and safe on this rare area of level ground. Excepting Wee Jock's birthing spot, all three paddocks were undulating, even around the goat house and the stable area.
Sasha went well for Pat on the long reins on our turning circle. She put him through his paces at the walk and trot, then brought him back to the halt, handed the reins to Chris to hold him there while she went up front to pat and praise him, then told Chris to work him at the walk only, with just two changes of rein, then call it a day.
Sasha's preliminary education continued with such ease that I drove him in the long reins in his paddock, and eventually out through the front gate for short distances, along the Maranoa track where he was calm, appeared unafraid of new experiences and did not attempt to hasten when turned onto a loop track, in the direction of home. After school, Chris, with Pat's approval, started climbing on to a hay bale in the stable and lying across Sasha's back, behind his withers, accostoming him to weight bearing, then slipping to the ground on either side. Nothing seemed to upset this sweet natured pony. He was a gentleman. Time passed and he never put a foot wrong.
Michael Hodgman, lawyer, and soon to become a member of Parliament, was associated with the pony club and the Royal Hobart Show Society. His two younger brothers, Peter and Paddy, both rode with the club, so they knew Alex and Chris and had been to Sherwood Forest to meet the lovely colt, Sasha, who worked stylishly on long reins and let Chris climb all over him, in the stable. When the Hodgman family was seated around the dinner table, Peter told Michael that the colt could be a winner in the pony stallion class at the Royal. It was not long before Michael contacted me, and the entry and showing was arranged, complete with an experienced handler to parade Chris's Sasha professionally! He won the class and loved the acclamation of the crowd, especially when re-presented in the grand parade.
The Royal Show experience made Chris realise that his pony was vain. Back at mundane Sherwood Forest, he demanded attention, parading himself up and down his fenceline, whinnying to Silver and Wee Jock and no longer very interested in Chris, who spoke to me about it. We decided it may be a good idea to run old Silver Venn with him to calm him down. I continued to drive him on the Maraoa and adjoining tracks and Chris went back to handling him, in the stable. He was now settled and attentive to all our requests and, no doubt, Silver was in foal. Never mind. Nic might like to finish up with a pony of his own.
Time passed quickly at Sherwood Forest. Alex had Wee Jock going quietly and willingly forward, even although he could sometimes be spooky. He took him to pony club rallies for flat work only and had no problems. Then one day he shied violently, out in the bush, at some imagined, terrible ogre and Alex had a nasty fall and suffered a near death experience, which he can still vividly recall. Sasha continued working in long reins, so Chris sometimes accompanied Alex to rallies at Huntingfield on old Silver Venn, who went well for him. Nic usually preferred to remain at home with his Dad, unless the Rally was at Spring Farm or Bowenwood, where there were creeks on which to sail his tyre-trap boats all day, and then he would travel with me.
Wee Jock was introduced to trotting over poles on the ground, then low cavalletti and after a couple of months, progressed to easy logs in the bush and simple show jumps, all of which were a cake walk for him. Alex's riding friend, Tony, on Cheeky, noticed this positive progress when he and Alex met in the bush after school to jump logs in preparation for a very junior One Day Event, to be run at Huntingfield in the not too distant future. The ODE would commence with a simple dressage test in a gated, roped-off arena measuring 20x40 metres and the little boys would have to learn all the movements to be performed, in ordered sequence, within that arena, before a Judge and penciller, to record the marks attained for each movement. Both officials would be sitting in a car, outside the arena, at the top end of the centre line, directly opposite the entry gate, for which there would be a gate-keeper.
They scratched out a makeshift arena in a flat, grassed area in the bush and each lad made sure his friend had memorised every single movement of the test, in proper ordered sequence. What they had overlooked though, was that Wee Jock had never been introduced to a real dressage arena. As Tony's elder sister, Peta, had ridden many Tests on Cheeky, he knew that he would have no problems and had not given a thought to how Wee Jock may react.
The great ODE day arrived and the weather was kind. Tony was drawn to start ahead of Alex and Cheeky performed a lovely Test.
Wee Jock, on the other hand, was terrified of the thick, pure white arena fence rope and all the white markers with black lettering around the perimeter of the arena. Alex had a hard time, just getting him through the gate. Once inside, surrounded by a multitude of horrors, his pony jumped straight out again. The judge blew the horn of the car from which she was judging and the gatekeeper told Alex to ride up to the car and see what she wanted. He did so. The judge was kind, fully understanding Wee Jock's fear of the unknown white rope.
'Go back and ride a couple of circles outside the open gate before you come straight into the arena and right down the centre line to halt and salute on the marker. He will perform a nice little test, I'm sure.'
Alex thanked her, and indeed, they did as directed, Alex gained confidence, and Wee Jock responded accordingly. Although a bit ragged here and there, it was not a bad test after all. The final salute was steady and surprisingly well executed. Wee Jock relaxed beautifully as they left the arena on a nice long rein and they exited with aplomb.
After lunch, I walked beside Alex, on his pony, down a narrow laneway to the edge of the bush where the cross country course was scheduled to commence. Following the completion of their dressage tests, all competitors had 'walked the course' several times, to plan the easiest approach to each jump, and to also ensure that the clearly numbered obstacles would be jumped in the correct order. There were twenty of them, some as combinations of two or three fences, A,B, and perhaps C, so thinking caps needed to be in place! One missed out, or three refusals at any jump, would incur instant elimination.
In one of the paddocks adjoining the access lane to the Start, Peter Pan was galloping up and down the fence line, threatening to savage ponies and riders as they passed. Although unable to reach them, he succeeded in intimidating them so badly that many children would not proceed without parental assistance. Harsh words were uttered about 'that barbaric animal'. We just felt sad that he and Carol no longer participated at any pony club functions, even on their home turf. But they, of course, were champions, not humble beginners.
Competitors are usually sent through the starting flags at two minute intervals on a cross country course, the timing dependent on the length and degree of difficulty of the course. Well away from obstacles, overtaking and passing is permitted, provided no combination was disadvantaged or unwittingly assisted in the process.
On this first cross country for both combinations, Alex's friend, Tony, was ahead of him on Cheeky and Wee Jock was drawn to follow, three minutes later, for these beginners. Now Wee Jock was very fond of Cheeky, and knowing he was out there, somewhere, he flew over the easy fences, catching up three parts of the way around the course. Cheeky decided that this was a race. He grabbed the bit and bolted in the direction of home - way over at Blackman's Bay. Jock did likewise. As the ponies tired, the little boys regained control and trotted them back towards the course. There they resumed jumping the obstacles and trotted through the finish flags, with Cheeky well ahead of Wee Jock. Boys and ponies were sweaty and tired. Their time? Eighteen minutes, or thereabouts! A record 'slow' for a twelve minute course.
Again the judges were lenient and did not eliminate them for time faults. They turned out to be the only two combinations with no jumping faults, so they proceeded to the show jumping phase, honour restored. Both ponies did well. Everyone cheered them because they had never experienced anything like this ODE. Two competitors had disappeared during the XCountry phase, causing considerable concern, and had re-appeared with flying colours to go on and complete the final phase. Because of the huge number of time faults, they were, of course, unplaced.But they were proud boys on weary ponies, who each decided to lead his pony home, in their different directions, aware that they should and could have avoided the race that turned into a bolt. All they had to do was to ride them on, in a dimishing circle and they would have stopped, pronto. Feeling guilty, they resolved to make sure that nothing like that, ever happened again.
We felt grateful to Pat, and all the pony club instructors for the time spent helping us with our ponies, as it soon became clear that my knowledge was nowhere near adequate for all we needed to know. I had ridden as a child, achieved success in the show ring and could outshine 'The Man from Snowy River' through our precipitous bush in Kuringai Chase, where I grew up, into my early teens. In spite of this background, I had never heard about diagonals, or one-sidedness and was amazed to learn that horses are right or left 'handed', just like people. Both riders and horses have to be suppled and schooled till they become perfectly balanced, at all times. There was a long learning curve ahead! Time passed.
With Pat's help and by attending instructors courses, I gradually became better informed and developed a modicum of confidence. Our boys could all ride well but their Dad never dreamt of venturing to Pony Club rallies, that old hatred of horses apparently still rankling, although he never talked about it.
Having made our home very comfortable, Sep was happy in his Hydro environment and spent weeks away, up north, on the new scheme. He showed no signs of the restlessness he had experienced whilst working in Canberra, apparently content with motor and household maintenace and entertaining our many friends in Kingston. He appreciated our lovely garden and kept the Victa mower and the garden tools in prime condition, but never showed any interest in using them himself.
Sowing the Seeds of Sadness
One day, after school, Chris went off to the billycart track with his friend, Andrew, so Alex offered to come with me, on Wee Jock, as he wanted to show me a new bush track he had discovered, close to home. I was driving Sasha on the long reins, and suggested,
'It may be better if you ride Silver. He seems much more settled in her company.'
'Ok, Mum. You're probably right.'
So, off we went. It was an easy, pleasant little track and Sasha seemed to enjoy the company of 'the old grey mare.' All was going well on this circular track, and we had a view of Walter's paddocks as we were nearing home. Then Alex realised he must have made an error in his navigation, as he had come to a fallen, two strand plain wire fence across the path. I said to him,
'It doesn'matter; just throw your jacket over the wires, so that both ponies can easily step over them.'
Alex did so, and Silver stepped over willingly, but Sasha refused. Irritated, because we were expecting dinner guests and I needed to get home, I picked the jacket up and let Sasha sniff it, before replacing it over the wires. I then asked Alex to come back to us, lead us in a small circle in the open bush, then hope that Sasha would now follow him and Silver without any fuss, because he knew that old jacket. He had stepped over it, in and out of the stable, for months. Now, he followed Silver up to the tiny obstacle, and again refused. Alex rode away, hoping he would eventually decide to follow, but he did not. I called to him to go home without us, put Silver back in Wee Jock's paddock, and then exercise him, if he needed the work. I should have asked him to come back with a stout rope halter with which to replace Sasha's bridle and reins, then tied him to a nearby tree and left him there, but I did not know the seriousness of this disobedience and decided to circumnavigate the problem, unaware that the seeds of 'nappiness' were now well and truly sown.
Pat soon put me straight about the incident. She berated herself for not warning me. But then she said,
'He has a magnificent full brother who can win anything, on his day, but then refuse some trivial request or another. It's possible that it's in the bloodline. After all, they have been bred for the show ring, not as all rounders. I certainly noticed him in the pony stallion class at the Royal. He got an enormous kick out of the crowd's acclaim. 'I'm really sorry that I did not tell you what to do, if he ever jacked up.' she added sadly.
In spite of this set-back, Sasha's education proceeded smoothly. No more negative incidents occurred. When old enough to be ridden, he accepted his young rider as part of himself and both boy and pony shared a deep mutual regard. Pat and Tony came over on Dasha and Cheeky to ride with Alex on Wee Jock and Chris on Sasha. But they all had to keep away from strangers' ponies, lest there were mares amongst them. We had delayed having him gelded, because he had not reached 14 hands and we felt that the shock of the operation might affect his growth. Wrong! It's the other way round. Too late, we were informed that male horses grow out better when gelded early.
Months passed and Sasha's height remained steady on 13.3 and 3/4 hands. He was not doing any growing at all and the Vet reckoned he may have reached his mark and the job should be attended 'while the weather was right'. It knocked him about badly, because he lost a lot of blood. Chris would sit in the paddock with his poor, sad pony and talk to him for ages. Eventually, his blood count picked up and he was deemed fit to ride. They attended Bryan Connelly's preliminary school at Rokeby - light work only and no jumping and, for Chris, this was a revelation. His pony was very good indeed. He and Sasha came home, prepared to tackle pony club, and all the ups and downs that may entail. They were ready and willing to 'have a go', at any challenge.
They encountered few problems and soon Sasha had his fourth birthday and was introduced to preliminary jumps, over little logs in the bush, and then small show jumping courses at Huntingfield. He was intrepid, but careful. He knew that rails were solid and made certain that he cleared them without any possibility of 'a knock'.
Sasha became a top pony. He was beautiful to behold and Chris loved him unreservedly. Because they had such a strong bond of mutual respect, his brothers were a tad envious. Wee Jock was pretty, but he lacked Sasha's grace and flowing ease of movement and Silver Venn, in harness for most of her working life, and as stiff as a post, was never going to be a true show pony. Never mind, they were all good fun in the bush, on the beach, at pony club and in the sea at Blackmans Bay.
That year, junior eventing became Chris and Sasha's forte, closely matched by Alex and Wee Jock, who were also very proficient, often running away with the blue ribbon. Sasha never looked like refusing any obstacle, until, one day, our pony club invited a club from across the Derwent River, on the eastern shore, to compete against our club, at Bowenwood, on the Summerlies Road, at Kingston. Although still a preliminary event, the number of visitors made it seem monumental. There were ponies and children, plus their fussing parents and friends, everywhere; some even helping out as fence stewards on the XCountry course, or in the show jumping arena.
Bowenwood was a steep property, with plenty of water in the stream that ran between the hills, so there was some consternation among our visitors, unaccostomed to mountainous terrain. They all managed the course without serious mishap though, and found the jumps inviting, fairly placed and there were no tiger traps to spook the unwary. Our boys went well, as one would expect, as they and their ponies knew the property, inside out, even although all the Cross Country jumps were new. Both were in winning positions, leading up to the the final test; show jumping. The crowd of spectators was large, all standing about, watching their children in the arena. When their turn came, Alex and Wee Jock saluted the judge and went clear, to much acclaim, as there had not been very many clear rounds. They were followed into the arena by one of our visitors on a lovely chesnut pony. After saluting the judge, the combination looked most professional, clearing the jumps with ease.
Chris and Sasha were warming up, in the designated area, well away from the course, as they were drawn next to start their round. Then I saw that they had halted, eyes glued on the arena, as the chesnut pony had stopped dead, at the wall, a jump that Sep had constructed, very realistically, out of masonite and painted in reds, whites and greys; a fence that the Huntingfield ponies had jumped happily for months; but not this visiting pony though. He put up a mighty battle, refusing to go anywhere near it and ran backwards, into the crowd, amid yells and screams and the clanging of the elimination bell.
Sasha was much impressed by the furore the episode created. He went out there, jumped everything perfectly till he reached the wall, then, like the chesnut pony, he stopped dead. Two more 'dignified' stops, and he too, was disqualified. He had learned how to 'get the bell' and be eliminated. After leading the field so effortlessly, Chris was stunned. He knew about Sasha's refusal, all those years ago, but could not fathom why he had stopped here, at the 'wall', which he knew so well.
It was then then that the enormity of my error, in allowing him to refuse to step over two, flat on the ground, fallen, rusty old plain wires during his early training, really struck home. I knew that the reason for any future problems could be traced back to that day.
. The Firth family, Ken and Helen, their two little girls, Anne and Judy, who had earlier completed the show jumping with clear rounds on Merrylegs and Bronwyn, and young son, John, had all witnessed the totally unexpected Sasha debacle and were mystified. This pony had never 'jacked up' before, and they wanted to find out 'why'.They farmed the original Firthfield, on Summerleas Road, on strong, more level ground, close to Kingston, where they ran a lucrative dairy enterprise, and they now went over to talk to Chris. He had dismounted and was on the sidelines, with the reins in one hand and his other hand under his pony's chin, staring searchingly into his soft, brown eyes, nonplussed by this sudden and unexpected form reversal.
Ken was a light-horse-man from WW2, trained in Tasmania, before the switch to tanks. He had no time for unreliable ponies. He commiserated with Chris and offered to help 'sort out the problem'.
The following Sunday, Alex and Chris rode over to Firthfield, arriving at the exact time that 'Mr Firth had told Chris he would be able to give him a hand'. On flat land, close by the dairy, Anne and Judy were showjumping in a proper arena, with proper show jumps, but their lesson was over and it was now Chris's turn, and Alex's too, if he wished.
Alex was only there 'because Mum had told me to ride over with Chris'. He had no problems with his pony's willingness to jump, so, with Mr Firth's approval, he decided to see what Anne and Judith were up to. The 'horsemaster'then directed Chris towards the arena, where he sat down on an upturned ten gallon drum to talk to his student, mounted on his pony. They talked for ages. The ancient story of Sasha's refusal in the bush during his early education, was finally aired. Ken stood up, saying,
'There lies the problem. It's going to be difficult to solve, because it is now deep-rooted. He's a super-intelligent, Arab bred con man. He'll take some knocking into shape. Let's start. Ride him down the lane to the night paddock. Walk, trot and then gallop him on the right rein, once round the paddock, change the rein on an S, through the middle, at the trot, then repeat the exercise on the left rein. Walk back up the lane on a loose rein, then trot him smartly round between the jumps, frequently changeing direction'.
