“A boy his horse and his dog”
I ran into and old mate when I was in Victoria recently. He had just come back from his home town of Towong up on the Murray River a little town nestled in the cradle of the Snowy Mountains, where you can still find Murray Trout and Murray Cray’s.
As long as I have known him he was always known as” old Tommy”.
He has done most things he grew up in the high country he was in the war, he trained race horses he won races all over the country and even won at Flemington. He was as hard and tough as a red gum strainer post. He took no crap from any man he could hold his own with the best of them, and in a fight he would throw them long and straight his reputation had followed him all his life.
He told me, how he was adopted from the home in Melbourne as a young boy and taken up to the high country, his adopted family were church going people from the land and they wanted to give a kid a chance, they picked me because I was a big strong lad he told me.
Years later when, the Aboriginal link up services began one day he got a letter in the mail from a brother who had tracked him down through the home. It was only in the 1980’ that he found that he had extended Aboriginal family of 2 brothers and a sister.
He said to me years before, I always knew he said; there is something in you, that connects you with country. I never got lost when I was a boy in the high country; I was never frightened when the dogs would howl at night on those cold nights. I always had a sense that something or someone was always watching over me.
When we were in the home they told us all that we were orphans, there were other kids like me there white kids and black kids we all bonded as boys, that’s all we had. When they came and took me up to the high country, life for me changed forever, I learned to ride and muster and sheer sheep, and shoe horses.
They were good to me on the farm; I joined the army and loved it. They taught me about life there. I loved the marching loved the friendship. It was sad when I left the army but something else was calling me. I went sheering for years saved my money and bought a little place and raised our boys, and got into horse training.
The fact that I am Aboriginal and my boys are Aboriginal and they all have kids, has made no difference to how we are today, I guess that is assimilation, he said I have listened to you talk about that and now I understand what you are saying, but there is no way back for me and my family mate, except to take the cards dealt, take life as it has been handed to us and build for our grand kids.
I recalled how he took a couple of horses up for the carnival at Towong, it’s the dream of any trainer to win the cup from your home town and Tommy had the horse to do it.
We sat up at night and old Tommy yarned away about his early life as an adopted lad and worked for good people who took good care of him during times when kids were used as farm help. We looked across towards Kosciuszko and he pointed out a saddle in the mountains and said.
I used to have to go up there and muster the cattle down over that saddle down to the yards here when I was a boy. There was a bit of the man from Snowy River in him as he spoke like Clancy of his deeds as a young man on the overflow. There was no talk of wild rides just old Tommy reminiscing, about his life as a boy in the saddle with his horse his swag and his dog. I used to bring them down in small mobs of 20 or so and then go back again. It was easy he said, just point them towards home and they would find their own way.
The big day came, and Tommy’s horse in the cup was favourite it had won in town so the form was good and the horse dually greeted the judge first by about 6 lengths, his good mare also won the bracelet race that day. It had been the day of dreams for Tommy and he was so happy that he could go back home and win his home town cup.
When I saw him this time a tear came to my eye because this man who stood 6’ 4’’ was a shadow of his former self he stooped and limped toward me his back done in by years of sheering and an accident breaking in a young horse. With outstretched hand he looked up from under his hat and said to me, hello old mate “someone told me you were dead”.
I said you look well yourself old mate, you have been in a good paddock yeah he said I am 92 this year. I just got back from the old place had to go home one more time and see “god’s country he said again and again.
That country is sacred to me, many a day and night I was guided by the Crow, the Eagle, and the old Bat. Never got lost, he said never got lost.
Let’s have a beer for old times’ sake old mate, I think I can still knock a couple of pots back. Old mate may also tip me a winner.