Everyone loves a parade
The Golden Horseshoe Festival, Beechworth
I must apologise for my uncharacteristic silence over the last few weeks for which I have been subtly reminded of by a one Mr. P. O’Keefe, but since my recent arrival in the beautiful state of Victoria, and to my modest country retreat in Tallangatta, I have been busy preparing mind and body to slip inconspicuously into the Victorian way of life.
Not wanting to look like a banana bending alien on my first day, I downed a carton of Victorian Bitter, slipped into a pair of undersized shorts and singlet, and with toy size rugby ball in hand, proceeded to punch it into the air as I skipped and pranced around the back yard like a man possessed. Within minutes I soon realised why everything needed to be undersized in this most southerly state; the extreme low temperature would simply not allow anything to remain at its normal size including more specifically, most parts of the human anatomy. I had already spooked the milking cows in the back paddock into a frenzied stampede, and with the heckling and obscenities from my unacquainted neighbours, I thought it wise to retreat most hastily to the security and anonymity of my humble but warm dwelling.
The following morning I arose early. I was feeling rather excited and anxious at the prospect of attending my very first horse riding lesson at Mrs. Grubwinkler’s Flashy But Cheap Riding Academy for Queensland Beginners. Before leaving my front door, I peered cautiously out of the window to make sure the area surrounding my house was free of any inquisitive and hostile neighbours. Satisfied that the coast was clear, I made for the car and was soon accelerating my way to Mrs. Grubwinkler’s.
On arriving I was somewhat surprised at the condition of the premises. It was certainly nothing like the photo in the brochure I had seen in Queensland. After introducing myself to Mrs. Grubwinkler, she disappeared for a brief moment behind the stable and returned with an animal that on first sight quite took me by surprise. The horse looked to be older than myself, with a back that seemed to have sunken quite substantially almost to a mind boggling degree. I guessed that its condition was due to just plain old wear and tear. The old lady led the grey and chestnut mare down to where I was waiting and proceeded to explain the controls that I would need to operate this four legged vehicle. After a good ten minutes of intense instruction I was now ready to mount. Now, mounting was something I thought would be rather difficult for me considering my arthritis, but with the aid of a simple Besser block I found this exercise to be quite easy.
As I slid into the saddle, a feeling of euphoria suddenly took hold of me. With the breeze flicking at my horses mane and the scent of the Victorian bush in my nostrils, I was now riding alongside Ned and the boys. Oh what times we could have had ‘cross hill and valley. ‘This country belongs to us’, I shouted with excitement. With a slap on my steed’s backside from Mrs. Grubwinkler we moved steadily foreword. After circling her clothes line for several minutes, I felt totally at home in the saddle, almost might I say; born to it.
My half hour lesson came to an end far too quickly. During my brief stay in the saddle, I had become quite attached to my mount and told Mrs. Grubwinkler so. Also to my delight and good fortune I was informed that my horse was also available to purchase for a mere pittance of $300. I immediately handed over the money to the old lady before she decided to change her mind. After I had run my eyes over my mares chestnut and grey frame, it came to me; I shall name my horse- MIRTHIC in honour of Ned and Joe.
My trusty mount was delivered the following morning and housed in the paddock at the back of my house. I had gotten permission from the farmer whose cows I had spooked only two days before, with a promise that I will never prance around wearing those ridiculous shorts and singlet ever again. It seemed my carrying on had also stopped his cows from giving milk for two days. With Mirthic safely in the paddock, and the spirit of adventure pumping through my Victorian veins, I could only guess where the ‘morrow would lead us.
To celebrate my new ownership of a fine animal, I thought I would pay a visit to the Victorian Hotel in my home town of Tallangatta and get to know some of the old patrons. We drank well into the evening and it wasn’t until the grog had loosened their tongues that I found myself in the midst of blood relatives of the Kelly’s, Byrnes, Harts, Lloyds and every other family who was ever involved in the Kelly Outbreak. The only problem was, that when I awoke the following morning, I could barely remember how to get to my kitchen, let alone remember the priceless information I had pried from the mouths of all those inebriated relatives of the Kelly Gang.
I was trying to pick up pieces of the night before when a knock came to the door. It was a member of the local C.F.A collecting donations. In conversation I asked if there were any festivities that might be happening around the district in the near future. I was told that an event was to be held in Beechworth this very weekend called the Golden Horseshoe Festival. I thought to myself; If it was half as good as the Ned Kelly Weekend it would have to be a cracker. Thinking that the Golden Horseshoe was some sort of rodeo, I immediately made plans to participate and ride my fiery mare Mirthic to the event.
On the Saturday morning I threw on the saddle that I had purchased from Mrs Grubwinkler for a sum higher than I had paid for my fine mare. With a few words of encouragement in Mirthic’s ear, I mounted, turned her blazed face to the west, and thundered off in the direction of Beechworth. I had been riding furiously for a good half hour when to my surprise a Victorian trap suddenly appeared from behind a tree. He had what looked to me to be a speed camera in his right hand. Not to take any unnecessary chances, I put a wide smile on my face and pulled to a halt. ‘Good morning my good fellow, I shouted. Can I be of any assistance?’ My friendly smile had not eased the tense expression on the trap’s face by any degree. ‘What the hell are you doing riding that old nag down the Murray Valley Highway? he shouted back. Where the hell do you think you are, Queensland?’ ‘How on earth did he know I used to be a Queenslander?’ I thought. ‘My good fellow, I replied abruptly, if you must know, my horse and I are heading to Beechworth for the Golden Horseshoe Rodeo. I’ve been riding heavily for a good half hour and should be within a mile of my destination. If I have broken the speed limit I will readily accept the fine and be on my way.’
The trap’s expression suddenly took on a marked improvement as he ordered me to dismount. He then proceeded to explain the reason for interrupting my journey. Unlike a motor vehicle you are not allowed to ride your horse close to the left hand side of the centre white line for understandable reasons. He then went on to explain that he was the Sergeant from the Tallangatta police station and that I was nowhere near Beechworth but only five hundred yards from my house. I was amazed I had travelled such a short distance in all that time, but soon realized that the head wind on my mare’s mane was to blame and had made it seem we were travelling a lot faster than we actually were. I was ordered to walk Mirthic back home and to find another means of transport if I was to continue my journey to Beechworth. What made it all the more disheartening was the sight of my wife waiting at the letterbox for my quick and imminent return. With Mirthic back in the paddock and no longer illusions of riding like Ned and the boys, I slumped in the passenger seat of the Camry as my wife gave a smile and enthusiastic wave as she slowly drove past the trap still hiding behind the tree and still only five hundred yards from my home. I was to later find that The Golden Horseshoe Festival had nothing to do with rodeos, but about a bloke by the name of Daniel Cameron who rode a horse shod with golden horseshoes around the streets of Beechworth in 1855. All I can say is… Half his bloody luck!