Chris did as directed and he could feel some resistence from Sasha, who was unaccostomed to all these changes of speed and rein. The jumping commenced and Sasha refused the third fence. Ken stood up and hit the side of the ten gallon drum with a tyre lever, making a big boom. Sasha flew over the jump from a standstill and completed the course. Ken told Chris that his pony could be made reliable if never allowed to get away with any resistence.
'He's a smart one. Don't let him break your heart.'
Chris persevered with Sasha, and continued to love him dearly. He never stopped at the wall again, and was honest for years, wherever he competed, even eventually qualifying brilliantly for State Horse Trial Championships, where, without fail, he would find an excuse to 'jack up and 'get the bell'. What a heartbreaker!
Sep had accepted the fact that he was now, for better or for worse, an integral part of a 'horsey' family, and he was able to find some common ground with people who liked horses. When we were all invited to attend, but not compete in, an Open ODE for advanced riders at Mangalore, on the the Midlands Highway, inland, on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, he was happy to take us there.
On arrival, he immediately found that those involved were mostly adults with Hunt Club or Equestrian Federation backgrounds. Meeting a fellow Hydro workmate, whose grown daughter would be competing, made him realise that this event would be quite different from the hurly- burly of pony club. He could communicate with these people. They were intelligent adults. And there were no children on pesky ponies to knock you down. He had a decent detective yarn to read if the day dragged on interminably, and was affable and relaxed.
Carol was there. The boys and I had not seen her for ages; not since the day we had watched her belting along the deep verge beside the Channel Highway, bareback, on Peter Pan, with a carload of noisy youths, up on the road, in pursuit. They had blasted the horn and thrown a huge double bunger at her. She had caught it and tossed it straight back inside the car, through the open window, where it exploded. That had stopped them in their tracks.
Now, we could hardly recognise Peter Pan. He was immaculate. His dark, near black coat glowed, his mane and tail were expertly plaited, and his hoofs were dressed and shining. Carol had grown. She was a big girl now and impeccably attired. To everyone's complete amazement, she and Peter Pan performed a creditable dressage test. Her presence caused some consternation among other competitors, most of whom I knew and admired. I did not understand their anger.
'She's still just a kid', someone screeched. I pointed out that it was an open event.
'She should ride in pony club events and keep that rotten little horse out of senior events', another rider voiced viciously.
'Oh, be fair. You won't even have her in pony club'. I replied.
The exchanges continued as they tightened girths to commence warming up for the Cross Country. It was a testing course, so they were probably all apprehesive about their own chances. No one had ever previosly seen Peter Pan at an event of this kind, and his good dressage performance had surprised them. Their recollections of him were either in the pony show jumping arena, when he was 'definately no longer a pony', in novelty events at Shows, or galloping, hell for leather, through properties around Kingston. His impeccable appearance also created alarm.
It was hard to find a vantage point for good viewing of the course, so we placed ourselves on a hillside where we could see an uphill, tricky fence and a drop down over a ditch, a tiger trap,with a dummy lurking in the big trench underneath, and a single rail, with no ground line, to be cleared - straight into a dam. We had chosen well: there were refusals a-plenty and a couple of tumbles. One rider had a good swim.
Along came Peter Pan. His eyes were nearly popping out of his head and it seemed that he would surely have trouble too. He certainly did not like the look of the tiger trap and nearly stopped, but out came Carols's trusty whip, whack, whack, and over the fence he flew, followed by the high single rail and straight into the dam. They made so much spray, it was hard to see them, but they scrambled out unscathed and galloped towards the next obstacle, which was out of our line of vision.
There were many tales of woe, but there were no reports of Carol coming to grief, At the end of the day, she and her little horse were triumphant because the show jumping was a walkover for them. The other competitors finally agreed that they had done a magnificent job and they were applauded for their effort. We went home, wishing, as always, that they were still in pony club.
Pat, and Two Peters.
One sunny day, a pony club rally was held at Bowenwood, on Summerleas Road. Like Spring Farm and Huntingfield, this was a wonderful venue, with plenty of bush trails and natural obstacles, water hazards and steep going to accustom riders to the balance and control required for Cross Country riding and jumping.
Carol and Peter Pan had appeared once or twice during the morning, at a distance on the river flats or surrounding hillsides, as was their wont. They were outcastes. We had caught glimpses of them, clearing huge obstacles, built by Carol and her long time friend Peter, whose family owned Bowenwood. Both rode almost legendary show jumpers and enjoyed testing the boundaries of their abilities with ever higher and wider fences.
Peter's big, powerful chesnut gelding was called Goldie. He liked jumping so much that he had been known to clear all the gates at the back of Bowenwood, leap out onto the higher end of Summerleas Road, mosey along through Fern Tree, and mindful of traffic, cross the Huon Highway, then follow the 'black stuff' to the summit of Mount Wellington, often flat strap, if anyone tried to catch him. Known by the operaters in the communications tower, a phone call would soon alert Peter's mother, Pat, to drive Peter and his tack up there, to catch and take his crazy horse home, perhaps minus a shoe or two, and definitely a few screws loose.
Back at the rally, it was show jumping time on the level ground near the homestead. Out of nowhere, Carol popped Peter Pan over a low, pignetting fence with a white rail on top, landing within sight of the show jumping area, and was immediately asked to leave. She wheeled her little horse around and they jumped back, over the fence.
She may well have galloped off, but the next gate was now closed ahead of her, and she was intercepted and ridiculed. Something must have snapped. She burst into tears, and defiantly turned again, back to the pig-wire fence. They jumped it, to and fro, with never a stride between, until Peter Pan was dizzy. His hind legs crashed through the wire and his hindquarters were straddled over the rail, which smashed, as Carol vaulted to the ground. She threw her arms around his neck and sobbing wildly, finally succeeded in extricating him from the wire. From the hocks to the fetlocks, his skin had been peeled right down his cannon bones, like a ragged pair of socks. There was not much blood, just the cold opacity of bone, sinew, and tendon.
No one moved. Carol did not wait for another drubbing. She led him quietly away, down to a big dam, near the river flats. Her friends, Peter Hodgman and Pat Sargison, followed, at a distance.
The rally was abandoned. We went home slowly, deeply saddened.
Miracles must have happened, down at that dam. Years later, Pat told me that Carol waded Peter Pan for what seemed like hours. Eventually, she and Peter persuaded her to bring the horse out of the water. Pat had her accident kit, with sterile towels packed inside, amid a plethora of things they did not need. She had a large tube of Soccatyl in her pocket - she always carried it in case of injury. Together, she and Peter dried the skinned legs, the horse standing like a sentinel, barely even breathing. They then painstakingly applied the Soccatyl and pulled the rolled down skin back where it belonged. It seemed to have shrunk though. It could not be stretched right to the very top, all the way round. Pat said that the normally crazy horse did not flinch or move a muscle during the prolonged proceedure and I do not know how she and Peter overcame that difficulty, or whether there was veterinary intervention. I think not. Peter Pan retained slight blemishes on the cannon bones, just below the front of each hock, easily covered with the careful application of a trace of hoof black.
No one in the pony club ever spoke about that sad day at Bowenwood. When we went to rallies at Huntingfield, Peter Pan was in a distant paddock, and, as usual, there was no sign of Carol. As her horse moved as he grazed, we felt sure that he was lame. One day, we detoured to have a proper look at him. His legs were nearly healed, but they were badly scarred. Indeed, he was lame, but we guessed it was because the healing skin was such a tight fit. It was a very long time before we noticed that he was moving freely.
I spoke to Pat about him and told her that I would like to buy him. 'As Carol is growing so quickly, she will soon need a much bigger horse, and I admire his spirit. I think we could get along well'.
Pat, who was an astute judge of horses, shook her head in a great big 'No!' and said she 'wouldn't have him, even as a gift'.
Amazed, I asked her in for a cup of tea and she gave her reasons. She said she could not stay long as the children would be home from school at 3.30, but she sat down and gave me a brief history of Peter Pan.
'Jean Partridge bred him out at Orielton - good strong ground. She never has her colts gelded and when weaned; sells them very young to be gelded and grown out. Well, Tom bought the rotten mongrel for Carol as a replacement for her little white pony, killed, when the stable roof fell down on him in a storm. The replacement pony would barely have made it to 13 hands, and Carol started ridng him, more or less straight away, in the most unsuitable and ill-fitting gear. They broke one another in. She was show jumping him in no time, and galloping him around madly. All this has fused his spine fo sure, because Carol never was a featherweight. He's barely seven now and he already has a dippy back and twists over his jumps. He may still be young, but he'll never last. He'll break down, for sure'. She stopped for breath, sipped her tea and nibbled an Anzac biscuit.
'Besides,' she continued, glancing at her watch and preparing to leave, 'he's the most evil spirited animal I've ever known. You can't put him in a paddock with other horses; he'll kill them. He wasn't gelded till very late, and has sired two foals, that we know about. Tom could not be convinced that he was entire until Binky Shearer roped and threw him for shoeing'. She stood up and started towards the door.
'So there it is. He's not a good proposition at all. You can't keep him with other horses. You can't shoe or float him. He gets hounded into Tom's truck to go to shows, and he rears, bites and kicks too. He's just plain mean. Worst of all, he's not under 14.2 hands and should not be jumping in the pony classes. And there's that brown brute that charges up and down the fenceline on the left of Summerleas Road, intimidating little kids on ponies - they say he's a rig, but I don't think he's ever been caught - he's a full brother to Peter Pan and will get a hefty dose of lead poisoning very soon, for sure. It's not a good bloodline. Forget him!' And off she went, breathless.
Months later, we attended the Huon Show at Ranelagh. Alex and Chris took Wee Jock and Sasha, both glowing and beautiful. Silver was at home with a little filly foal by Sasha - ahem! So Nic was not riding. He was gleefully enjoying the delights of side - show alley instead.
Carol was there with Peter Pan. He had recovered from the accident, but he had been on the sidelines for many months, and looked small under Carol, who had shot up, very tall indeed. In spite of her super suede jumping saddle and short stirrups, it was her left foot, not the horse, who dislodged the top rail at the last fence in the pony show jumping championship. She was furious and she gave him a jolly good hiding. He hunched his body and trembled.
I spoke to her and told her what had happened as her foot had glanced that final rail. Ignoring Pat's wise council, I finished by saying,
'Please Carol, when you upgrade to a bigger horse, will you give us first offer on Peter Pan?'
'He's worth a thousand pounds', she replied, defensively.
'Yes, I'm sure your right. He's a champion, and I hope you can find a cashed up buyer. But horse people are strange. If you can't get that sort of money, please remember that we want him and will pay you a fair price to enable you to replace him'.
She made no further comment. It was a thousand pounds; that was the price and fair enough. Of course she would be able to get her money. We returned to Sherwood Forest, happy with our lovely ponies. Peter Pan was just my pipe dream really, because I had always admired his raw strength, and I very much wanted to ride with the boys.
A short time later, I was offered the opportunity to ride the Hodgman's thoroughbred gelding, Lungi, who had belonged to one of their elder sons. He was a bit rough around the edges at first, but tractable enough and very comfortable, when ridden along quietly, by myself, or with the boys, out in the huge tracts of bush behind Walters place and far beyond. He had no vices and we got on well together. Not long after he came to our place, and in no way connected with him, I developed a seering, intermittent pain behind my left knee. It was diagnosed as a pigeon egg sized neuroma, requiring immediate surgery, so Lungi went home to Bowenwood and one of Sep's Hydro associates recommended Mrs Brown, from the north west of the state, as the perfect person to look after the family and milk the goats. The milking was far too much to expect of young Chris, as now there were several in milk, to supply local people with allergies.
Mrs Brown duly arrived and settled into the household before I went to hospital. Sep found her abrasive and the boys were unimpressed, but she was competent with the goats and in the house, so I requested my family's forbearance, saying I would soon be back home again, and went off to have the operation, hoping for the best. The surgeon had said, 'Three days in hospital, at the most.'
It was not a very good experience. The Hospital, selected by the surgeon, was Private, old and understaffed. I was in a two bed ward and wakened, on return from theatre, in seering agony, flat in bed, with no cradle to raise the bedclothes off my leg and no drainage from the huge incision, from behind the knee, right down through the calf and round towards the back of the ankle. Pain relief turned out to be intramuscular pethedine, which made me hallucinate and vomit. I was a 'bad' patient and ignored. In the early morning, a nurse said that I had ripped the bandages off and damaged the leg. In my delirium, I must have done so, for the bloodstained wreckage was everywhere, the arched foot was livid, hugely swollen, and the pain so relentless that I kept passing out.
I cannot remember if Sep visited me or how long the agony lasted. By the time I knew what day it was, the foot looked just as it had on the first morning after surgery, but it was now numb, darker and immoveable. I do not remember receiving any treatment, nor do I remember ever seeing the surgeon until the day of my discharge, weeks later. The poor woman in the other bed had undergone the removal of a kidney. She said she had not experienced any post operative pain, nor disturbance from me, and she could not recall my delirium. Her surgeon visited her twice daily.
By day eighteen, the ragged sutures were removed, and I was introduced to 'crutches'. Weak and wobbly, I was discharged a few days later, and Sep drove me home. Mrs Brown, who had hoped that my return would release her from a job that she had not enjoyed, took pity on me in my crippled state, and agreed to help me, 'till I was back on my feet'. She could clearly see that I would have no hope of scaling the steep steps up to the milking shed for quite awhile, and I was very grateful for her kindness.
My family though, had tested her. Sep had been horrified when she bottled a whole case of quinces, given to him by an office colleague, and made them inedible, by his standards. Instead of being peeled, quartered and the seeds removed, they were washed, dried, destalked and halved, then neatly placed in the preserving jars, and popped into the oven, till 'done'. He was so upset that he breakfasted alone, while the poor, despised woman was milking, and never came home till after she had retired for the night, thus avoiding his children too - a negative message to three smalls boys, who gave her a very hard time indeed. I was horrified when they felt no shame at all, as they proudly related their crimes.
This meant 'action stations' immediately. and I was, for once, assertive. I apologised to Mrs Brown and assured her that there would be no more insubordination in the household. She was in charge, now under my direction, and I hoped she would get full co- operation and respect from the whole family. The boys were in the workshop with their Dad. I hobbled out there and told them all what I thought about their treatment of our milker and housekeeper, that I was in severe pain, that the condition of my leg looked like crippling me indefinately, and that they must all accept that Mrs Brown had shown tremendous loyalty to us by not walking out and leaving us, when treated with such shocking disrespect.
'It's a measure of your attitude towards me too. I was given no prior indication by the surgeon, that I was to undergo such massive surgery. I would have sought another opinion, had I known. And he does not wish to see me in his Rooms, or even know how I'm going, for three months, which indicates that it will probably take that long for me to be able to even hobble. I have what's called footdrop now. That means I will be unable to walk until I can get the foot flat on the ground. In any decent hospital, I would have been treated humanely and at least given physiotherapy when things went so wrong. Mrs Brown will be serving dinner at 6.30 this evening, so please help me by showing courtesy and being seated at the dining table, on time. The meal will be nice, because I have planned it and know your likes and dislikes. I now wish to be taken to the beach. The salt water may help the foot.'
Speechless, they all starred at me, so I hobbled off towards the station wagon, parked on the concrete apron, outside. Unable to get into it without assistance, I felt totally drained.
It was chilly, even down at the usually sheltered southern end of the beach. The water was freezing. I was wearing an old, long skirt and pulled the hem up, into the crutch armholes, the shortened skirt hanging down to my knees, and I teetered where the waves were breaking, on the edge of the sand. The boys could see my purple leg and the jagged stitchmarks, and they looked away. They had also seen my livid foot and sharply down-pointed, purplish-black big toe, on which I was attempting to balance. They ran down to the rocks and tried to play, mindlessly. Sep followed them, disturbed and embarressed, having no idea of what to say or do. As the beach was empty of onlookers, there was no cause for him to feel ashamed of me.
