When I was young, Tower Hill race meeting was held at ‘Beryl’, the home of the Crombie’s, once a year. We always looked forward to it. It was patronised by people from near and far who brought their own grass fed horses and rode their entries themselves. Accommodation was provided in the shearers’ quarters and dances were held each night in the spruced up woolshed, usually to the music of a pretty ghastly band. A contractor was hired to provide food and cook it. This was hazardous because it was before the days of refrigerators and food poisoning in various degrees was common. But neither it, nor the cold showers, nor pit toilets seemed to dampen our enthusiasm.
We took our own mattresses and blankets in the hope that we could get a little sleep at night and we women always had a new outfit for day, and at least one new evening dress for the nights, while we hoped that the men would dress suitably for the evening dance in conventional evening dress – black and white and black tie, but it didn’t matter if they couldn’t. There were no hard and fast rules.
We used to send our horses to Beryl a couple of days beforehand by various means and they would be put in a handy paddock and given a chance to settle down, become used to each other, and stop fighting and rushing around excitedly all night. This worked well until Maurice came into the picture one year.
He was “short of a bob or two” so he offered to take (drove) the horses from our locality to Beryl for us for a small remuneration. He was to pick them up a week beforehand and drive them quietly to Beryl in a day and a night without stopping and thus allow them to settle in early. This seemed to be very acceptable to us and our neighbours. He wouldn’t be handling more than 20, all hacks, so there shouldn’t be much trouble that he couldn’t handle, and of course every owner would see them safely through their own property. The locals cheerfully handed over their horses and expected to see them at Beryl the next week. Horses not required were shifted out of his path and someone helped him through each property in turn.
Maurice was a rather romantic, dreamy looking young man and it so happened that at the moment he was hopelessly smitten by Patsy, a blue-eyed blonde from nearby. He got the horses without incident to the Lerida boundary that first evening, put the horses through the gate into a corner and settled down for a smoke and something to eat – without closing the gate. It is just so happened that an acquaintance of his came along in truck and they had a talk together. In the course of this talk it was revealed that Patsy had gone down with severe flu, developed bronchitis, and would be unable to attend Tower Hill at the end of the week. If we are to believe the acquaintance Maurice turn pale and looked sick. He stood up and groped his way to his horse saying “Patsy, Patsy darling, if anything happens to you I’ll die with you!”.
He immediately turned tail an made off for Patsy’s house. He did not shut the gate nor any other gate in his path. The horses, left unsupervised, were delighted and moved at ever increasing speed through the gate towards HOME, tails up in the air, kicking up their heels and bucking with joy at their freedom. The ones that lived over Patsy’s way were okay because they found gates open all the way home. Some went 30 miles home that night. Others could only get part of the way home – up to the first fence where they were heard by the Lerida residents whinnying and galloping up and down the fence all night.
With daylight, the news broke and the party lines and exchange hummed with profanity of annoyed owners because their horses had arrived home dead beat or because they didn’t know where to find them. Of course in Patsy’s direction sheep became boxed too. Maurice must have been in danger of his life but he was safely cosseted in Patsy’s home, holding her hand and being a great nuisance to Patsy’s mother. However he was happy and cared for nothing else. His father, in disgust, later sold the property and took Morris home and put him into another business, which was just as well because I don’t think he was cut out for the country. Also I’m sad to say his romance did not last because Patsy eventually married a big sheep owner from South Australia with pots of money. However as far as Tower Hill went, the bushmen were good sports. They philosophically searched up their horses and took them off to Beryl so that we could have a competitive meeting. Few of them won; they were too tired. Horses from other districts took out all the prizes that year but a good time was had by all. Any sheep that had been boxed up by the open gates could be sorted out later and no worry was allowed to dampen our spirits.