Saturday, December 4, 2010
Gold, Topsy and the second ten shilling note [Final Part]
You may remember our foursome that won the event at the gymkhana in Gladstone, and my first ten shilling note. It would have been wonderful if we could have used this exact foursome to take on the big boys in the Open Relay Race at the Rodeo, but that could not be.
I have to narrate a truly tragic episode in the history of our township. Our team then was Wendy Mossman, Sue Moran, Bimbo Brown and I. Wendy had shoulder length crinkly natural blond hair and was a lovely child in every way.
One day Wendy was out riding on her parents’ property. I don’t know the exact details, but her horse galloped home riderless after some time, with broken reins and in a heavy sweat. Her parents’ worst fears were realised when they went out looking for her, and discovered her on the ground a mile or two from home, in a deep coma from a head wound after being thrown from the horse. She never woke from the coma and died in hospital after a brief time.
There is nothing so sad in a small close community than the loss of one of its children and it was a long time before it was put in the past.
But it was. Children get over these things quickest, which is a mercy. They get on with living and being themselves because that’s what children do, and what they should do, and leave the adults to cope with their grief in their own way.
To be truthful, I am more sad about it now than I was even at the time, but that’s because I now have a parent’s perspective on it and I cannot bear to think about it from that point of view.
That was half a century ago. Time makes no difference in these matters, especially to those living who are touched by it, or bound to it. I could have left it out of my story but how could I not be reminded of Wendy, our fourth rider of the team?
Still, we must move on.
On the day of the Rodeo, Bimbo, Sue and I thought about the Open relay but we didn’t have a fourth for the team. Call it chance or call it fate, but a boy about 17 years old was hanging around where we had tethered our ponies, each on a long lead so they could feed on the fresh pick in the open paddock above the Rodeo ring. Both Sue Moran and Bimbo knew him vaguely through horse racing. I didn’t. His name was Mervyn Bradford and he had a wide brimmed hat on and wore jodhpurs like the three of us did.
‘Braddy,’ said Sue, ‘You want to come in with us for the Open Relay?’
He looked us over doubtfully, with good reason. He was a couple of years older than the eldest of the three of us and he knew we only had ponies, and we would be up against some of the fastest horses in town. This relay was a new event on the Rodeo programme. There was a fair chance he could end up a laughing stock if he threw in his lot with us and we ended up a long last, but the fact was, no-one else had asked him, as far as I could see.
‘All right. I don’t have any money on me to pay to enter the race, though.’
‘I’ve got some,’ said Bimbo, which was always the case. ‘You can pay me back out of the winnings.’
We all grinned about that, as we didn’t really think that was likely to happen – but we were going to give it a go anyway.
So, off we went to the control booth.
‘We want to enter in the Relay,’ said Bimbo, coins jingling in his hand.
‘It’s free,’ Don Cameron said.
‘The kids’ one is free,’ Bimbo said. ‘But we don’t want to go in that one. The prize is only half a crown each. We want the two quid one. Ten bob for each winner.’
Half a crown was two shillings and sixpence. Don was highly amused.
‘How old’s your oldest rider?’
I’m 17,’ said Braddie.
‘Ah, that makes a difference. Well, you’re too old to go in the kids one anyway, and there’s a stack of them entered. Tell you what. You want to go in the big one? We only have three entries so far in the Open, because no-one’s too keen to ride against Bob Steggall’s team. I’ll enter you – for free. Stick your money back in your pocket.’
‘If we win, do we still get the full prize?’ Sue liked these details nailed down.
‘Of course! You better get yourselves ready. It’s on straight after the kids one and they won’t be long getting started.’
Back we went to get our ponies. Braddie ambled off.
NUTS??? Sue Moran collapsed to the ground in peals of mirth. ‘Your horse? Why do you call it that?’
‘It’s coz he hasn’t got any,’ grinned Braddie. ‘No, I’m joking. I just call him that. Well, he IS a gelding, but his real name is Wingnut.’
Wingnut? Are you kidding us? Your horse is called Wingnut?
Sue fell about laughing again. She was a knowing sort of girl, but then, she was Joyce Moran’s daughter after all, who Bimbo’s Dad had surprised that early morning in the thunderbox while changing the dunny can. Joyce had also seen Kenny Wise one day sitting on the steps of Mylne’s store, going commando in his little blue shorts, and had snapped his legs together like a pair of scissors, and said loudly so everyone in the store could hear, ‘Keep your legs together, Wisecrack – I can see your tonsils!’ But I digress.
There were temporary stables there for the serious horses, the ones for the campdraft and where, I suspect, the fiction had been maintained that the holding pen for the brumbies was supposed to be. We hadn’t even seen Braddie’s horse. For all we knew it could have been a broken down old nag. This wasn’t Man from Snowy River scenario stuff. Braddie didn’t really look like anyone who should be playing that part; Tom Burlinson, for example. Not like him.