The salt water proved beneficial. Each evening, after Sep came back from the office, the procedure was repeated, the boys usually occupied with other activities. The goats were brought in to be milked and ponies were exercised. Mrs Brown was treated with decency, for now, anyway, and her meals turned out to be pretty good. Very slowly, my foot started to loosen up a bit. Many weeks later, I could lay the crutches down and totter around in the soft, clean sand. The pain had eased considerably and sometimes disappeared, almost completely for short breaks. Sep dutifully helped me in and out of the wagon and picked up the crutches, when I tried walking without them. But he was distant and unhappy until I could cook the meals and run the household again. Having sold the extra goats to the people who wanted their milk, soon after my return from hospital, Mrs Brown was able to get more rest and was less stressed, but the tension remained. As soon as I could get up the steps to the milking shed, she was relieved to finally collect her cheque and wished us all, 'farewell.'
Sep finally told me some alarming news. The bill for the surgeon, anaethetist, theatre, drugs and hospitalization was massive, and was not accepted by our health insurance company because the condition of 'neuroma' was not on their list of acceptable ailments. But that crippling bill still had to be paid. He too, had been outraged by the extent of the surgery and had insisted on an explanation from the surgeon, who claimed that the tumour looked malignant and the incised area, 'suspicious'. Sadly, he explained that,
'The pathology result had gone astray, so no conclusive evidence now existed'.
That was the end of private health for us and Sep refused to pay the pathology account. He took me to the surgeon's consulting rooms for the booked appointment and the visit was inconclusive. Attacks of searing pain were scoffed at as 'phantom', my prognosis was not discussussed, and he did not wish to see us again. So it was simply up to me to heal myself.
The Chestnut Mare.
Time, seawater, foot suppling exercises, and walking on soft beach sand, eventually worked wonders. Getting the left heel down in the stirrup would be a challenge though, and one which would never be wholly achieved.
With perseverance, all home, garden, lawn mowing and animal care was eventually resumed. When at the wheel, it was often necessary to pull into the curb and stop, until sudden, severe pain abated. Eventually, the necessity to stop and start again became second nature and I was persuaded to purchase a thoroughbred chestnut mare, going cheap, because she had a 'sitfast', deep in muscle tissue, under the saddle area, and too close to the spine for excision.
The mare was delivered to our place, free of charge. She came with a rug, a bridle and an enormously thick numnah, with a big round hole in it, to accommodate the sitfast, and she flinched when it was touched. This tenderness worried me, but the vendors assured me that she would be fine, unless hard pushed into a canter. She had good stable manners and mixed well with Wee Jock and Sasha, but was negative when introduced to Silver Venn and little Vanessa, so I kept them with the goats when the paddocks were rotated, and stable compost spread on the now empty one. I rode the mare quietly along the bush trails while the lads were at school and with them on the roads and tracks, when they were in the mood for walking and trotting only. She was tractable, unfazed in traffic, and did not shy. Perhaps she may prove suitable for a greenhorn, if I was very careful and never hurt her back.
Pat was unimpressed when she heard about my purchase.
'Buying an unsound horse, especially a thoroughbred - it's just crazy! When I named the vendors, she withdrew her criticism.
'Oh, that's another kettle of fish altogether. I'd like to come and see her'. We arranged a suitable day and time. When Pat met the mare, she liked her, and said,
'I don' think that back will be any problem, with your light weight.'
We started meeting along the Maranoa track, between our homes, whilst our husbands were at work and our children at school. Sep was busy at the Hobart core store for hours on end, catching up on the geological cores drilled in the Mersey Forth survey area, in his abscence, while I was sick. I felt guilty about 'holding up the scheme', but he assured me that his off-sider had not missed a beat and there were no problems. Pat was a nurse, on call at the Hobart Royal, so after working a night shift, she needed to rest next day, making it difficult to know just when we could ride to-gether.
One early afternoon,I rode the chesnut mare along the track, to find that a 'dozer had been at work, making initial sweeps through the sandy soil, perhaps in search of a new source of fat sand, suitable for cement making. The lads and I had observed that the huge, original pits, where Carol had led our tricky Silver Venn, were now almost depleted. Following the track pads of the 'dozer, I soon found a site that had been excavated to a considerable depth. The mare was not alarmed by this new development. She calmly walked down the sharp incline, testing the depth of the sand with each stride, then at the bottom, through water above her knees, she did not falter nor attempt to rush up the other side. Heavy rain had fallen overnight and was trapped in the hollow, left as the 'dozer had ascended the far side. I was pleased to find her willing to calmly tackle something so spooky.
Pat phoned that evening to say that she would be free to ride with me on the following afternoon. We agreed to meet at 1pm, where the bulldozer had been poking around, on the eastern side of the track. Peta and Tony had told her about the mess it was making, and I laughingly replied,
'Or great Cross Country obstacles!'
Next day, we met and exchanged greetings, as did our horses. Pat said she had passed several deep, open, V shaped, but flat bottomed, excavations through the bush on her way to meet me.
'Dasha thought they were very scary, so was not asked to pass through one, lest he jacked up and made me late. Now we can just follow you and the mare.'
Which turned out to be no trouble at all, and made me realise why it was a disqualifiable crime, if attempted on a cross country course, during a competition. Pat continued,
'We have over an hour, so I suggest we ride down towards 'Huntingfield'. The going is more open and I'd like to watch you put the mare though her paces'.
'Pat, I do not feel confident enough yet to ask her to canter, so let's just walk and trot. She has been very patient with me, but she is immensely big and strong and my left leg is still pretty useless. I would like to take it easy until I know her better.'
She agreed. We trotted along together, enjoying the sunshine, and on the more open ground, Pat travelled wide, to better view the mare's long, even strides and elegant head carraige.
'She's outstanding', she concluded, as I brought her back to the walk.
'I'd like to get the feel of her. We do not need to change saddles; just the stirrup lengths. Dasha is a good boy. He'll give you no trouble.'
Honoured, I agreed. Pat looked relaxed and comfortable, as she trotted in big circles, faultlessly changing the rein. The mare looked really good.
'She's responsive and obedient. We'll try one little canter on either rein'. And off they went, on the right one, looking splendid. When asked to change to the left, the chesnut mare reared, grabbed the bit and went into a flat bolt, in a straight line, directly ahead, leaping every obstacle in her path. Dasha desparately wanted to pursue the runaway, but was 'a good boy', as Pat had said, and was persuaded to follow, slowly, well behind. I was in shock, deeply concerned for Pat's safety, as we saw them, in the distance, leaping through the regrowth of high cut, felled eucalypts and still in a dead straight line.
Way ahead, beside the Maranoa track, there was a huge rubbish dump of old machinery, car bodies, fuel drums and discarded household items, surrounded by a single strand, high barbed wire fence, and the mare was heading straight for it. In tears, I prayed for Pat's survival. When Dasha and I reached the spot, I could see that they had cleared it, AND the road, and galloped on, towards thicker bush, on rising ground. We followed the deeply gouged hoofprints up the hill; they went on and on. The mare had bolted for miles already. Whenever would she stop, exhausted?
Much later, when I was giving up any hope of finding Pat alive, Dasha pricked his ears and whinnied. I now saw her coming towards us, grey-faced and exhausted, lading the sweat lathered chesnut mare. I hugged her, as she handed me the reins and greatfully took hold of Dasha's. Together, in total silence, we descended yet another long, steep hill, aware that its presence had almost certainly saved Pat's life. How she had stuck on that crazy animal was beyond my comprehension.
Once down the steepest slope, the gradient eased, the bush opened up, and there were fallen logs here and there. Pat led Dasha towards one and sat down to recouperate. I joined her. She looked at her watch, aware that all our children would soon be home from school. At last she spoke.
'Lead the mare home. She must never be ridden by anyone again.
Ross will get legal advice, and will let you know how to deal with the vendors. This mare has learned how to maintain a straight bolt and survive. She could see where she was going and measured her strides. The sitfast, so close to the spine, must have touched a nerve. I reckon it has happened several times and you were selected to take her on because you are a flyweight and do not sit down deep in the saddle. But she will never be safe, no matter who rides her. She should be put down before she kills someone'.
Still too shocked by what had happened, I just nodded my agreement, adding that I was awed by her ability to stay in the saddle on such a wild ride, and had miraculously avoided serious injury. We shook hands briefly on reaching the Maranoa track, Pat turned towards Blackman's Bay, and I led the mare towards Kingston, and home. The boys were already there, wondering what had happened to make the mare all covered in half dried, copious sweat and sand.
The vendors just laughed at the lawyer's letter, took the mare back, resold her as a breeder only and did not repay our purchase price. Horse dealing is a tricky business!
Vanessa was weaned at twelve months, so I went back to riding her mother, when Nic did not wish to ride her, which was pretty often. He would have a long wait till he could ride Vanessa, but he did not mind at all. They already had a very strong rapport, and he knew she would be worth the wait.
Sep was often up north all week, on the Mersey Forth scheme, leaving home at 5am on Monday mornings and returning on Friday evenings, sometimes late.
On Saturday nights, we frequently entertained our friends around the dinner table, while our children and theirs loved to take control of the BBQ and the big wooden picnic table, laden with chops and sausages to sizzle, salads, bread rolls, fruit drinks and a few special treats. There were never any tiny tots around to be at risk, outside alone, possibly because Sep's work associates and our other friends, were getting a bit long in the tooth for new infants or had baby sitters to care for littlees. Inclement weather created no problems either. The rumpus room was at the far end of the house, near the ablutions area, and also opened out into the garden, so nobody felt locked in. If it was raining, I placed old, double sheets over the carpet, made simple, yummy favourites like corn fritters, battered sausages on sticks, and oven baked potatoes in their jackets, then set them out on a trestle table, with salads, sweets and home made ginger beer. The plates, cups and eating irons were from the picnic basket and unbreakable.
Friends for some years now, the young people were trusted and 'in charge' of their own behaviour. They were fine, even without television, and amused themselves with board games, puzzles, cards, dice, leggo and story telling. There was one rule though. When bored or tired, they must ask their parents to throw a rug over them, on the boys' bunks or on our bed, close to the living room, and go to sleep. Chris and Nic were often the first to tell us that they were sleepy and said goodnight.
Family and community life was wonderful. Sherwood Forest was a great place for all of us, even although Sep's workload was heavy and required a lot of travelling.
Then, out of the blue, a month or so after the Huon Show, towards the end of the day, whilst leading the goats to the shed for feeding and milking, I heard clip-clop on the road outside our gate. A rider leaned over, unlatched it, rode through, then carefully closed it. Our drive was quite long and made a wide curve, down near the gate. Hidden from view by tree foliage, our visitor approached at the walk. It was Carol, bareback on Peter Pan. She had not jumped him over the gate and he looked as if he had walked all the way from Huntingfield. He was unshod and breathing quietly. Although the weather was warm, he had not raised a skerrick of sweat. Carol looked downcast as she dismounted.
'I've decided to let you have him, with his bridle, for seventy pounds. I will not be replacing him.' she said in a very small voice.
It seemed inappropriate to question her decision, as it could not have been made lightly, so, disregarding Pat's advice, I hugged her and replied with a muffled,
Brushing my thanks aside, she continued guardedly,
'He'll be dangerous for the boys. He can be very nasty.'
'I've heard.' was my reply.
'Everyone's heard!' Tears trickled down her sunburned cheeks,
'Nobody wants him - only you.'
I felt overwhelmed with pity for this free spirit who had outgrown her great little horse and was now virtually giving him away. I knew that I should have tried to dissuade her, or at least asked why she did not wish to replace him, but deep down, I sensed that her family may have been too busy with their own affairs and the pony club, a Youth Movement had been, perhaps, too harsh in judging her. Wise council and a few kind words may have helped to give her the will to conform with society's demands and find a new young horse on which to start again. Instead, she insisted that she only wanted seventy pounds 'to buy a nice guitar which would last a lifetime'.
At last I said inanely,
'We'll look after him Carol. We'll be very firm. One day he may even turn into a gentleman.'
She looked straight at me, through her tears and smiled wistfully.
'You'll need a big stick!'
Excusing myself, I fetched home made ginger beer and some 'anzacs' from the kitchen. After we had downed our 'bubbly' and biscuits, and with Peter Pan standing quietly beside us, Carol handed the reins to me. I was disconcerted. I thought she had just come to tell me. We had four goats and four ponies, which had to be kept separated, because Wee Jock chased and bit the goats. There were only three paddocks: one with the ponies, the second with Snowbelle, Felicity Jane's daughter, Ondine and two goatlings in the second, and the third one struggling to grow fresh grass, all regularly rotated. Carol could see my dilemma.
'He'll be all right with the goats.' she assured me. 'He's never touched our sheep or calves. He just goes savage with horses.'
I found a head coller to fit him. Carol slipped it on. He ignored us, as he had while we were eating the biscuits, and walked away. He found a nice sandy patch, dug a big hole for his high withers and lay down to roll. It was not a normal horse roll. He went from side to side like a contortionist, then leapt up and shook himself with such vigour that some of the sand and pebbles showed over us, where we stood. Amazed, I thought,
'So much for a fused spine!'
We watched him as he walked down the paddock, engaging his hocks evenly and ignoring the ponies, who were running up and down the dividing fences, whinnying wildly. He acknowledged the goats and walked on, looking for some decent grass. Although there was no abundance of that, he seemed pretty much at home.
I took Carol inside the house, wrote her cheque and offered to run her back to Huntingfield.
'No, Mrs Paterson', she replied. 'Thank you, but I'd rather walk.' The tears were not quite dry and she looked old. I felt like a thief. 'Please come and see us, and Peter Pan, anytime. If, on refection, you decide to replace him, our original offer will remain intact.'
Ignoring my remarks, she started towards the gate. I took her hand and shook it sombrely. As she walked off down the driveway, she whistled to Peter Pan. He raised his head and obediently started walking towards her, then she turned and called to me.
'Just be very firm with him, Mrs Paterson. Always make him come to you. Never try to catch him; you won't succeed, and keep those boys away from him till you get to know him properly.'
I waved, 'OK Carol,' It was almost a whisper. She did not stop to farewell her beloved Peter Pan and he made no attempt to follow her. All I could do was bring Snowbelle and Ondine in to milk them and look
at our new horse and say, 'He's Ours!'
Carol never replaced her Peter Pan. She was well into her teens, and probably experiencing all sorts of tortures that only teenagers understand. I did not feel able to interfere, as I did not really know her well and she seemed so self assured. During my teens, I had not had any time to think about puberty blues myself, as I had a baby brother, a cow to milk, a horse to exercise, heavy and consistent farm work and a long bike ride to and from school, plus homework, all of which kept me on 'the straight and narrow'.
Not long after we left Kingston, this wonderful free spirit, Carol, was involved in a car accident. Her injuries were massive and she was left severely handicapped. Later, Pat wrote to me to give me news of her progress. She was able to get about a bit and was showing some interest in horses; in fact, she had done some pencilling for judges of dressage tests. Pat suggested that a trip to the farm and a reunion with Peter Pan might be beneficial.
I wrote to Carol's Mum and Dad, with an open invitation for Carol to spend time with us, on our farm, where she would be reunited with Peter Pan and Alex, whom she liked, but recieved no reply. Perhaps the letter never reached them. I did not pursue the issue, as the workload on our new place, Mount Pleasant, in the north west, must have numbed my conscience. In retrospect, I deeply regret that I did not make a greater effort, as I was able to catch up with her in Sydney, by 'phone only, after I retired. She was always pleased to hear from me and happy to know that our great old horse was supple and sound and still in full command of the paddock.
Sep was bit amazed to find another equine on the property when he arrived home from work.
'He'll never fit in that pony box.' he announced flatly.
I guessed he was right, and thought about it for awhile. At last I replied that a double box was of little use to us now because we usually needed to take three ponies, wherever we were bound, and they had been travelling in the pony club truck for ages. So, knowing Sep had now reached Superman status, I finally said,
'Let's sell the double box and get a single one for Peter Pan. He's banned from the pony club truck, and there's an equestrian school in Launceston in May. I'd like to take him to it.'
There was some muttering and a few expletives. There were children and animals everywhere, and Sep must have felt overwhelmed, perhaps dreading the torture of more weeks with poor Mrs Brown - presuming she'd even come! Our double box had been designed by the Hydro Electric Commission engineers, after work in the Lounge bar at the Formby Hotel at Devonport, built by Sep and was immensely strong, well balanced and easy to tow.
Because of its strength, it was heavy and hard to sell. Then a man with a Land Rover came along and bought it to cart show bulls, which were much heavier than ponies. He kept it, trouble free, for all the years he showed bulls.
