BUT PENOLA REMEMBERS
Her Majesty The Queen presented the Very Reverend Dr Wesley Carr,
Dean of Westminster, with the award of Knight Commander of the
Royal Victorian Order at his farewell audience at Buckingham Palace
on Wednesday 8th February 2006
Dr Carr said afterwards: “It is the culmination of many privileges
which I have had as Dean of Westminster especially serving Her Majesty
The Queen and the Royal Family. This acknowledges the very hard work
put in by members of the Abbey staff which I greatly appreciate –
a magnificent team to lead.”
GORDON IN PENOLA
Penola, (a township that in its early years was larger than Mount Gambier) is close to the Victorian border that served half-a-dozen large, prosperous sheep stations. The police station here was simple, being an ordinary settler’s hut of rough stone. Much of Gordon’s time was spent in riding around the neighbourhood on official errands. With his vivid imagination he could fancy himself “a mosstrooper of the olden time”–, and indeed many a tale is told of the adventures he had at this time.
Long trip back to Adelaide were undertaken escorting prisoners, putting himself in danger with sunstroke and changing his horse for that of his prisoner forgetting the gun still in the saddle,
Arresting Tommy Hales as a young 12 year-old for throwing stones and gave him his first lessons on horse riding. Tommy went on to be a champion jockey.
Penola was a typical colonial town and much of his police work was arresting drunks.
The Mount Gambier district is still full of gossip about these trooper years of Gordon’s. The stories they tell you, and they may or may not be authentic; all official records have long ago been destroyed or lost, and the oldest inhabitant is not a notoriously trustworthy witness- show Gordon as a chivalrous, high-spirited, and rather irresponsible young man. There was no lawbreaker so fierce that Gordon would not tackle him, no fence so high that he would not put his horse at it, no girl so plain that he would not rally to her defence were the slightest affront offered, no little boy with a liking for horses whom he would not befriend. You will come across many such “reminiscences” of Gordon.
An amusing story is told of how Gordon first met WilliamTrainor, who became a devoted admirer.(They are buried next to each other at Brighton Vic Cemetery.) The coming of the circus to a small bush town is always a great event. On one occasion Gordon and the sergeant of police were on patrol duty outside the circus, and during the performance a drunken man made a noisy entrance. The sergeant at once took him in charge, and Gordon dragged him off to the lockup, in spite of loud protests that he was only ”acting the part.” At the lock-up Trainor cast aside his outer garments, showing the blue-spangled tights of a clown, cast for the inevitable “drunk.” Trainor, telling the story much later, used to recall how Gordon’s hearty laugh rang out- “the most musical laughter I ever heard.”
This much is certain: that after a couple of years of his life, the novelty wore off. Gordon came to find his duties monotonous and the discipline irksome. The pay of the force was small- £136 a year- and there was little that it offered to an ambitious man.
CLICK TO SEE GORDON’S LETTERS TO HIS BOYHOOD FRIEND CHARLEY WALKER (Compiled by Douglas Sladen)
There is an interesting little official correspondence still kept in the archives department in Adelaide, which gives Gordon a good character as a policeman. The authorities in Adelaide enquired “why so steady and efficient a trooper should be dissatisfied and wish to leave this honourable employment,” To which Police-Inspector Scott, of Mount Gambier, replied. I am not aware that he was dissatisfied with the police force, but I imagine he thinks it more lucrative to be a drover. I am sorry to lose him, as he has he has conducted himself remarkably well while stationed here.”
Gordon’s first thoughts after leaving the force were to return to England. He wrote cheerfully to Charley Walker to expect him quite soon. He was not a good correspondent, and had only barely kept in touch with his family. It was two full years now that he had been away, and the improvement in his health and morale was great. “I am in better health than I ever remember being,” he wrote home, “and much stronger that I was. The active and sober life a man leads in this bracing climate will soon take away all the bad effects of early dissipation and irregular life. I am getting stout and healthy and as sunburnt as a mulatto.” (Racist term for a first generation from black and white parents-Ed). He had then just passed his 21st birthday.
On the other hand, he had not yet made any money- beyond his immediate needs, he never felt any desire for that commodity- nor had he had a particularly distinguished occupation.
THE CRIMEAN WAR
While Gordon was patrolling the South Australian bush, the guns were booming in Europe. In 1854 English and French troops landed in the Crimea, and commenced the disastrous siege of Sebastopol. War news filtered slowly through to the Antipodes. Gordon read them with breathless interest and admiration; the splendid recklessness of the Charge of the Light Brigade appealed especially to him. One of his acquaintances of the Cotswold days rode in the Charge- rode ahead of the others, indeed, and was the first to fall in the heroic blunder. Gordon’s imagination was fired; he would have asked nothing better than to have shared Captain Nolan’s fate:-
“God send me an ending as fair as his
Who died in his stirrups there!’
These gallant horses and riders made a great impression on the poet’s mind; they reappear several times in the verses. Years late he wrote with wholehearted admiration:-
I remember the laugh that all the while
On his quiet features played
So he rode to his death, with that careless smile,
In the van of the Light Brigade.
HORSES, HORSES AND HORSES
MR. CHARLES MULLALEY COAXES GORDON FROM POLICE LIFE
Mr Charles Mullaley tells this story which has varied slightly over time in his telling but the main theme remains the same.
Gordon, a mounted police trooper, and I got chatting and he told me a bit of his pedigree. I said, “Can you ride?”