When Braddie trotted his horse up to us, it turned out that he was on the most beautiful chestnut quarter horse I ever saw. Wingnut was magnificent. Just one look at the gelding and you could tell he had a great temperament for a competition such as this, holding his head high and ears pricked; and Bradford rode like the stockman he was – so we knew we had our fourth horse and rider.
We had a secret, see. At Pony Club, one of the things we would do nearly every week, just for a game at the end of the day, was to run relay races between the fours. All our ponies were quite used to another horse charging up towards them head on, and we could easily pass on the small flag that acted as a relay baton without frightening the receiving horse one little bit. It just stood there calmly ready to fly while the galloping horse flashed past within an inch or two of it from the opposite direction.
Topsy liked it. Her ears were always forward as a pony charged toward her. Any horse not going her way was fine, and they surely didn’t scare her. Not much did, as you may recall when she wanted to take on Juno, the half draught horse twice her size, the day they first met.
So, it was agreed. Sue would be the first, I would be first change at the other end of the 400 metre relay straight, Bimbo down the starting end would take over from me at third, and Braddie, on the biggest, strongest horse of the four would see us home.
You’ve done the maths so you know if there’s a two quid prize to share between four and I brought home ten bob, we must have won; but I’ll tell you how it went, as it was a perfectly executed triumph – though I have to say luck was also on our side. The other three teams were practically all racehorses, and though their speed on the turf may have been impressive, their relay skills let them down very badly. Racehorses tend to be highly strung. They’re used to all going in the same direction, not charging head-on at each other. They don’t like it as a rule.
When we started, which was signalled by a blast on the horn from Pud Small’s new Zephyr 6, Team 1’s first horse, about 5 metres away from the car, was so freaked out that it bolted at right angles to the track, to the high amusement of the crowd. That really put them out of contention from the start. The rider took ages to get it going in the general direction the rest of us were headed. The other two teams led Sue by a good 50 metres by the time they got to the change.
Sadly for them, there was no allowance made for the nervous temperament of either second horse, which refused to let the baton carrier within cooee of it, and they had to resort to chasing each other all over the place to effect the change. Bob Steggall was crimson with rage, watching this helplessly from close by as the final racer for his team.
Consequently, I had a lead of some 70 metres from any of the three of them when I started, as this was just Sunday afternoon routine for our ponies. Two of them caught me well and truly by the time I handed over to Bimbo, but there was nothing to upset our ponies at all. He took off with a great flourish, digging in his heels as if he were in the Melbourne Cup. The melee continued for the racehorses each time they wanted to pass the baton. The second of the teams found that their third rider had to dismount to retrieve their flag. He let go of the reins to pick it up and his horse took off without him, doing a great job of catching Bimbo except for the fact that it had no rider. More hooting from the crowd. The race surely had their attention.
Steggall’s team was well in the lead from Bimbo’s pony by the time it reached the last change, but once again the passing of the flag to Steggall himself was their undoing. His horse was rearing and plunging as the third horse approached, and there was no way they could change the baton. After circling each other several times about six metres apart, the riders were at one stage were fairly close together, and the flag bearer in desperation tossed it to him.
It was a fatal error. Steggall had to dismount to pick it up. Bimbo had long before passed our baton seamlessly on to Mervyn Bradford. He stuck the flag down his shirt to have both hands free, and took off on the chestnut for the finish line, while Steggall was still picking up their flag from the ground.
The quarterhorse was a lot heftier than the racehorse but it was no slouch and didn’t mind stretching out. With no flag in his hands, Braddie let him have his head and booted him hard in the ribs. Steggall had their flag in his hand and it made it more difficult to control the flighty racehorse once he mounted again.
So Braddie, his broad mustering hat jammed firmly on his head, had a good start, and I have this very clear image even now from front on, as I was, of his chestnut’s front legs both stretched out fully in front of him, dirt flying up high behind him, nostrils flared, coming straight as a die for the finish. Steggall in his jockey’s skullcap was gaining on him fast but there was no way he was going to catch him. We won and we won well. We got the best ovation ever.
Don Cameron was watching the whole thing of course, as was the big crowd who’d hoped to see the brumbies in action. They loved it. He had four ten shilling notes waiting for us as we came up to collect. ‘What are your horses’ names?’ he asked. We told him.
I didn’t know why he’d asked until the Gladstone Observer came out the following week. Our triumph had been reported in the Rodeo results.
The only thing that took the shine off it for me was that Don Cameron must have misheard the horses’ names or got Topsy mixed up with Bimbo Brown, because they gave her name as ‘Brownie’.
Topsy would have hated that if she’d seen the paper. I sure did. Who would have called a little brown pony ‘Brownie’, for God’s sake? The win was great, but the unimaginative name - BROWNIE!!! That was almost unforgivable.
Still, the ten shilling note eased the indignity and no-one cared a hoot except me. And I soon got over it. And there, as you see again, is the second ten shilling note. Handsome, isn’t it? They just don’t make them like that any more….