I thought Sep would purchase one of those nifty new racehorse floats for Peter Pan, who was regally bred and looked the part, but this good man, who did not like horses, insisted on buiding a really safe one with a double floor and plate steel underneath, stout wooden floor boards on top and rubber, well sealed, non-skid matting for the horse to stand on. He built it thus because he had witnessed a tragic accident on the Midlands Highway where a horse fell through the rotten floor of his box and sustained such shocking injuries that he was destroyed on the spot, blocking the northern lane of the Highway until the road was cleared. The frame of this new one was of strong, light steel and the loading ramp of timber and non skid matting, but he used marine ply for the walls to help keep the weight down. He placed light steel kick boards on either side to protect the walls, and padded them, higher up, with vinyl covered foam to avoid injury to hips and shoulders. It was beautifully balanced and a joy to tow.
We had not owned Peter Pan very long when the box was ready to roll. I had come to grips with his vagaries fairly well, but I certainly could not get him within a bull's roar of this classic, dark blue and shiny new horse box. Pat suggested we connect the tow bar to a tow ball, securely fixed on a solid, low stump, leave the ramp down, as flat as possible and place his feed bin just inside, moving it forward each day, until it finally reached the chest bar. Then the bin could be balanced in the bucket ring up front, and any resistence to entering and backing out of the box would be history.
The rations became mouldy, just on the ramp, as we waited for him to get hungry. Bribery was an utter waste of time. Carol had said that I had to be very firm and make him come to me, on command, so Sep and I devised a simple raceway, made of two lightweight stock gates, with three prongs on the bottom of each gate. The prongs slipped into vertical steel pipes, hammered into the ground, making the structure safe and firm. Steel bolts, with round heads, kept sand and gravel out of the pipes when the race was removed.
The horse must have been impressed by our ingenuity because he came to my call - I couldn't whistle like Carol and never tried - followed me through the big gate into the house turning circle, Sep closed the big gate and opened the small one, I led Peter round the tree and straight through the little gate, into the narrow race, then Sep closed the gate behind him. Peter was unbelievably obliging. With nowhere else to go, he just followed me into the box, I ducked under the chest bar, he commenced eating fresh hay in the net up front, and Sep slipped the chain across behind him to ensure that he could not back out. Mission accomplished, I tethered him to the tie ring with flimsy binder twine, having already discovered that he never bothered to pull back unless it involved a monumental struggle. Sep had dismantled the race and closed the ramp by the time I'd thanked Peter Pan for his cooperation, exited the float, closed the little side door and joined Sep in the station wagon to take our new horse for a drive.
We carted him about the district, unloading and reloading him, drama free, without the race. We never actually went far - we were just testing. Peter Pan was no fool - he knew that.
It was a similar story with the farrier. We had discovered an amazing old Scotsman, Mr McFarlane, who boasted that there was no horse, anywhere, that he could not shoe. He may have grown up, shoeing Clydesdales in Scotland, but he was now over eighty and very frail. He had been shoeing our ponies for nearly a year, without sweat and struggle, but would our new acquisition be obliging too? I asked him if he would like us to find someone else to tackle Peter Pan, who had rarely been shod and only when roped, thrown, hog-tied and upside down.
'Ah lassie, we'll see,' he replied softly, quite unperturbed. Our outlaw horse was standing in the inside loosebox, his ears moving gently, forward and back, one at a time, eavesdropping. I went in to clip the lead rope on to his headcollar, opened the door and led him out to meet Mr. Mc Farlane. They had a great old conversation in a language I could not understand, but Peter Pan did, and in no time he was lifting his feet up, one at a time and Mr Mc Farlane was tapping each sole with his hammer. Then he measured each foot, said they were strong and healthy and stated that he would be back the following week with shoes to fit, and there would be no trouble at all.
And so it was - no trouble at all. After that first shoeing at our place, when asked to lift his feet to be cleaned out before being ridden, he did so, quietly and obediently. He very quickly learned to just lean the back ones to enable us to screw in his studs before competitions and would actually hold them up himself, when requested, to save our backs, if the cleaning out proved too time consuming. To be caught, groomed and saddled, he came when called. He spurned tidbits. He was never going to be bribed.
Initially, the boys stuck to their ponies and gave him a wide berth. I rode him alone, while they were at school. He was a good ride, even if a bit rough around the edges, especially at the trot, probably because I was unbalanced and he was telling me to relax and loosen up. We covered mile after mile, out there on the bush trails, and he showed no signs of being mean spirited. He jumped logs with flare and never attempted to grab the bit and run away with me. Gradually, my balance improved and so did his trot, so I entered him in the forthcoming Richmond Show.
When the alarm clock rang at 4.30 on show morning, it was pouring. Only Alex and I were going to the Richmond Show, as Chris and Nic wanted to spend the day with Andrew, who had a great new train set. That left just Peter Pan and Wee Jock to be fed, then later, groomed, manes and tails carefully plaited, lower legs and plaited tails bandaged, then rugged for travelling. They had been stabled overnight, so Alex fed them while I milked. All our tack and lunches were already packed in the station wagon and, after a hurried breakfast, Chris and Nic, in their raingear, ran down the hill to Andrew's place and Alex, similarly clad, led Wee Jock to Summerleas Road, for loading in the pony club truck. Sep and I asked Peter Pan to enter the horse box and he declined. In the driving rain, we erected the raceway and straight on board he went, without fuss. Another teaser!
At last we were off. We met a bedraggled Alex at the end of our road and set sail for Richmond, in the Coal River valley, on the Eastern shore of the Derwent.
'You must be crazy,' Sep remarked, looking at the unrelenting downpour. I thought he was probably right, but tried to sound positive, so assured him it would fine up soon.
'Raining at seven, fine by eleven,' I prattled inanely. He grunted.
All the other showgoers must have been crazy too, because everyone we knew had braved the foul weather and hundreds we did not know, swelled the crowd. This was going to be a big country Show, as farmers almost always welcome rain, except at harvest time.
Alex and his pony went off to contest the 12.2 hands and under class, in ring three, and my first class was with the bigger galloways, over 14.2 hands and under 15 hands, in ring two. Yes, Peter Pan had been officially measured and he was certainly no pony. He measured just a fraction under 15 hands and would jump the bigger obstacles in the horse arena. The hacks, 15 hands and over, were in front of the grandstand, in ring one, the 15 hands to 15.2 class presenting first, to be followed right through to the biggest and heaviest, each class separated by two inches, measured from the withers to the ground.
Because of the relentless rain, the ground was awash and the pampered equines, who usually worked out with great precision, simply could not handle the conditions. Peter Pan won his class easily, followed by the galloway championship. Jo Tringrove, who lived near Pat and whom I had met on several occasions on our shared riding trails, asked me to accompany her in the pairs, and even although her mount was a bay cob and mine was much lighter boned and nearly black, they teamed up well and stuck together like glue. We won that class too. Jo was wearing thick bifocals and could hardly see, because they had fogged up, and her high riding boots were overflowing, slop, slop. We must have been a weird sight but, because of our success, the winners of the pair of hacks asked us to join them in the fours. Well, we won again. What a morning! And still the rain poured down.
Alex had ribbons too, and in the shelter of the horse stalls, he tethered his pony and I held Peter Pan, while we managed to gulp soggy sandwiches, before walking our respective show jumping courses. Sep held our Peter, who had his thick, woolly rug over him and was still saddled, with the girth loosened, for comfort. So having tightened P P's girth a little, Mother and boy wished one another good fortune and went to our separate arenas, to walk our respective courses. I waded around the horse jumps and they looked enormous, especially considering the conditions and the fact that they were higher and wider than the pony ones, which had been so easy for Peter Pan.
I measured the strides between the fences, had grand notions of how I would ride the combinations and made sure I knew the numbered sequence of each obstacle. I had never jumped my new horse anywhere but in the bush and now wince at my sublime confidence that he would carry me round this quite difficult course, in complete safety.
We were drawn last to go in the competition, leaving plenty of time for me to get back to the stall and relieve Sep from the task of holding my steed. At least it was warm and dry in there, but he was more than ready to hand over the reins, and wanted to know why,
'I didn't just tie the begger up, like all the others.'
I explained exactly why. He was not convinced. He reckoned the brute should be forced to accept discipline and be 'normal, like the ones that pulled the bread and milk carts, when we were kids.'
'They were cart horses, specially bred to be docile, willing workers. Peter Pan is out of a blood mare, which makes him much more highly strung. Until we had trains, cars and trucks, we depended on horses, just to get around. Now they are bred for racing, speed and endurance and recreation, and most of these horses are hot blooded, like the Arabs and thoroughbreds. There are not many cold blooded, patient Clydesdales and other draught horses around any more, except for cross breeding what are called 'warm bloods', popular with people who like them for their size, docility and speed, but they sometimes lack staying power. Look, I've got to go darl, and give our horse a good warm up. He had a busy morning and could be a bit stiff. Thanks for being here.'
I removed Peter Pan's woolly rug, sniffed noses with him, tightened his girth and mounted him in the stall, before riding out into the quagmire and continuing rain. He did not like it much and really did need a jolly good warm up. Out there, in the show jumping arena, horses were slipping and sliding all over the place. Not long to go now and I started to feel scared - the conditions were appalling. Because we were the last, the warm up area eventually emptied, giving us room for a flat strap, short gallop and he handled the going well. When the bell rang for us to salute the judge and commence our round, I developed the shakes, then remembering Carol, gave Peter Pan a good crack with the whip and we thundered through the 'start' flags. He responded to this near hysteria and jumped magnificently for the only clear round. No jump off was required.
For the next class, we teamed up with a pair of total strangers to win the fault and out, followed by the rescue relay and finished with another championship.
Alex and Wee Jock turned up and their day had been pretty good too, so bedraggled, drenched and mud spattered, we congratulated one another enormously. We'd been so busy, we were not even cold!
Because of the incessant rain and the the churned up condition of the ground, the Grand Parade was cancelled and every one packed up and went home, as soon as their classes were over.
The rain eased and finally stopped altogether as the show concluded. Alex towelled his pony dry, rugged and bandaged him and loaded him into the pony club truck, then put our tack in the wagon. I had our champion mudlark all dressed up and ready for travelling too. There were not many people and horses left around the stalls, so Sep
parked the wagon and horsebox on the gravel outside them, hoping for a quick 'getaway.' There was the box, out in the open, with no race and not even a fence on one side to make things easier, and a croud of noisy people, who had materialised out of nowhere. There's no worse place than a showground with a licenced bar under such circumstances, because everyone knew Peter Pan and his ability to put on a top rodeo performance. Out came ropes, brooms, tin cans and horror of horrors, a stockwhip.
We were blocking the roadway.
'Oh, please Peter, be good.' I begged. He gave me a knowing look, which clearly implied that he would have some fun first, and I was quickly denied any chance of getting him on board. His antics were legend and his lead rope was snatched out of my hand by a burly giant who had spent a lot of time in the liquor tent, out of the rain. The battle was on. Peter kicked the brooms for miles, leapt over the ropes and reared so menacingly that the big man eventually lost his hold on the halter. I was able to grab it and pleaded with everyone to go away. I thanked them for their efforts but knew for sure that force would never work.
I asked Sep to move the horse box out on to the verge of the main road, to enable others to leave and finally we were there alone, in the fading light, feeling very cold and miserable and wondering what we could do. The horse solved the problem. He just moved forward, went up the ramp and into the box , where he quietly munched his hay. Sep snibbed the chain behind him and closed the ramp and I tied Peter with binder twine. Then we were homeward bound, concerned that the pony club truck would reach Kingston ahead of us and that Alex would not be there to collect his pony. It was pitch dark by then, but the truck was slow and we caught up with only a mile to spare. What a day! Sep was unimpressed. After we unloaded P P and unhitched the box and before racing down to Andrew's place to collect Chris and Nic, he remarked, 'You'd better learn to tow that b..... horse yourself'.
I did. Having never towed anything before, the backing and filling took some working out, and then it was easy, as was hitching and unhitching. Getting Peter's willing co-operation, anywhere, any time, to just walk on board was usually a cinch, but if there was any tension in the air, or urgency, or a crowd, well, there could be problems. One could never be absolutely sure of how our 'famous' horse would behave , under varied circumstances.
Auburn One Day Event.
In spite of his miserable Richmond Show experience, where our piles of wet ribbons meant nothing to Sep, he elected to come with us all to Auburn, the well known grazing property, in the Southern Midlands, near Ross. He was interested in meeting the squattocracy. So were Chris and Nic, who enjoyed the day playing with the owners' adventurous children, in the convict cells - or so they said - and on the roof of the grand old home. Alex too, was there, with Sasha, but I have no recollection of their travelling arrangements and now presume they rode in the pony club truck, as a junior competition was scheduled to be run on separate courses, starting and finishing at the same time as the senior novice and open events; a mammoth effort in organization, fence buiding, stewarding and judging, all achieved with apparent ease.
My memory is vague, because I was just so nervous. It was my very first one day event. This was the only occasion when Sep took slides of any of us. The ones of me and Peter Pan in the dressage arena show my steed, stiff as a post and way above the bit, with me, bouncing along, behind the movement. Even then, with my scant knowledge, I could recognize a dismal performance. Sadly, there was no record of our amazing cross country and show jumping rounds, but the pictures of Alex and Sasha were dazzling.
It was a fine, windless day. Our dressage score was woeful. Alex did much better with Sasha in the junior section and their Cross Country looked inviting. Peter Pan and I were to attempt the senior novice section and when I walked the course, I found it absolutely terrifying. The terrain was undulating, rough, and strewn with rocks and fallen timber. The obstacles were either of maximum height and spread or so diabolically placed, that no horse would be happy to approach them, let alone jump cleanly and get on with the job.
We were drawn to commence towards the end and I watched, in horror, as horse after horse was eliminated at the very first fence. It was a 'single rail and drop,' down a bank and into the deep gloom of heavily timbered scrub, beside a creek. There were felled trees before the obstacle and a friendly bystander gave me a 'stirrup' cup and suggested that I navigate straight through those scattered logs as we approached that first fence. Timely advice, for it kept Peter Pan's mind on the job of survival. He barely noticed the flagged rail and drop that was giving so much trouble. By the time we re-entered daylight, he was really on the bit and enjoying himself.
'Let's go,' he said, and all I could do was steer him vaguely. He did the rest, in the fastest time with a clear round - he had so little weight to carry, however unbalanced it may have been.
The show jumping arena was on stony, uneven ground, and again, this suited my mount, because he and Carol had relished such conditions, whereas seasoned eventers found the going rough. Some refused jumps with lumpy approaches and others had rails down, so our clear round brought triumph, in spite of our miserable dressage effort.
Alex and Sasha had some success too. Sep, Alex, Chris and Nic had all enjoyed themselves and my prize was a book called 'Three Days Running,' about a famous English eventer, 'High and Mighty.' It proved to be good reading and was full of helpful training tips. Best of all, Peter Pan showed rare signs of have liked his job. He was almost genial and stoically accepted our pats and hugs, instead of pushing us away.
The Auburn victory proved to be my swansong in combined training. Peter Pan was painstakingly prepared and conditioned for our next attempt at the big time - an open two day event at Carrick, in the grounds and surrounding farm land of Entally House, with its glorious English trees and old world charm. Sep had enjoyed his visit to Auburn, so was accompanying us on this trip, and, as we would be away overnight, our respected friend and neighbour, Rita Kalytis, had agreed to look after the boys, as her husband and daughters were self sufficient. Chris could handle the milking and everything seemed to be perfectly organised.
An extremely fit and lively Peter Pan was prepard for travelling well before dawn and as he was happily following me into the horse box, without any warning, he suddenly reared and pulled back violently, stripping the skin off the fingers of my left hand and breaking two of them. There was no excuse; the rope must have been held incorrectly, but it put us out of contention, as there was no way I could have ridden him. Alex, who had started handling him around the stables, removed his travelling gear, and back into the paddock he went.
The Franz Mairinger School.
With a busted hand making every task difficult, I was grateful to Alex for saddling and bridling my tempestuous steed, to enable me to ride him, one handed, as he needed to be very fit for the two week long, F M equestrian school at the Launceston Showground in May.
The boys were a great help around the house, stable and garden. Chris, who reckoned playing games and having fun was baby stuff, just like pre school, hoovered the floors and did the milking and some of the lawn mowing, without being asked, and they all made their bunks and fed and exercised their ponies, like clockwork. They had become accostomed to an accident or illness prone mother. They were not alone. There seemed to be lots of wussy mothers around Kingston. When the neuroma 'phantom pain' struck when out riding, the horse seemed to understand. He became very gentle and considerate.