He said ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Send in your resignation and I’ll get you some horses to break.’ I was contract breaking then. Gordon said he would, and he was with me in 1856.
We broke in 140 horses, a good many for John Robertson, of Mosquito Plains (just West of Naracoorte S.A.). I used to get £2/10/, and I’d give Gordon £2 a head. I used to tell him when he got a real outlaw not to knock himself about, but he was a very fair breaker. He’d take any fence, and nothing would stop him. He was a fearless rider. Off and on we were together for five years.’
This article reveals Gordon’s knowledge of the horse, which was gained through his unique relationship with that animal
over some 20 years of his short life, which ended less than 12 months later. The writings of a genius. I would imagine that, in writing this article, Gordon would have done no research and that the article would have been written in one sitting off the top of his head.
Here is an article which had appeared a few days before by an English Major, Roger D Upton which must have appeared as a challenge to Gordon who was motivated by challenges right through his life.
Reproducing a biography by Eileen Kaye first published in The Australasian Newspaper in serial form in 1933.
This series of articles was recovered from The Australasian newspaper by Travis M. Sellers.
Edited by John W. Adams, with permission kindly given by The State Library of Victoria.
His small capital gone, he took to horse-breaking as a profession. The stations in those days bred their own colts, usually from good imported stock. After running wild for the first few years, these colts required to be broken in for domestic use, or for selling. It was a job that called for much skill, strength and patience. The big runs were spread far apart among the hills, in the strange desert country of South Australia, and the horse-breaker would go from one to another, wherever there was work to do. Squatters in those days kept open house, welcoming all who came. But a horse-breaker, often enough a rough fellow, was not considered a social equal, and would quite likely be sent to the stockman’s quarters. Gordon did not relish living with the hands and preferred on such stations to camp alone a few miles away. He was very reserved, but in those days the colonies were full enough of men who did not care to talk about themselves. His companions probably credited him with more substantial reasons than he actually had for his reticence.
He had, however, some good friends among the wealthy station-holders. Mr. Edward Stockdale, of Lake Hawdon Station, near Guichen Bay (Robe), was a great racehorse owner and always befriended Gordon, and made him welcome. His young nephew, Harry, was an ardent admirer. The Robertsons of Struan, the Watsons of Kilbride, the Hayes of Mount Monster, the Camerons of Penola, and Livingstons of Curramut all realised that their horse-breaker was not as other horse-breakers. The Riddochs, a sturdy Scottish family that had lately settled at the fine property they named “Yallum Park,” near Penola, took an interest in the serious young man. At Collemberra lived the Brights, a cheerful family whom Gordon liked, because Bright had been a drill-sergeant in England and knew the family at Worcester. The young Brights, Johnnie and Edward and Elizabeth, were great admirers of Gordon’s prowess both with ordinary steeds and with Pegasus.
He acquired a new accomplishment during these years –the art of riding buckjumpers. This peculiar and very arduous and difficult sport was a popular one among the centaur-like bushmen, and necessary for the men who broke in the wild bush colts. Gordon came to excel at it, and many tales are told of his ability as a rider of impossible steeds. The wildest buck-jumper could not unseat him.
One day he was standing by while one of the men made elaborate preparations to mount a notorious bucker. Getting impatient as the animal kicked off successive saddles and bridles, Gordon jumped up bare-backed and raced off like a whirlwind. On another celebrated occasion he rode over to Port MacDonnell leading a mare he had bought, a noted outlaw that few attempted to ride, although he often took her to race meetings. Talk in the hotel turned on this animal and her bucking abilities. Gordon offered to wager a bottle of whisky –the favourite stake –that no one could ride her for three bucks. One of the company, Mullaley, a well-known horseman in the district, took up the challenge. “I’ll ride her,” he cried, “unless she slips her skin.” The mare was saddled, and up Mullaley got. He stayed for two terrific bucks; at the third she swerved in the air and he was thrown. The mare bolted across the swamp. Gordon raced after her, and soon brought her back. In the bar he found the whisky and glasses waiting. He asked for a cigar (whiskey he never touched), and, after the mare had enjoyed a good rest, remarked, “I suppose you would like to see me ride her.” “Yes, if you can,” Mullaley agreed. The mare was brought round, Gordon mounted, and she began her usual performance. With perfect calm he looped the reins loosely over one arm, and while the animal was still bucking furiously, took out the cigar and lit it with a wax match. He rode the outlaw till she eased up after a quarter of an hour, then, as he dismounted, said, “That’s what I call riding a buckjumper.” Some time later, when he was preparing to start for Coleraine with some racehorses, he took this mare to carry the oats. While his back was turned she began to buck the load off, and, falling over a fence, broke her keck. Gordon surveyed the fate of his fierce steed with a lively regret –“Many a bit of fun I’ve had with that mare.”
Another occupation that he thoroughly enjoyed was mustering cattle on the huge, unfenced runs in the ranges. He was never a stock rider by profession, but like all the able-bodied men within call he would lend a hand when asked. His poor sight, however, prevented him from excelling at the job. The big musters were jolly times; stockmen from neighbouring stations would come over to help round up the cattle, and incidentally to see if any animals bearing their mark had wondered on to the run. The day’s work began before daybreak, and by sunset the sturdy, panting cattle would all be safely yarded, after an exciting and strenuous day for both man and beast. Gordon appreciated the vigorous freshness of those long days in the saddle.
‘Twas merry ‘mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs;
Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard!