Traipsing to Temora Part 2

Half an hour after leaving Boorowa (see yesterday’s post), we pulled up in front of the Harden Murrumburrah Visitor Information Centre.

Without researching, I don’t know how Murrumburah (pop. about 100) is twinned with Harden (pop. about 2000). I have a feeling it had something to do with when the railway came to town in 1877 as Harden has a glamorous 1881 railway station still in use. So I’m guessing Murrumburah was established first and got overwhelmed. Anyway, as you drive in from the east the highway becomes Albury Street and somewhere along that stretch one part is Murrumburah and the other is Harden.

That went over our heads until we were warmly greeted by three male volunteers at the Visitor Centre (I think one had just dropped in for a chat – he left shortly after our arrival). Before long I had brochures on the Harden walking trail and a ten-page pamphlet on a brief history of the district, which gives a great insight into the ups and downs of agricultural and town development since the first squatter turned up around 1830 (displacing Aboriginal tribes in the process). The chap providing all this information had originally come to Harden as the postmaster and had sold his business some years before when he retired. (Australian post offices are in dire straits, with bits and pieces of the puzzle being contracted out to private operators).

“Have you come to see Bill the Bastard?” the other volunteer asked me. I was mystified, although I hope my expression didn’t show it. Next thing, I’m grasping another pamphlet at the same time as trying to take in what I was being told.

It was getting late for lunch, and not much was open, so were sent to a cafe down the street with some cryptic instructions about Irish beer. Turns out the premises were very Irish oriented, and the owner had been born and raised in the Emerald Isle. He had the gift of the gab the Irish are known for. Entertaining, but nothing to do with Bill the Bastard, apart from we would see him in the park next door.

Off we trotted to the park, to discover that it is a memorial to the Australian Light Horse regiment, which had its origin in Harden-Murrumburrah. To make sense of this history you need to understand that until Federation in 1901 Australia was a bunch of separate colonies of Britain. So, when on 28 August 1897, 34 men from the district formed the 1st Australian (Volunteer) Horse that was a New South Wales contingent. Prominent in that development was J. A. Kenneth Mackay. There is a large bronze statue of him in the park, and also one the original volunteers, Trooper Bradford, both the work of local Murrumburah man Carl Valerius.

I’m going to digress here. Trooper Bradford served in the Boer War. So did Harry “Breaker” Morant, an Englishman who was part of a Queensland contingent. Morant was executed by firing squad by the British for what amounts to war crimes. Much has been written about Morant, and his story was made into a film by Bruce Beresford in 1980. Wikipedia has this extensive entry if you have the patience to read it. He is a romantic folk hero, but his story is controversial. My personal opinion is that he was guilty as charged (killing Boer POWs and civilians), but that his court martial was not conducted legally or fairly. Anyway, his final words are reputed to be: “Shoot straight you bastards.”

So – What do you think of the stance of Trooper Bradford in this statue? Can you imagine Morant squaring his shoulders in just this manner, and thinking “Bring it on, chaps. Go on, I dare you.”

Corporal William Bradford of the 1st Australian Horse, Harden NSW

It was in this park that we first encountered Bill the Bastard, in the form of a small statue. Have you worked it out yet?

Bill the Bastard was a horse.

There is a much larger statue of him across the road (also the work of Carl Valerius) and this is the one in the below photographs.

I was just about to stop there, thinking to go on further would become a ramble, but fellow blogger Lavinia Ross just sent an encouraging message, and so, without further ado, I will tell you Bill’s story. At least, I’ll tell you a very abbreviated version. There is heaps on the internet if you wish to look even further, or you can read Bill the Bastard: The Story Of Australia’s Greatest War Horse by Roland Perry. First up, let me introduce you to him:

Bill was a breed of horse known as a Waler who was “enlisted” in WW1. I have often written about the Walers of the Australian Light Horse mounted troops in the First World War. For example: here and here. Bill was one of the 130,000 shipped out, and he earnt his nickname very early in the piece, as he gave no end of trouble to get into a stall on the ship. He very nearly was left in Australia on account of it.

But Bill had not been fully broken-in and was virtually unrideable. And he was massive, 17.1 hands high and approximately 730kg (about 1600lbs). Anyone attempting to mount him was thrown very quickly. In fact, it became a betting sport to put inexperienced city-types on his back.

The Australians were sent first to the Middle-East where they were further trained for combat. The person who became in charge of the remount division was none other than our famous bush poet ‘Banjo” Paterson. (I make passing reference to this time and him in my unpublished manuscript Finding Florence & Lucy.) Overseas readers may recognise Banjo through the poem The Man from Snowy River, which in turn, also inspired a film of the same name.