The local G P had done a terrific job, putting the finger skin back in place, and, with a moulded splint for the the whole hand and forearm in a firm sling, he hoped the broken fingers would set straight. Well, they did not quite make it, but became useable, in time for the journey to Launceston for the F. M. School.
Being accepted for this School was an honour, as most riders were seasoned and very competent. I knew that I was privileged because of the renoun of Peter Pan, so would attempt to make every post a winning post by endeavouring to 'get down in the saddle' and improve my riding, in the hope that he would remain sound and continue his brilliant career.
Franz Mairinger was trained, first in the Austrian Cavalry and then at The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. He had come to Australia because he felt that horses, all over the world, were like Austalians. They would offer their best if the chips were down, but would always take the easy way out of any situation, given half a chance. Employed by the Equestrian Federation of Australia, he had trained an impressive, small Australian squad of individuals for Stockholm in 1956, when the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne and no overseas horses were admitted to Australia, due to our strict quarantine regulations. His monumental triumph was achieved in Rome, in 1960. when the Australian team won Gold.
Franz had been coming to Tasmania for quite a few years now, and here we were, with someone of his calibre to guide us, always looking for horses and riders with Olympic potential. My hand was pretty well healed and my horse in top condition when we left all at Sherwood Forest in the capable hands of Mrs. Brown. She had agreed to give the Paterson clan one last chance at behaving themselves, but she did not have the success she deserved and they let her down abysmally, with the pattern of her last visit repeated, without the reprieve she had then received when I came home from Hospital.
This time, she had had enough, and departed early on the day of my return. I felt sad and very humiliated. In her place, Rita Kalytis, my good friend, whose younger daughter,Diana hung around pony club and visited Sherwood Forest to groom, and watch and wonder at our horseflesh. Her Mother, Rita now came on a weekly basis for a couple of hours to ensure that our house was spotless and we were all very grateful. Sadly, we could not help Diana much, as she was a big girl, too heavy for the ponies and could not yet ride well enough to be allowed on Peter Pan. The pony club eventually found a suitable mount at Bowenwood for her and another young hopeful, the exercising and care of which would be shared between them. It was a great solution and dedicated Diana became a very good equestrian.
Launceston is situated in the Tamar River valley, well inland from Bass Strait and freezing cold in May. Peter Pan was comfortably stabled on the showground, in a large loose box, where he was unable to savage other horses. I stayed at a boarding house on Elphin Road, where the proprietor made it clear that no horse feed or tack would be permitted on the premises. But he had to accept buckets because gallons of tepid water were required to defrost the the snow-white station wagon, to enable me to reach the stables to feed my mount at 5.00 am. Then back to my lodgings for breakfast, room tidying and removal of any tell-tale signs of anything horsey and a couple more buckets of water over the windscreen and door handle, as the wagon had iced up again. Once more on the showgrounds, in our overalls and gum boots, we all groped around in the gloom to muck out stables, then groom and saddle up for a 9 o'clock start.
Somehow, everyone managed to assemble at the appointed area on time. It was way down the back, well below the trotting track and adjacent to the local tip, on an area usually set aside for car, truck and float parking during Show week and Saturday harness racing fixtures throughout the year. The frost had not lifted. The ground was crisp and white and a dense fog enveloped the entire area. We finally found Franz, in the biggest, thickest trenchcoat in the world, a muffler round his neck, a jaunty, woollen cap on his head, leather, fur lined gloves on his hands, firmly clasped around a hand warmer, and heavy, fleece lined, leather boots. Obviously, he had been here before, in May!
He surveyed us all, one at a time, and asked our names. Some he remembered from previous schools, so he welcomed them warmly before greeting the newcomers. There were about twenty of us, all told.
He then pushed each horse's neck from side to side. to ascertain the extent of stiffness of each animal. Some moved with a degree of suppleness, some creaked and groaned; there were some that could not be budged at all.
'Broomsticks,' said Franz.
He then asked us to walk around him in a very large circle. He was invisable through the fog, but he put us through our paces just the same. Horses and riders became hot and sweaty, in spite of the freezing conditions. Gradually, the fog lifted and Franz was able to see our faults and deal with them appropriately. After two hours he called a halt. It was time to walk back to the stables, on a loose rein, rub our horses down, give them a sand roll, then brush out the sand, put hessian rugs, or chaff bags, under their stable rugs, stretch our own aching limbs and have a rest in the stable straw, in our overalls. Refreshed, we then lunched at the canteen, before show jumping commenced at 2pm.
Franz had told us that there would be no customary lecture this first day, for we were to cart out and erect the jumps, and he gave us some sound advice while we were at it. He invited each of us to pick up and balance one rail on either right or left shoulder and walk past him with it. As we did so, we automatically held it at the exact point of balance, making it light and easy to carry. Franz lightly touched either the front or the back of each rail and we all had to stagger to regain that balance. It was our first lesson in the reason why we must ride in complete unison with the movement of the horse, otherwise it too, would have to shift under the uneven weight.
After we placed all the jumping wings and rails in the the order that Franz determined, we collected our horses, warmed them up and jumping commenced. Initially, the obstacles consisted of rails on the ground, then we gradually progressed to small jumps, with the emphasis on control of the length and balance of each stride. Peter Pan was deeply offended by these 'beginners' exercises and punished me by making his strides uneven, oh, so deliberately! His pique did not go unnoticed and during that lesson Franz was able to assist me in balancing Peter Pan during these mundane but essential exercises, mainly by getting me relaxed and balanced on a horse who felt bored and frustrated by their demeaning simplicity; something he had never been required to do before and did not enjoy at all.
The two weeks simply flew. During the early part of the school I was sore and sorry, but after one memorable morning, I started to improve. Franz took us away from the level ground to an area closer to the trotting track where two extensive level areas were separated by a long and sloping bank. We had no stirrups. They were removed. As usual, he asked us to walk around him, this time in a big rectangle, to incorporate the bank, which seemed pretty steep, even at this gentle speed. We walked up the bank, across the top, down the other side and across the bottom end before changing the rein, by riding an S through the lower flat area, thus reversing the exercise and repeating it twice more.
Feeling sure I was not alone in dreading the call for sitting trot, and scared that I would fall off, because Peter Pan's trot was still just dreadful if I became unbalanced, I nearly pulled out when the order finally came. But then, as my horse stretched out majestically, I felt more afraid of Franz's certain derision than of breaking my neck, so grabbed some mane as a lifeline and hung on. No sooner was I settled and going fairly well, than Franz called for an extended, sitting trot - long, sweeping strides which I was sure the horses could not manage with the bank. But they did and they were fairly flying. We changed rein many times and finally were told to canter, still changing the rein, without incorporating the bank, to enable horses and riders to relax. I was amazed. PP had performed well. He had stretched out beautifully, allowing me to get down in the saddle and be one with his movement.
At the end of the school, the final afternoon was set aside for show jumping competitions. Peter Pan, suppled, relaxed and responsive, was in the second of three classes, and we won the class. All three classes were over the same course, fences only varying marginally in height and width, particularly of combinations, and handled well by every horse - a credit to Franz's training, course building and instruction. Prize winners were rewarded with hats which he had salvaged from the Tip. Mine was emerald green and scruffy, appropriate, because he assured me that Peter Pan was a great little horse and he had no idea how he could do so well with such a terrible rider.
Undeterred, I took my trusty steed home with Franz's precise words in mind. With my pencilled notes and diagrams of his lectures and blackboard demonstrations, I repeated to myself, again and again, the points he had stressed. I travelled back in time to our first lecture, the day after we carted out the show jumping equipment and learned all about critical balance, so succinctly. Most of his pupils were advanced riders, so their hands shot up when he commenced by asking, 'What is the most important thing about riding a horse!'
The replies were varied and seemed very knowledgeable. He heard them all out and then smiled.
'No,' he said, 'The most important thing is not falling off!'
'Anyone can ride a horse, just as anyone can play on the piano, but unless the pianist is trained, he makes a terrible noise; unless the horse and rider are both suppled and trained, they make a horrible spectacle. There should be one movement only; the movement of the horse. You get nothing for nothing; more impulsion; more, more, even at the halt. The horse must go quietly and willingly forward, totally balanced, on your line, at your speed. There are three hundred and fifty seven ways of riding a circle, but only one way is correct - you ride a perfect circle.'
I relived the whole fortnight and was determined to improve, but it took two more schools to gain Franz's grudging praise, and the satisfaction of finally riding as one with the horse gave me indescribable joy.
At last, Peter Pan was beautifully light in hand and using himself correctly to balance his own weight and mine as he jumped his fences without twisting his body. Now he consistently jumped straight and true or flexed as required to land on the correct leg for the shortest and easiest approach to the next obstacle. My lovely balance was not sustained over the years, but at least I had learned, and experienced, how a horse and rider should go together. Our three boys all became well balanced and competent equestrians, so the suppling and conditioning of Peter Pan and all their mounts continued and was maintained in their capable hands.
Alex and Peter Pan.
Our lives at Kingston were idyllic. Sep was consistently happy in his work with the Hydro Electric Commission, and although he spent a great deal of his time on the preliminary work of the Mersey Forth Scheme, the realization that we would eventually have to leave Sherwood Forest and move to the north west, took a long time to sink in to our thick skulls. In the interim, before such a move became obligatory, we continued to enjoy the present. All three boys were doing well at school, we continued to entertain our friends at our place and enjoyed reciprocal visits to their homes, and not one of our neighbours, thus far, was opposed to having a menagerie in their midst. So it was business as usual, running the home and looking after its surrounds, with the ponies, PP, the goats, gardens, pony club and socialising, occupying most of our time.
Alex had become skillful in the care of Peter Pan, on the ground, following the loading accident when my fingers were stripped and broken. He had groomed and saddled him for me, to enable the continuation of our preparation for the Franz Mairinger school in Launceston. Some months after our return, he asked if he could ride him, and I agreed, as he had been gently 'let down,' and should be a little less 'fiesty'. Alex was not the least bit overawed, although he looked minute when he first mounted him and rode down the drive. With Carol's tutelage, when he had learned to deal with Silver Venn, and his schooling of Wee Jock and Sasha, he was now more competent than I. The horse was obviously delighted with a light, balanced rider and they went well together, although it was clear that Peter was just being patient. The testing of a very small ten year old would follow.
The testing came sooner than expected. The pony club members were invited to attend a one day event at Cawood, Ouse, in the Derwent Valley, well beyond New Norfolk, on the Lyell Highway.
Alex was the only member of our family to receive an invitation to compete, but Sep, Chris and Nic were all interested in visiting another fabled property, so we set out very early, as the unsealed road was 'difficult', in Sep's view, and we would have to take it quietly. The previous weekend, Alex had ridden his new mount to Huntingfield for a trial run around junior cross country fences and show jumps, all of which were of the correct height and width for the grade and handled well by the combination who planned to travel to Ouse.
On arrival at Cawood, Alex found himself in the baby class. He was a bit offended by this, especially when Peter Pan was offended too and proved more than a handful that day, giving him a very hard time. The competitors in this junior class were not required to enter a dressage arena, but rode, one at a time, around various markers at the walk, trot and canter, before halting in front of the judge. As he had with me, in Launceston, when confronted with rails on the ground, our vain horse now made a complete ass of Alex. He spooked and shied at rusty, old farmyard paraphernalia, lying about and threatened to bolt at the canter. He refused to walk. He pranced, went sideways and moved all over the place when asked to halt. They were marked accordingly.
The cross country was easy indeed and our horse continued to show Alex up. He stopped or ran off at one obstacle after another. Clearly, he was above himself and too much for a small boy to handle. Carol, who had two brothers, had warned that he hated boys. In the show jumping, he was even worse. The fences were so low that he stepped over them and did not bother to jump a single one. What humiliation!
The baby class out of the way, Peter Pan was groomed, rugged, tethered with binder twine and left with a bucket of water and a full hay net, while we all went off to watch the real thing; the intermediate and senior classes. They had proper cross country fences to jump and some were very testing, so there were refusals aplenty and a couple of tumbles too. Finally, the intermediate show jumps, near the homestead, were tackled without many mishaps and made higher and wider for the senior grade, where some combinations performed well but others failed to appreciate the efforts of the course builder and incurred penalties. Sep looked after Nic, Chris was with me and Alex had been watching proceedings attentively - yes, the whole family was present and correct.
At the end of the day, trophies were presented and our hosts invited all competitors, their parents and their friends into their beautiful historic home for refreshments. Such old fashioned hospitality was not usual at such events and Sep and I were deeply impressed. We gazed at the elegant antique furnishings, the immense height of the ceilings and the picturesque view of the gardens through the french windows. The show jumps were clearly visible in the background. Everyone conversed sociably, enjoying the drinks and canapes we were offered.
Suddenly, the happy throng stopped their chatter and the room was deathly quiet - all eyes were on the jumping arena. Out there, a shiny brown horse and a wee boy were jumping the senior course, one obstacle after another, at speed and with obvious glee. No one moved inside the house until the faultless display ended and Alex waved triumphantly, jumped to the ground, ran his stirrups up, and led his mount back to the horsebox. Deeply embarressed, we realised that we had not even noticed that he had slipped away and we apologised to our hosts for being so remiss. They were very nice about it.
'Best performance of the afternoon,' they said, in unison. Everyone laughed. We went home, honour restored.
After the Cawood episode, Alex received a good 'talking to' from our pony club officials, who could see shades of Carol reappearing. In time he was forgiven and allowed to take part in some pre- trials one day events. Although sometimes over-horsed, he managed his willful steed reasonably well and the partnership grew in confidence. They were selected in the Huntingfield No 2 team to represent their club in the 1963 Pony Club State Horse Trials at Sottsdale, in the far north west of Tasmania. That year, a tiny ten year was allowed to compete.
The Big Time.
By now our Peter Pan was somewhat reformed and permitted to travel in the pony club truck. The eight horses were loaded, head to tail cross-wise, with the renegade up front. He was pillared; haltered with two ropes, one tied on either side of his head so that he could not savage his neighbour's rump, and roped off, so that he was unable to
swing his hindquarters and lash out. Properly rugged and bandaged, with a full hay net to keep him occupied, he travelled well. Alex and I followed the truck all the way in the station wagon, with orders to sound the horn at the slightest suggestion of trouble.
It was a very long journey and tortuous, particularly on the infamous Sidling, towards the end. There was a riotous welcoming party following our arrival, and a pretty sleepless night for contestants who were billeted in single sex, barrack style accommodation on the showground. Visiting parents stayed at the local hotel, in the main street, or in a motel, up the road.
Scottsdale Showground is centrally situated, as part of an outdoor sports complex. It has a harness racing track around the main arena, used on race days and for football and cricket, in season, plus an Olympic size swimming pool. The next day was devoted to dressage and official walks of the cross country course. It was very hot, so it was difficult to get some of the riders to remember the purpose of their visit - they so loved that pool!
After the long truck journey, Alex hopped on Peter Pan, bareback and, as most of the horses had already arrived and were in their stalls, let him wander all over the prescribed horse exercise areas, to loosen up any possible stiffness he may be experiencing, but he looked relaxed and actually requested a visit to the sand roll, which he really enjoyed. He settled down well. He was pillared, with a stout rail behind him. Thank goodness there were no other horses nearby to annoy him. Huntingfield had been allocated ten stalls, two of which housed straw, hay, chaff, oats and special rations. We asked for the end stall, next to the straw and feed ones. PP summed up the situation, tolerated, his strait-jacket and accepted this indignity with stoicism.
Next morning, Alex and his horse performed a creditable dressage test and our lad was sufficiently fired up to abandon all thought of the swimming pool, to squeeze into the first official course walk, and oh, what a course it was. There were spooky things to go round and deep gorges to be negotiated, dams to be jumped into, hidden jumps and many changes of direction, then a row of inviting fences, with two cunningly offset, all to be cleared in the correct order, right near the end. Alex walked the course three more times. He knew what was where and he could count.
On the following morning, again after little sleep, as the boys had rampaged all night, he was full of confidence. Good lad, you must be confident! Off they went, through the Start flags. They did look good. Then Peter Pan shied wildly at a rusty old, upside-down saloon car, with its wheels at weird angles, high off the ground, which they had to 'circumnavigate' in a confined space. His eyes were enormous as he approached the first gorge; my goodness, he was going to stop, and he did. But then he shifted into another gear, negotiated the next gorge and leapt into the first dam with great enthusiasm.
As the course opened up before him, our horse's confidence increased with every obstacle. Alex was in full control and enjoying the ride. He came through the Finish flags with a great big grin. They had experienced a few early faults, but they had made it. The only problem was that they had missed a fence, somewhere, and the final result was elimination. He was not alone; at least three quarters of the field had come to grief, one way or another. As consolation, everyone was allowed to contest the show jumping phase and Alex and Peter Pan went clear.
They had failed at their first attempt at the big time but showed promise for better things ahead.
The return journey to Kingston was made without incident and in the dark for three parts of the journey. We again followed the truck all the way and were pleased to be safely over the steep, serpentine Sidling before the light began to fade. At Campbelltown, the truck driver pulled to the side of the road, under a street lamp, to make sure that all the horses were fine, and to enable us to join him for an evening
meal at a diner. Once safely on the Midlands Highway, most of the other Huntingfield families had passed the slow truck to dine at home, then be ready to collect their horses at Kingston between 10-11pm.
Alex and I enjoyed the break, and I felt revitalized for the the rest of the journey. Once back on the road again, it was not long before the hectic three days of travelling, competition and so little sleep, finally caught up with Alex, who soon dozed off and did not waken till we topped the Bonnet Hill. There, Peter Pan kicked sharply on the truck hurdle behind him, just to remind the driver that he was aboard, and to take it easy on the sharp bends going down towards Kingston.
We had made good time on the homeward run. All the horses had travelled well and were unloaded, one by one, until only ours was left, waiting to have all his immobilizers removed. We thanked the driver for his expert handling of the horses and the truck and he wished us a good night's sleep. Alex vaulted on to Peter Pan, on top of his rug, and with only his headcollar and lead rope to guide him, set off for home. I suggested that he should take care. Over his shoulder, his response was immediate,
'He knows where he lives now Mum, and he likes us. He will not hurt me. Please go home and put the kettle on!
Sep, Chris and Nic had enjoyed their long weekend at home, the boys helping their Dad with odd jobs around the place. Chris did the milking, morning and evening and he and Nic both exercised the ponies. Nic had a ride on Wee Jock, but he found him wilful and a bit inclined to spook, so , next day, he rode old Silver Venn and led Vanessa. They liked being side by side and were much more placid. For Chris, Sasha was delightful, as was normal, unless put under too much pressure!
Once back home, Alex removed the travelling bandages from Peter Pan's legs and tail, undid the chest and leg straps of his rug, reclipped them and let him walk out from under it, into the paddock to roll and have a drink. He then brushed the sand out of his coat, re-rugged him and gave him a light feed, before hugging him and saying goodnight. He left the stable door open, allowing the horse to choose where he spent the night, which almost certainly, would have been outside in the paddock, under the stars.
The porch light had been left on for our return, but the rest of the family were all asleep, so Alex and I crept into the kitchen to enjoy our tea and toast, then gratefully showered in comfort, before climbing into our beds, pleased to be safely home after our marathon, long weekend.
During Monday lunch, Sep told us that our worst fears would soon be realised. Work on the Mersey Forth Scheme was advancing fast, and it was time for us to look for a new place in the North West. The core store at Gowrie Park was under construction and a further Scheme, on the Murchison River, based at Tullah, was on the drawing board. This all added up to an obvious conclusion. His presence at Head Office in Hobart would seldom be necessary, once the core store and staff accommodation were completed at Gowrie Park.
'Several Hydro engineers have already bought properties in the Sheffield district and a couple of others are considering a move to Devonport, where their childrens' education would be better served. State and private primary, secondary and matric college already exist there. Sheffield can only offer primary and Area school education, precluding students from University entrance.'
Although aware for ages that we were on borrowed time here at Sherwood Forest, the boys were shattered. They had not fully understand the vital importance of following our 'breadwinner', and the need to live reasonably close to wherever his work demanded. They loved Kingston with passion, and did not want to be uprooted, yet again. One of the pony club mothers, a prominent educationalst, had told them, confidentially, that the North West Coast was primitive and quite unsuitable for the future prospects of bright young lads', stressing that their education, social status and future prospects would suffer irreparably in 'cow cocky country'. I harboured no such thoughts, always aware that we would indeed follow, wherever Sep's work decreed, confident that the education system and the society in which we settled would serve us fairly, anywhere in Tasmania. We had discussed the matter, at length, many times. And we had always known that Sep would ensure our well being, wherever we lived. Observing his sons' disquiet, he did his best to allay their fears, stating confidently,
'The Hydro is making a big impact around the Devonport - Sheffield area and along the coast. It's all good for business. The whole area is booming. There are mountains and beaches, just like here, and I reckon you'll like it.'
Near eighteen months elapsed before we finally moved, late in October of 1965. In spite of lingering doubts, life was good for all of us during that time, especially for Alex, as his best school friend and family were moving to Gawler, south of Ulverstone, to run a large poultry farm, so there was a chance they may both finish up at the same school. Chris did not seem to make close friends, probably because he was so much taller than most of his classmates, and simply would not get involved in schoolyard scuffles. Happy go lucky Nic sidestepped trouble too, perhaps because his brilliant mind was elsewhere! Sep was bouyed by the successful progress of the Scheme and we and all our animals were in good health. I was busy as Huntingfield District Commissioner, which entailed being present at every venue where our members were competing. usually alone, as our family, for whatever reason, were now only interested in One Day Events and Royal Shows!
To gain some confidence and ability in conducting myself appropriately at this level of involment, I had earlier joined my old tennis friends at local Penguin Club evenings, where we learned all about Meeting proceedures and how to stand up and deliver speeches, deal with question and answer sessions, or correctly address formal meetings, all of which Sep thought was a nonsense for women, who should attend to their own affairs and let the men get on with all matters of state.
The Huntingfield pony club did not attend the 1994 State PC Horsetrial Championships, because of some technicality, concerning a change of dates, but Peter Pan and I managed to get to Launceston for our second Franz Mairinger School, and it was an honour to be there.
My friend and helper, Rita Kalytis, met the boys when they came home from school and prepared our family's evening meal, which only needed to be popped in the oven when Sep arrived. After arranging his work schedule to ensure he was in Head Office during my abscence, as he had when I was so crippled over a year earlier, and in the absence of poor Mrs Brown, he came home as early as possible and there was apparently no discord during my time away.
The Hobart Royal Show came and went in late October, with success for riders and their steeds, and Maranoa Snowbelle swept the pool in the dairy goat section, as was, from memory, quite normal. Pony club rallies, one day events and spring country shows kept me very busy, but the lads eschewed the shows, as they much preferred our extensive Kingston bush, where they never failed to find new and exciting adventures with their friends, Peta and Tony.
And then it was Christmas and it was wonderful. With Sep's direction, Alex extended the coloured lights on our already famous, fast growing Radiata Christmas tree, and as we could offer easy parking and ample space, inside the house and out in the garden, we invited all members of the pony club to a special farewell party, knowing that it would be our last at Sherwood Forest.
By some rare fluke of good fortune, I found a big box of red velvet covered, beautifully crafted, solid reindeer, their sleigh and Santa Claus, complete with red nosed Rudolph to lead the way. Our usually implacable sons were completely overwhelmed with wonder at the beauty of every individual item of the display. Reverently, they helped me arrange them to best advantage, as a team, on an oval table, level with the corner plate glass windows in the dining room. We kept the normal lights dimmed, as unasked, Alex managed to fix fairy ones above the Santa scene, thus eliminating any glare, and turning it into the show piece on a very special, moonlit evening, all clearly visable from both within and outside the house.
We had tasty, easily managed food and drinks, some preprepared, and the usual favourites from the BBQ. With a full moon and subtle outside lights illuminating the garden, all the pony club children and their parents enjoyed themselves, with Santa and his team holding the younger ones in wondrous awe, some with tears in their eyes, as they moved slowly past the fairy tale display, over and over again.
In January, the days became warmer and some were so hot that the soles of our feet hurt as we ran across the beach towards the breaking waves. Nic had received a rigged, wooden yacht for his birthday. His brothers were envious, so he said they could share it and he would be quite happy with the 'tyre traps' he made himself and so heartily detested by his Dad. They had short, sharp-headed little nails, sticking up from stem to stern, on either side, neatly tied with fine string 'so that his passengers did not fall overboard'. I was very happy that all of them could still return to early childhood and revisit their own private realms of majesty.
Once back at school, Alex decided to construct a bicycle out of bits and pieces he found on various tips throughout the bush. Knowing Sep deplored junk, he built it in an old shed in the backyard of one of his friends, whose Dad would not care at all. It took months of searching for the parts to build this bike. Soon it was winter, very cold, and the days were short. The bike was nearly finished; just lacking equal sized pedals. He met Tony on Cheeky, on the far eastern side of the bush at Blackman's Bay and Tony hailed him with good news.
'There's a near new bike on the tip near our place. It's all smashed up, but the pedals look ok. Reckon there's enough light to get 'em if you have a spanner on you.'
Yes, he did have a spanner. He'd been wearing long pockets since
deciding to build the bike. Although they both knew better, they raced their ponies to the tip, with Wee Jock an easy winner this time. Tony had grown tall and had also put on some puddin.
'You'd best ride Dasha now Tony. You're too big for Cheeky'.
'Yer, well, Alex, you know how it is. Those pedals what you want?
'Sure are; thanks a lot, mate'.
With near new pedals, he'd ride the bike round to Tony's, after school tomorrow. He did not think he'd take it home though, not yet, anyway. And he never did, because Sep bought him a spanking, brand new bike, well before his birthday at the end of August, because he was off to Japan again, on Hydro business. Alex did not know why, but his love affair with bikes was shattered by the gift, and he gave the one he had built from scrap to his friend, in whose own Dad's backyard shed he had put it all together, with so much pride.
Sep had been inspecting properties up in the North West all year, without much success. Hydro brass had found the best pickings, causing prices to escalate alarmingly. True urgency now existed, so he decided to exit Tasmania from Devonport, to allow him oneself one final flurry in the the property search department before he went away. He looked at five likely places, four of them listed and one for private Sale and posted their newspaper advertisements to us, before he boarded the plane which would take him to Sydney, to connect with his Japan flght. His list turned up in our mailbox a day or so later, we drove to the north west on the day he had arranged with the agent for us to inspect four of them, and the rest is history. We settled for the unlisted wilderness one - the one for private sale.
Thoughts of leaving Sherwood Forest wrapped themselves around us like shrouds and made us miserable on our return from inspecting the other properties. Our pony club members tried to cheer us by saying we would meet every year in early March when Horse Trial Championship time came round. On Sep's return, we bought Mount Pleasant and the vendors received the Title Deeds to our present home as part of the deal. Once finalised, we finally knew that our lives were about to change irrevocably.
The Huntingfield Pony Club gave us a rousing, final farewell at Firthfield, and we all finished up in a laughing, tangled mass in the grass when the white rail of the the fence on which we were all posing for a Club photograph, collapsed beneath us. No one was hurt, and happy memories last forever.
The Tasmanian Bushfire Disaster of 1967
When our family bought Mount Pleasant, part of the full payment for our new property was the house and land at Kingston. Some two and a half years after our move, devastating bush fires roared through south east Tasmania. Sherwood Forest was hit hard and only the house, garage, and Sep's sturdy fencing survived. The fire had burned holes in the weatherboards of the securely closed up house, and, lacking a through current of air, miraculously went out, spared the well sealed double workshop-garage, and left only the twisted roofing iron and concrete base of the lovely stables, storage and goat house in the paddock, near the garden gate.
Spanning two paddocks above the garden, the two walled, divided stock shelter shed had completely disappeared. It had no concrete floor and the roofing iron had blown away in the fire storm. Both buildings were vulnerable because one had only half doors and the other was open on two sides. We were told they were engulfed in minutes but I do not know how anyone knew for sure, as Kingston was compulsorily evacuated ahead of the firestorm that engulfed southern Tasmania, causing the loss of over sixty human lives and enormous property and animal destruction.
There were four horses in the paddocks at Sherwood Forest on that fateful day and Sep's fencing, although damaged, was too secure to permit their escape. By the time these terribly burned creatures received veterinary attention, they were deemed too far gone to respond to any treatment except lethal injection. But one of them was our friend Diana's Smarty, banned from the race track for his incredible ability to gallop, flat out, backwards, from behind the starting tapes. She had saved him from the knackery some time after we left the district, and the new owners leased our old paddocks to four young riders who had nowhere else to keep their horses.
After being delivered from Taroona High School to Kingston Beach by ferry and tender, Diana had run up the long, steep hill from Kingston Beach, where so many residents and school children had been taken to escape the flames, and she arrived just in time to save her Smarty. In actual fact, he had saved himself - he would not let the Vet near him, which was not surprising, seeing the other three horses were too crippled to hobble away and had already been 'put down.' According to Diana, the Vet said,
'Your poor horse must also be relieved of his agony. There is no hope for him. Every hair on his entire body has been severely burned and so have his feet. He will die of shock. It is inhumane to allow his suffering to continue.'
'No,' she insisted, 'he wants to live.'
A big, strong final year High School girl, she stood her ground, the horse whickered to her and the kindly Vet eventually agreed to help her save his life. Smarty stood quietly as intravenous painkillers were injected. The Vet then left to get a nourishing bale of hay from a property on Summerleas Road where the horses, firmly closed stables and feed rooms had survived the inferno. He was as good as his word and soon arrived back with not one but three big bales of choice grass and clover hay. By then, Diana had found a steel bucket and a tap that worked. She had removed her singlet and was gently drizzling water over Smarty's legs and feet.
The acrid smell of burnt horsehair, flesh and melted hooves, all mixed with her tears and the dense pall of smoke that enshrouded the south of the state, was pungent, but the Vet was amazed that the horse welcomed the hay and was able to eat it, in spite of his blistered, cracked and swollen lips.He was no longer angry with Diana. He shook her hand, dirty and smelly as it was, then said,
'Give him plenty to drink and visit him during the night'.
'Yes, I will, and thank you.' she replied.
Tired, stressed and grief stricken by having to destroy many loved animals during this tragic day, he opened the door of his van, saying, 'I'll come back at 7am tomorrow to give him more pain relief to avert delayed shock. The dead horses will be removed about noon, so you will need to shift Smarty up the back beforehand, lest he panics. You're a brave girl and your horse trusts you'.
Diana felt grateful for his concern but not even a little bit brave. Having seen the extent of the fire damage as she raced to help Smarty, she realised that she did not even know whether her own family home was still standing. Near panic gripped her. Rita, her Mum, would surely question her priorities in this time of crisis. But then she remembered that everyone had been told to lock up their houses and flee to the beach - and Mum would have been at work - and - then the new owners of Sherwood Forest returned - and all screamed and screamed when they saw the dead horses - even the Mother. She drove though the open wrought iron gates and parked outside the garage, where she and the still screaming children made no effort to alight.
Their reaction brought Diana back to earth. She refilled Smarty's water bucket, spoke to him gently, then slipped through the wire fence into the blackened vacant blocks below the burnt out stables, and soon reached home. And there was Rita, exhausted, her clothes full of burn holes and coughing her heart out from smoke inhalation - she had not obeyed the evacuation order because their humble cottage had an elevated, open back verandah, and she knew she had to stay put to extinguish spot fires that would ignite the flammable rattan blinds and the girls' bed linen, straw floor mats and their clothes, hanging in a curtained closet.
The cottage was very old. Although now connected to town water, it still had near full water tanks, and plenty of tin buckets. Rita, thus armed, kept dousing herself and the spot fires, which started up one after the other, as the flames raged all round the house and even under it. Diana did not know what to say. She just quietly followed her Mum right round the place, making certain that no fires had rekindled. And then, together, holding hands, they ventured inside. It was very smoke filled, dark and without power. Rita found a torch and their canary, dead in his cage, with not even a feather out of place. They were overcome with sorrow and a feeling of helplessness; no phone, no electricity and what little food they had was in the frig. It would soon be rotten. And where was Julie, Diana's elder sister? And their Dad?
The eerie gloom from all the smoke was increasing and they both became afraid. From the verandah, they could see headlights on the Channel Highway, so perhaps the buses were still running. With the light of the torch, Rita stoked and lit the old wood stove - fancy lighting a fire! But it gave them tea, toast and a bit of energy - sufficient for Diana to find and light the hurricane lamp. which was just as well as the torch was dimming a little and she would need it to visit Smarty. She would have to go up there soon, to tell the property owners about needing to visit her horse on several occasions during the night, as the Vet had told her that she simply must, lest he lost heart and lay down to die, beside his mates.