Because of his fractious nature, Bill was destined to become a packhorse, and was sent to Gallipoli, where he served with distinction under fire. “He used to take ammo, food and water up and bring the dead and wounded back down, gently, he never bucked anyone off,” one record states. One of his most notable events was carrying the body of the war hero and stretcher bearer John Simpson from the battlefield after his death on May 19, 1915. When I went to school, Simpson and his Donkey was drummed into us, but you can see that Simpson’s time of rescuing injured soldiers was a brief three weeks, before he too became a victim in the hills of Turkey.

Bill was shot in the rump and repatriated to the Middle East. Meantime, he caught the attention of Major Michael Shanahan who won Bill over with kindness and licorice allsorts (!) Horse-whisperer Shanahan became the only person who could ride Bill, and he negotiated with Paterson to take him into battle in the Middle East.

So! There’s lots more about Bill, but the point of the statue is that is recreates what happened when Bill was in the Battle of Romani in 1916. In simple terms, this was part of the Sinai-Palestinian campaign defending the British hold over the Suez Canal. After having their own mounts shot from under them, four troopers were under heavy fire and certain death by Turkish opposition, when Shanahan steered Bill to their rescue and the valiant horse carried all five to safety, all the time under fire.

In a later incident, Bill, sensing his rider, Shanahan, had lost consciousness, carried him three kilometres back to medical aid. Shanahan lost a leg from this shot wound and never rode Bill again, who returned to being a packhorse.

Only one horse was ever repatriated to Australia, and for many, their life after the war was misery. Bill the Bastard returned to Gallipoli and when his role there was done, was retired to kindly owners in the village of Suvla. At least, that is the official history, and I choose to believe it, as improbable and romantic as it is.


Switching back to the here and now, decorating silos has become popular in Australia, and Harden offers an example. It was on fenced private property so I couldn’t get a close enough angle, but I think you can glimpse this behind the trees.


And for those who have been enjoying the much earlier series on our road trip along the Murray River, and have not yet found the following stories on their own, here is a link to the instalment, about what happened when we reached Echuca. Three rivers border Echuca. As well as the Murray, there is also the Campaspe and the Goulburn, leaving this town vulnerable to flooding. The same extreme flooding that prevented our cruise on a South Australian section of the Murray River also hit Echuca badly. A hastily built levee to protect the majority of the town, had the by-product of exacerbating flooding for those on the wrong side of the levee. It is hard to imagine that the Steampacket Inn escaped. In any case, it had been put up for auction in 2021, so I doubt it is operating as a B&B at the moment.

26 thoughts on “Traipsing to Temora Part 2

  1. Ahh you do like to tease, but wry smiles apart that is a mighty fine sculpture of Bill the Bastard. And, I am fascinated to learn that Carl Valerius started his career as a stonemason and not through a more formal art/sculpture route. He’s an immensely talented sculptor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic post, Gwen! I can’t help but admire the ANZAC uniforms during the two world wars (such as the one worn by Bradford), especially the slouch hat.

    I still see variations of that hat in modern times, such as the ones worn by the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore and the Mounties over in Canada (albeit the hats for both are straight on both sides instead of one side being rolled up).

    Liked by 1 person

    • The slouch hat is so distinctive, isn’t it? I think the purpose of pinning it up was to allow free range for rifle-firing, certainly to avoid catching their rifle on the brim when on parade. The Rising Sun badge is used to hold it in place. In the Light Horse regiments of WW1, they decorated theirs with a plume of emu feathers. It’s made of felt, which was plentiful on account of all the rabbits.
      But I think it is not completely an Australian innovation, so recognising it in the Ghurka Contingent would stand up. It may have originated in Myanmar (then Burma).
      By the way, Trooper Bradford would not have recognised the term ANZAC. That only came into use after the Gallipoli campaign in WW1, when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps fought side-by-side.
      Phew! Didn’t mean to get so long-winded. Obviously a passion of mine 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I found myself getting a bit confused before the reveal, but it has been a long day here, and not quite over yet. 🙂 A clue might have been, had I picked up on it, the fact that park is a memorial to the Australian Light Horse regiment. That book “Bill the Bastard: The Story Of Australia’s Greatest War Horse” by Roland Perry sounds like a good one.

        I know GP at Pacific Paratrooper will like this post, too.

        Liked by 1 person

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