As Diana was plucking up courage to leave, Julie and her Dad walked through the door and were welcomed with hugs and tears. They had travelled on the crowded bus from Hobart, Julie from the Matric College and Dad, from the Electrolytic Zinc Works, by the Derwent River, on Risdon Road. They'd had trouble getting out of town because the fire was right in it, gobbling up houses in Sandy Bay - there was confusion everywhere - and firefighters exhausted to the point of collapse. Only the bus was allowed through and the drive to Kingston, on the twisting Channel Highway, was fraught with danger, as although the fire had burned itself out for most of the way, some trees and a few buildings looked likely to fall and block the road. The Police were able to communicate by radio and supervised the bus's progress, frequently delayed to give emergency vehicles top priority. It was a very winding road, with one lane only, in each direction.
When all the stories had been told, Diana was able to slip quietly away, with only Rita knowing her reason for leaving. Horse talk was not encouraged in the household, as horse ownership was considered ridiculous for a family in a parlous financial situation. Diana could and did have many a heated argument with her Dad on this subject, for he was well paid to work in the cyanide section of the plant, but somehow managed to blow most of his fortnightly pay packet at his favourite watering hole on his way home each pay night.
On this night however, because it was not a pay night and the family had miraculously survived and so had the house, by Rita's determined perseverance, Diana did not dare mention Smarty's plight to Julie or her Dad, and her absence went unnoticed when Rita started cooking up the perishable food from the frig. By the time the meal was ready to be served, it was Diana who did the serving. She had found Smarty easily, still near the dead horses, but really pleased to see her and he welcomed more hay and fresh water. She told him she'd be back, explained the situation to the now more composed family who owned the place, and they kindly suggested she could rest on their sofa after her night visits - they would leave the front door on the latch.
'Oh, thank you; you're very kind.' Diana responded, as they helped her over the fence into the temporarily abandoned next door plant nursery, home and glasshouses, all severely damaged, but affording a safe and easy exit down the driveway to the road back to her place.
So the night passed, the Veterinarian returned, as promised, at 7am, administered more intravenous pain relief to a stoic horse, and then offered to help get him up the hill and round the corner, well away from the dog truck, expected later. He had brought a bucket with some oaten chaff, bran, finely chopped up carrots and apple slivers, which he mixed with diluted molasses from a bottle in his pocket, thus arousing considerable interest from Smarty, who followed him like a lamb, albeit very slowly, way up the back to a clump of trees which somehow still retained a bit of foliage for shade which would help the poor fellow when the sun came out. Diana walked a fraction ahead of them, murmuring encouragement. Over her shoulder, she toted a well filled hay net and, in either hand, she carried a bucketful of water.
Diana's gratitude was deep indeed and Smarty lived. His once lustrous bay coat, mane and tail all regrew, irregularly at first and his hooves were very slow to regrow completely. As soon as the the power and phone were restored to the Kalytis household, Rita rang us at the farm at Central Castra to tell us that the family was safe and their house had survived the inferno. She finally admitted that she had defied the order to evacuate, knowing that their place would catch alight easily unless she had stayed to throw buckets of tank water onto the creosoted weatherboards to extinguish spot fires as they ignited. She then told me about Smarty's determination to survive. What a family. Even the horse was stoic.
Then the weather changed quite suddenly, and soon it was Autumn. Smarty would need a thick, wool blanket-lined, weather proof canvas rug, and the Vet found one for him.
Diana was forever grateful to all the kind people who made it possible for her to feed, water, rug and care for her now famous Smarty, a much visited celebrity, never lacking in good feed and general care. Under her supervision, and carefully mixed with oaten chaff, he also received very small quantities of slivered carrots and apples from his admirers. The current owners of Sherwood Forest made Diana's duty of care for Smarty very different from the days when she was just one of the girls who kept their horses there. Now her horse had the whole place to himself, rent free, till he either made it back to full health and soundness, or failed to do so, a scenario that Diana resolutely refused to take on board, even although she was fully aware that the the damage to his feet may prove irreparable.
The Huntingfield Pony Club stalwarts, whose community spirit had initially made it possible for Diana, and a Dutch immigrant boy, to share a little horse called Pal, who lived and was fed and watered at Bowenwood, cost free, again came forward to assist in her new horse's recovery, if and when he was fit to travel. They offered to cover the cost of his journey to Mount Pleasant for R&R. Thanks to her Pony Club training, she was now a competent rider, and her management skills were high. She accepted the offer at the end of her first Matric year and repaid the Club by helping set up for rallies and assisting new members to settle in to Rally routine.
The twelve months passed. Diana's sister Julie moved on to her second matriculation year and Diana entered her first. Smarty was much improved and his farrier, who had cared for his feet since Diana saved him from the knacker's yard, was confident that his carefully tended, regrown hoofs were now ready to take a set of shoes. Like the Pony Club people and the owners of Sherwood Forest, the farrier did not impose any charge for his expertise, and Diana was truly grateful to everyone. But now that it seemed that her horse may soon be rideable again, she knew that she would have to tackle her Dad, full on. The cost of having two girls at Matric, was grinding their Mum into the ground. She was pretty poorly paid for the heavy housework she did around Kingston, all week and on Saturday mornings, too.
Rita observed Diana's disquiet. They had a good long yarn together about Smarty's favourable prognosis, and agreed that they would manage, somehow, to keep going until his soundness was determined. Should he recover fully, they would need to make arrangements for the future. Finally, she summed it up.
'At present, Smarty 's alone on four acres of good feed, and doesn't require hand feeding. You're at Matric now, and you must do well, to ensure a bright future for yourself. You deserve it. You have always worked hard and pulled your weight. And your reports are brilliant. Let's make sure you have a great year, decide whether to sell him or ask Margot if she could accommodate him at Mount Pleasant.'
'Oh, gee Mum, that's tough. I reckon he'd be turned out with all the others, unrugged, to gallop night and day to keep warm. They only have two stabled and in work for eventing. He's a thoroughbred! He'd die of cold'.
'Well, don't worry about that now. Wait and see. If he gets the all clear for soundness, the galloping would keep him fit and warm too!'
That night, Dad came home with Julie, on the bus, his pay packet intact. His family hugged him and told him, for the umpteenth time, just how much they loved him. He smiled, and said, in his funny, broken English,
'Tis tha munny dat you loves.'
Diana took hold of both his hands. She held them tight and looked into his eyes.
'No Da, it's you we love, But we all worry ourselves sick when you get in with your mob at the Pub. They don't really love you. They just love to rob you blind. But at least they put you on the last bus, every time; that's a big plus, and better than the gutter!' And she reached tall and hugged him.
Rita started serving dinner, a delicious lamb shank casserole, with baked potatoes in their jackets,all cooked to perfection in the old fuel stove, plus all the green vegetables from the garden. He smiled his appreciation, swearing, as so often happened, that he truly loved them too.
Each work evening, there was a gap of forty minutes between the arrival of his bus from the Electrolytic Zinc works at Risdon and the departure of the bus to Kingston. He was one of small group of men who had specialist skills in the management of cyanide at the works. Because he had family and lived the furthest away, he was usually rostered on the daytime shift, from 8am to 4pm. Each of the cyanide specialists worked alone, which explained why Mr Kalytis had poor communication skills. They took packed meals with them and only met their fellow workers for brief handover acknowledgments, never having time for a yarn.
Not surprisingly, the solitary, mid European refugee from WW2, found companionship in the Hobart Pub he frequented during that break on his journey home. His mates there could understand his broken English, or he thought they could. He had known and liked them all for a long time, and they always put him on the bus for home. Some pay nights, they let him shout them till near closing time, but still made sure they put him on that last bus to Kingston.
So, his pay packet would be near cleaned out again, Rita and Julie would greet him with tears of desperation and Diana would re-heat his dinner, then sit down and talk to him, sometimes furious with him and sometimes, just sad. She had never spoken of Smarty's plight, but only about the exhaustion of Rita, who toiled all day to pay for the costly, ever changing school text books that she and Julie needed, now that they were both at Matric College. Elbows on the table, and with her chin in her hands, she pleaded with him to come to grips with his family's predicament, and said, very softly,
'Please help us all Dad. Julie and I will achieve good results, and then we'll find decent jobs; Julie at the end of this year and I will follow her, at the end of next year. Then you and Mum will be able to relax, both of you knowing that you have done your best for your girls. We'll be grown up and maybe moved away, interstate, where job opportunities are said to be much brighter. But we can't do it without your help, and your love. Please understand.'
He reached across to her, and solemnly took her hand. He lifted it to his lips and kissed it. With tears in his eyes, he haltingly agreed to her requests.
Diana had heard all this before. Something snapped inside her.
'Dad, if those promises you have just made; if they get broken like all the rest, I'll wish you were dead.'
Two Weeks Later.
Mr Kalytis was a changed man. Each evening he came home for dinner with his family and he was sociable and sober. He said he still met his mates at the pub for one or two schooners of black ale, and that was all he needed - it was just their company he enjoyed. Rita was a bit sceptical about this unexpected change. After all, Diana had badgered him for years. And he had made promises before. They had never lasted though. To morrow was pay day. That would be the acid test. But she did not utter her concerns, and was covered in amazed confusion when he offered to help her with the dishes, to allow the girls to use the better light over the dining room table 'fer tha studying.'
Rita became concerned for his safety, and could not get to sleep that night, in spite of the congenial atmophere in the house. She had always worried about him on pay nights. Drunken mates could get nasty if he suddenly decided to come home on the early bus and withheld most of his usual largesse. Once she had gone to the pub herself, to bring him home, only to find that she could only wait in the Ladies Lounge and was made a laughing-stock. Diana and Julie both felt worried too. Their Dad was not himself - he was happy.
On the following evening, this happy man went to join his mates in the bar as usual, shouted them all, as usual, and then did something strange. He made a speech. In his broken English, he told them about his beautiful and very clever daughters who were at Matric. Their text books and uniforms were expensive, and his wife had been heavily overworked, supporting the household while he was failing to take enough pay home for their livelihood. He hoped his mates would understand. They were godsmacked and momentarily stunned, then one of them agreed, saying,
'That's fair enough, matey. Let's all drink to the success of your beautiful girls. Cheers!'
The tension in the bar diminished. The erstwhile profligate father was greatful for his drinking friends' acceptance of his new direction. He immediately piled more notes on the bar counter and ordered a double round, all round, lifted his schooner and said 'skoal'. Downing his drink, he glanced at his watch and said,
There was a stunned silence in that bar. No one had ever heard the like of that word before. Not from the cyanide bloke, anyway. Then a couple of young fellows, pretty new to the group, stepped forward, and one of them earnestly implored him to,
'Hang around mate. Ya haven't to catch that ol' bus to- night. Just let us finish our drinks, then we'll drive you home in style. We live down the Channel, not far past your place'.
A short time later, the three left to-gether and not even one of the men in that bar smelt a rat.
Back home, in Kingston, Rita, worried when Da did not turn up on the first bus and was frantic when he failed to arrive on the last one. She rang the Pub, learned that he had accepted a lift home, then, in a state of near collapse, she rang the Police. Julie was deeply concerned and Diana, overcome with grief. She blamed herself for any harm that may have befallen him. A pall of deep depression engulfed them and they wept.
They finally received news next morning. He had been found on Sandy Bay Beach, with critical head injuries and smashed limbs, thought to have been inflicted with heavyweight tyre levers and steel capped boots. He was in the Royal Hobart Hospital and was not expected to live. His family was shattered. They all loved him so deeply and were fully aware that they were implicated in his critical condition. They knew they had asked for too much - yet how else could they survive without his cooperation? What would they do without him?
Rita rallied, and rang the hospital. He was still alive, and yes, she would be able to see him, ever so briefly. He was in a deep coma, but 'stable', whatever that meant. She hugged the girls, as the tears streamed down her cheeks.
'They said, 'Yes'', she told them, 'But only I can visit him, for now. The almoner also spoke to me and will contact the Works. She says, we should soon receive his 'entitlements.' I guess that means sick pay.'
Weeks passed. Da's hold on life remained stable and both Julie and Diana were each permitted to sit beside him and hold his hand on alternate days, during their lunch hour. Diana' s depression tortured her. Her deep guilt was affecting her work in class. Back at the hospital, the staff encouraged both girls to speak to him, very gently. They said his condition was slowly improving and that he may even be able to hear them. They were sure that he would 'wake up', some time soon.
The long vigil finally ended. One by one, life support measures were reduced and eventually removed. Their Dad was able to take nourishment by mouth and move his mended limbs. He had a steel plate in his head. He claimed that he was 'tinny', but his brain worked 'just fine'. After many months of rehabilitation, he went home for R and R with his family, before finally receiving his 'all clear' to return to work in two week's time.
With her husband's slow but sure recovery, Rita shook years of toil and worry off her shoulders. The young thugs, who had so viciously attacked and robbed him, were safely behind bars, promptly dobbed in by Da's old mates at the Pub, all of whom were deeply affected by their lack of insight on the night of his abduction. They were now more circumspect in their drinking habits, ensuring that no mans' family went without sober companionship and adequate money to cover their needs. They were also wary of newcomers who joined them at the bar, subtly checking their credentials. These men had been delivered a wake-up call from Da's near demise, all conscious of their own implication over the years and risks to their own families and themselves. They may have been kind, and sorry for this solitary, lonely man, but that had not stopped them 'robbing him blind', pay night after pay night.
Until that last, tragic night, he had not spoken of family or responsibilies. In fact, his English was so poor, they did not really know much about him, except the importance of catching the bus to Kingston. But he had laid the cards on the table, well and truly, before accepting 'the ride home'- a very short ride to near oblivion. From now on, his family would take first place in his life. Somehow, he had found the words to make that clear. He had then added, haltingly, that he was greatful for their friendship over the years and hoped he would always be welcome to shout them a black ale or two, between buses.
On Mount Pleasant, we received regular updates on Smarty's condition from Rita and would expect him to arrive by train in Ulverstone as soon as the Vet and the farrier were satisfied that he was fit to travel.
At the hospital, Mr Kalytis had become a star patient. His slow but steady recovery was considered miraculous. When he was out of danger and finally making definite progress towards going home, he spent many long weeks on a special rehabilitation course. There, his carers made sure that he would be sufficiently fit and well balanced to move over uneven ground and climb up and down stone and wooden steps; a landscape totally incomparable with hospital facilities. To his great delight, his ability to communicate in English had improved remarkably during his long stay, thus enabling him to find friendship everywhere. He went home, a much changed and less haunted man.
Dad could not believe his eyes when he saw their little house, tucked into the steep bank below the road, with its millionaire's view over Kingston Beach, and far beyond. The roof had been stripped and repainted, the dark, rough outside timbers had been freshly oiled and the window frames and sills, which had been in bad repair, were now expertly re- puttied and painted. Inside, the freshly coated, bright and cheerful rooms made him think that the whole place was brand new. After the fires, they had received help from all essential service providers and their re-connections were free, but, having no insurance, the heat and smoke damage to the property was their own concern. By the time of the dreadful mugging, there was barely enough money to pay for supplied essential services and basic necessities, the family's chief breadwinner still squandering most of it at the pub. Their home had remained smoke stained and gloomy - his family too overworked and disheartened to borrow ladders and scrub the inside walls. Then,after the 'entitlements' began to flow, the house was now as good as new and not just one, but two canaries now shared a spacious aviary on the back verandah.
They hugged one another, before sitting down and pulling their chairs to the table. Rita was the happiest woman in the world,
They joined hands around the table, and Dad, who had mastered the English language in Hospital, said Grace, in English, for the first time. The homecoming meal was superb.
Father was doing well, walking miles with Rita or his girls and even tackling jobs around the house and in the garden. He worked the ground, planted vegetable seeds and seedlings and chopped wood for the fuel stove, their standby during winter, both for cooking and for keeping the house comfortably warm. He had never before performed
menial tasks around the house, but now seemed to like talking to his family and being with them, helping them. It was lovely to know that he had always cherished them, but somehow, he had never before been able to say so. I was receiving all this word for word information from Rita or Diana, on a regular basis, by phone at the farm, where Smarty was doing really well, out there in the paddock with all the other horses, galloping to keep warm, Diana's worst fears had come true.
Some weeks later, it was Sale time at the department stores in town. Diana leapt at the opportunity to stay at home with her Dad, to share time alone with him, while her Mum and Julie went off on a late night shopping spree together - a hitherto unknown extravagance. She cooked his favourite meal of grilled lamb chops and steamed, fresh vegetables, most of which he had nurtured himself. It brought tears to his eyes, remembering another time, in a faraway land, where his birth family had grown all their own food, and he had enjoyed brief years of peace and plenty, happily married, with a young family, so long ago.
As the shadows lengthened, and after they had washed the dishes together, father and daughter covered the canarie's aviary, out on the verandah and watched the red and gold refections from the setting sun, dancing on the restless waters of the Derwent estuary. It was a beautiful evening. Diana, though, was still plagued by guilt about her part in the tragedy that had befallen him. She asked if she could talk to him about it, and he said,
'Yes, you can.
His immediate acquiescence to her request left her lost for the right words to finally tell him that she felt wholly responsible for the events that followed, on the very next night, after she had wished him dead and for which she would never forgive herself.
Her Dad rose from his chair and held her hand.
'Diana, my dear daughter, I had to hear those words. You did right, to speak. I will tell you - my story. Let us be seated.'
As the light slowly faded, they sat, hand in hand, and he was searching for words; his grasp of English, although so much improved, was not up to dealing with the depths of despair which engulfed him. Diana gently squeezed his hand. Slowly, one word at a time, he finally painted a picture of his country, powerless to defend itself and overrun by Hitler's forces of evil, where, one evening, as he was returning to his home village, very late from his work in a cyanide works in a nearby town, he smelled smoke, heard gun shot fire and people screaming in the flaming red of holocaust. Appalled, he took cover and waited, to finally realise that every building, including the church, had been razed and a total, unearthly silence now surrounded him. He walked boldly into the ash ruins and seeing absolutely no sign of life, not even a stray cat or a single chicken, he prayed to be felled by a sniper's bullet. Without his loved ones, his own life would mean nothing.
He gripped Diana's hand so tight that she flinched, and overcome by emotion, he could say no more. She did not attempt to force him to explain how he got away from that place; how he must have escaped into some neutral territory; how he finally finished up in Australia. His story said it all. She moved a little closer to him and returned his very firm hand grip. Slowly his paroxysm of grief subsided. Together they stood up and, quietly gazing over the lights of Kingston, saw the well lit bus from town, winding its way down from the Bonnet. Rita and Julie would soon be home.
'I'll put the kettle on, Father. Will you share your story with Mum and Julie?'
'I will, Diana' He was smiling, 'The telling has made me ok now. I thank you, my daughter. I love you all.'
Rita and Julie soon came tumbling through the door, anxious to display the bargains they had purchased. Dad handled the soft fabrics with reverence, aware that they had never before been able to afford such luxuries.
'Your days of hardship, they are gone, finish', he proudly stated.
'Diana, she hear my story. The telling make it ok for me to accept the past. We all drink tea and I tell it again. My big sadness - it is that the telling has taken so long to be told. But never too late. I love you. I am not young man. Even I die, you all be ok'.
And so he told his story again. It was easier this time, with his family all around him, hugging him and wiping his tears.
Spring School Holidays. Diana Visits the Farm.
She travelled by train and we met her at Ulverstone station. Looking animated, now that her Dad was getting better, she was very pleased to see us and unashamedly looking forward to her reunion with Smarty. Although the journey from Hobart had taken nearly all day, she had enjoyed the varying views of the countryside, but was now pleased to be with us and keen to see her famous and remarkable horse who had exceeded the Vet's wildest dreams by his complete recovery. At her request, our farrier had shod him on the property, the week before her arrival, when he had also reshod Peter Pan and Sasha.
On arrival at Mount Pleasant, Chris and Nic took her to their big bedroom to discuss sleeping arrangements in our tiny house. Although Alex's room had two floor level bunk beds and wardrobe space, it was quite cramped by comparison to their own, which had two desk spaces, an adequate wardrobe and room to move. Diana sensibly chose the bottom bunk in Chris and Nic's double room and thanking them, said she 'would live out of her suitcase' then push it under the bed, after she had selected what to wear each day. Her reunion with Smarty kept her out in the paddock with him till they lost the light and she came inside for the evening meal, during which she expressed her amazement 'that galloping to keep warm' had him looking remarkably fit and strong.
Next morning she was up early to 'knock the mud off him', then groom, saddle and ride him around the back of the farm with Alex, checking the stock, thrilled by her horse's ability to handle the steep hillsides and river crossings without falter. With Sep already long gone to his work place, Diana told us about her feelings of remorse regarding her father's terrible ordeal on Sandy Bay Beach, for which she felt responsible. We all simply listened, without comment, judgement or interruption and she was grateful. I then told her that
lambing had commenced, timed to coincide with having the boys at home to erect the marking pens and help with the task of getting the sheep and lambs safely enclosed, then climbing in to the pen to catch and present each properly held lamb on the marking board. It was a noisy and exhausting job for us all but Diana's assistance was not required, exept on the odd occasion when there was no rising ground on the approach to the pen and we knew we would need her help to beat the ground with noisy polypipe to induce the reluctant ewes to lead their lambs inside. Diana rose early each day to accompany one of the lads on early morning stock check. Smarty was surprisingly supple on steep going and carried himself majestically. It was clear that he had been well trained by Diana before the Fire. Galloping all winter to keep warm had benefitted him, but it was her initial groundwork and his will to live that had enabled him to survive the shock and pain of his appaling burns and melted feet
The holidays were enjoyed by us all and Diana returned home in much better spirits, knowing she would be welcome to visit us at any time. If she wanted her Smarty back home, we could put him on the train, knowing he would travel well. She was grateful, hugged us all and said she would wait and see how things were at home and find out if the Sherwood Forest paddocks were still available.
Back to the Works.
On Diana's return home, she found her Dad in high spirits. He had never stopped thanking his family for their patience with him. And he could not believe that those few words spoken about his homeland, his village, his loved ones, his friends and his little children too, all of whom had perished almost before his eyes - the horror of witnessing such groteque brutality had now become bearable because he had finally shared that horror with his second family. After the sharing, he could talk easily to anyone, about almost anything.
He had been out to Risdon for a full medical check and had been passed fit to return to his job in the cyanide section. He still had that forty minutes to wait for his Kingston connecting bus, in town, and not one of his old mates, there, at the pub, immediately recognised his transformation. They thought they had all had 'one too many' at first. But they welcomed him back, accepting this 'new man' philosophically, especially after he told them his story.
He shouted them all two rounds, then looked at his watch and said, 'Cheerio,' hoping that they too, would remember their responsibilities to their own families. The barman frowned briefly, but suddenly realising that he was receiving higher tips, he announced 'three cheers for Dad, the Miracle Man', and the bar resounded in one voice.
Julie and Diana caught the early bus on his first day back at work. They travelled with him to town, saw him on to his Risdon bus, then walked in the Domain until it was time for their classes to commence. Each completed her year with credits and distinctions. Julie left, and secured a good job in Melbourne, to commence early next year. Diana returned to Mount Pleasant, briefly, to be reunited with Smarty, now looking magnificent, as he had shed his thick, mud encrusted winter coat. She then went home for Christmas, to be with Mum and Dad and Julie. They had all become very close.
When Diana arrived home, she found her Mum all worried and upset. On some grapevine from Risdon gaol, Rita had heard that the young blokes who had tried to kill Dad, were to be released on bail, two years after that murderous attack. They had been model prisoners; first offenders, and they had professed deep regret with regard to their crime. Rita's 'information' coincided exactly on the matter of early release, then the regret bit was that they were sorry that 'the rotten refo was still alive and back at work'.
Rita was frantic with worry. She requested an appointment with the Risdon brass and it was granted. There she was assured that what she had heard was just typical big mouthing from behind bars, the young blokes were not being 'let loose' but would be on closely supervised bail, and she had absolutely nothing to worry about - her husband would be perfectly safe. She organised a taxi anyway, on the day of their release, to take him to the pub in town, just to make sure. The taxi driver was there on time but his fare did not appear; he made enquiries and was told that Mr Kalytis had left early; nobody was worried and nobody looked for him. The taxi driver picked up another fare and drove away.
When Father did not arrive home via the early bus, Rita rang the pub. He had not been there. A kind neighbour drove his family out to Risdon. There, they were told that he had probably found a new watering hole and they'd best scour the local pubs, as he had not been on the Risdon bus to town.
'Sounds like he doesn't want to go home', they were told. In despair, their neighbour drove them up and down every dark roadway around the plant, all knowing that it was a hopeless search. They did not bother with the pubs, certain that the new Dad would not be there. He had never once visited any of them, over all the years that he had worked at the plant. His family knew he had been murdered. Back home again, they waited for the phone call. It came at first light. He had been found dead, in one of those back streets, so carefully searched by his neighbour and his family last night. The inquest determined that he had been killed by a single heavy blow to the head. No one was ever arrested or charged with the crime of his murder.
Rita had always feared that this was how her husband's life would end. Tasmania was a parochial place in the late 1950's. The family had come from Victoria to enable their breadwinner to take up a highly specialised and well paid position at the Risdon Works and for which he was already fully trained. Because of his retiring nature and his difficulty with the vernacular, he had few friends. Although he could read and write simple English, he could not understand conversations well, as people gabbled away so fast and used a lot of slang. He had always been able to communicate reasonably at home - or at least until he began to drink so heavily and became morose. After the first assault, his English had greatly improved and he had, once more, become a dedicated family provider.
Now he was dead. Without Dad, Rita was overwhelmed with despair. Julie overcame her deep sorrow in her usual, resigned manner. After two weeks compassionate leave, she returned to work. But Diana had again retreated into a state of dark, and this time, wrathful and un mitigated depression. She steadfastly refused to see a Doctor and blamed herself for all the family's woes, both past and present.
Rita made no attempt to force issues with Diana, who had completed only one Matric year. Instead, she contacted me to see whether we could accommodate her from Friday night to Monday morning at the farm, to be reunited with Smarty, a proposal with which we all agreed. A relieved Rita then arranged her daughter's weekday board and lodging with an old friend in Devonport. Relieved, she contacted the Matric College and booked her near suicidal daughter in there for her second Matric year. She then placed her cards on the table, for Diana's consideration and she eventually accepted the inevitable.
Our boys remembered Diana kindly from her Spring holiday visit and also from Kingston, where she had hung around our stables and at pony club. At that stage she had no horse to ride or care for until shortly after our move, when Pal became the pony club's shared horse, based at Bowenwood and Diana did most of the hard yards, becoming a well balanced rider and horse carer, before she got Smarty for a song. Now her Father had been murdered, his killers had not been arrested and broken-hearted, she was returning to spend weekends and part of her holidays at the farm for her second Matric year.The boys did not really know her well, except for the holiday visit, last year, when she fitted in quietly, in Nic's lower bunk, devoted most of her time to her horse, was helpful and polite within the house and they had all liked her. They had not met her poor Dad or Julie, but remembered Rita, who cleaned house at Kingston, once a fortnight, and helped out when Mum was away. She was always good natured and very competent. They were now aware that Diana would be totally grief stricken, but they would cope and would listen if she wanted to talk.
Sep and I normally met in Devonport on Friday evenings for a meal at the Formby Hotel and Sep did not mind us having a guest, whom he knew, from her earlier, brief visit to the Farm, to be with Smarty, before her Father's death. The living arrangements would be the same for this new and longer visit and Diana would go home for at least part of school holidays to visit her Mum, alone now, in the Kingston cottage, with Julie living and working in Melbourne.
On the evening of her arrival for her second visit, we all found a much changed Diana. Her once pleasant nature was still considerate, but now dour and gloomy, which our family accepted as normal, considering her guilt complex, following the brutal killing of her Father. The boys listened to her story, as often as she chose to relate it. The telling seemed to help her, as they all simply listened and never offered platitudes or advice. They became intrigued by her very beautiful, but hauntingly bleak artwork, perhaps influenced by her intense study of the works of the Russian novelists, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. She studied religeously all year, visited Rita during school holidays and was kind and thoughtful of others at all times.
Towards final Exam time, Diana and Nic took Smarty and Peter Pan to the Sprent Show. There was very little competition so they cleaned up the Hack, Galloway and Show jumping classes between them and rode the five miles back to Mount Pleasant, their horses bedecked with ribbons. We all missed both her and her Smarty when they returned to Kingston at the end of her final exams.
Work pressures on the farm left me with insufficient time to really know whether the year in Devonport and Central Castra had benefitted Diana. The boys were convinced that it had been positive for both her and themselves. They knew no other deep thinkers, but after she went home, I noticed that their reading material changed from light to deadly serious. Our family had profited enormously from Diana's time with us, and I can only hope that she too, found some small reward.
She found a job with Kodak, in Hobart, after her matric results were announced. She did not have to sell Smarty. Her wage and her father's 'entitlements' ensured that both Mother and daughter were now in a secure financial position, and they kept in touch. Diana was painting very conservatively for Kodak - she did all their tinting and colour work in soft shades, so popular at the time. Rita continued to keep us posted, but gradually our communications dwindled, as Julie seldom visited and Diana found a loving partner and satisfying work in Sydney. She sold Smarty to an experienced equestrian and was well compensated for the work she had put into his recovery, suppling and education As my farm and home work loads increased, and after Rita's girls had both left to work interstate, we finally lost track altogether, which was sad.
The Broken Chain.
Then, one day in 1983, I received a phone call from Rita, who was in Victoria. She told me that Diana was still living in Sydney. She was gravely ill and wanted to see me, urgently, because she was dying from cancer, and there were things she wanted to tell me. I arranged for a neighbour to check the stock for me and I flew to Sydney early next morning. A taxi took me to her home, a well maintained, sunny, multi storey terrace house in the suburb of Birchgrove, or thereabouts, Her tall, handsome partner answered my knock on the door, welcomed me and led me up many stairs and landings to reach Diana's bedside, where Julie was caring for her now paralysed, totally helpless, beloved sister. It was clear that Diana was dying, not next week, but very soon, and I was almost brought to my knees in sorrow for this brilliant, beautiful young woman who had worked so hard to establish her foothold in the hall of fame as an artist of renown.
Diana was so weak that she could only whisper her thanks to me for coming to say 'cheerio'. Her smile was not diminished though, despite her skeletal countenance, and she was able to take my hand in hers, holding it resolutely for the hours I spent with her, listening to her story. It was a happy story of artistic success and finding the man of her dreams; planning a family, to live and grow in this lovely old home. But things became complicated and 'pot' intervened. Instead of getting married and having a family, she went to one of the new clinics, set up to ensure that women could control their bodies and avoid unwanted pregnancies. A male doctor inserted a uterine device, approved for this purpose, and it was extremely painful, right from the start. Diana returned to the clinic and the Doctor told her that she was a typical whinger - there was absolutely no problem, except in her mind.
Back home again, her art work in limbo and her heart breaking, she too, found solace in pot, for a little while, until she became so ill, she went to the outpatients clinic at a public hospital. Tests proved that she had advanced uterine cancer - an immediate total hysterectomy and chemo, her only chance of survival. But it was all too late.
'No', she whispered, 'It was not. It was my punishment for what I said to Dad, and it finally lead to his death. I feel at peace, at last. But what I really want you to know is how much I appreciated your care of Smarty and for the brief happiness I found on the Farm during my first visit and final Matric year, with you and your family. Your boys were good to me. They listened to my sadness, over and over and never told me to put a sock in it. In spite of everything, it turned out to be the best school term holiday, followed by the best year of my life and I would like to thank you, your boys, and Mr Paterson too. My love and thanks to you for coming so far to be with me now. Bye, bye.' Her whisper faded away, as Julie came to turn her on to her other side and gently massage her pressure areas, none of which were red or broken, in spite of her emaciated condition. I kissed the back of her neck and embraced Julie too, then descended the long flights of stairs, and not finding her partner around, let myself out into the quiet street. There was a busy one a block away, where I soon found a taxi to take me to the airport, all in good time for my return flight. With a heavy heart, I finally reached Mount Pleasant, glad to be home to relate Diana's parting messages to my family, by phone, because Alex and Chris were both living in Melbourne, flying for Ansett, Nic and his wife Tara, were living near Devonport, both teachers, in spite of Nic's awful handicap and Sep was in Hobart, now true brass with the Hydro and living at Empress Towers.
Next day, the Federal Election of 1983 took place, and Australia had a change of government. Diana survived that day, but Rita rang me on Sunday to tell me that her daughter was finally at peace. We both wept and found very little to say, except that we would keep in touch. That did not happen and I can no longer trace her to ensure that she and Julie could willingly accept my version of their tragic story.
The document, 'The Road to the Farm' is the copyright © of the author, Margot Paterson. All rights reserved by the author.