Tales of the Tops

Tales of the Tops

Acknowledgements: Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society and the Scone Advocate 9 July 1920

Featured Image: Scenic view of Barrington Tops

“Peeps of the Past”: Back in the Sixties (1860s) written for the Scone Advocate by ‘Uandoo’

When we left Tomalla (which is on the Manning waters) for the wild cattle country, the first streams we passed were the Hunter and the two branches it receives a few miles from the head.  Further on was Polblue, a swamp on the main waters of Omadale Brook. This was an oasis in summer, well covered with white clover and swamp grass, and we were always sure of finding a wild mob in the vicinity. The English clover had been introduced by Dr Gill, when the world was a good deal younger. Here was an old post-and-rail yard – a wreck, built by one of the Bowmans, who had cattle there in the fifties, from which most of the wild ones were bred. The scrubbers were not a fashionable colour, mostly yellow-brindle, some with black sides and white backs. Naturally, they varied in condition with the season, but ever on the richest pastures they could never be turned into “fats”. After passing the dividing range between Omadale and Moonan Brooks, the country, which on the Hunter side was steep and full of brush, and in parts inaccessible, opens out on the watershed to , Colo, and although swamp in parts, gives good grass for cattle. The first stream is the little Murray, so called by William McPhee, another fine bush rider. Then comes Bean Bean Plain, with the creek running through it. Parts of the swamp I the late sixties were very boggy, but dry seasons have dried it up, very much improving the feeding ground, on which for about five months of the year stock do well. Over the ridge at the head of the Brumlo is the yard (mentioned in the “Wingham Chronicle” by “Kyorie”) built by Jack Marshall and party. Jack was a wild rider, but I don’t think he ever caught enough scrubbers to make them scarce. Four miles further on are the Barrington waters, with miles of beautiful swamps. There is now a trig station at the highest point at the head of Stewarts Brook, overlooking the Mount Royal branch of the Paterson. A bridle track form Stewarts Brook leads onto Barrington Tops, going past the trig station, through Edward and Saxby holdings, and down into Mount Royal Creek, a tributary of the Paterson River.

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Droughts in the Upper Hunter Area

Droughts in the Upper Hunter Area

Featured Image: Acknowledge ‘Hunter Drought’

Acknowledgment: “Growing the Hunter 1994”, Pages 29 & 30

With the subject of drought on everyone’s minds, Ross Watson, District Agronomist NSW Agriculture, Scone, took a look at some surprising drought statistics for the Upper Hunter.

Comment: Although this is a ‘dated’ report the principles still apply. I’m tempted to trot out the hoary old cliché ‘elementary my dear Watson’; but I won’t! However if we fail to learn the lessons of history we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes.

Based on records from the Upper Hunter Rural Lands Protection Board from as far back as 1952 (to 1991), the Upper Hunter has spent a total of nine years out of the 40 under drought declaration. In other words 23% of the time the district is drought affected. This may seem alarmingly high but most districts in NSW range between 15 to 30% drought affected over the same period. That’s the bad news; but the good news is that 77% of the time we have good or reasonable conditions.

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Scone Lagoon Decides Town Location

Scone Lagoon Decides Town Location

Acknowledgement: Scone Advocate Supplement 16 June 1975

Acknowledgement: Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society Newsletter Vol 6. No. 3 September 2018

Featured Image: Early Map of Kingdon Ponds Area Catchment and Land Grants c. 1835. The lagoon was near the confluence of Kingdon Ponds and Parson’s Gully

Scone Lagoon has now vanished – “filled in” – but it was the factor in deciding the precise area on which a settlement would be founded to develop into present day Scone.

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Trewarric Impulse aka “Banjo”

Trewarric Impulse aka “Banjo”

Featured Image: Trewarric Impulse aka “Banjo” with John Letts in the saddle at Flemington

Acknowledgement: I wish to acknowledge the gracious assistance of the Australian Stock Horse Society in procuring this information. I especially seek to sincerely thank my very good friend Cathy Finlayson.

This is a great horse story with only minimal connection to Scone; but it’s eminently worthy of inclusion in any equine portfolio. You may be wondering ‘Banjo who’? Unless you’re in on the tale you’re not alone.

In 2011 Trewarric Impulse aka “Banjo” was the official Australian Stock Horse Society’s Westpac Star of the Year. This is a most prestigious award not easily earned.  It’s quite likely racing aficionados will recognise the scenario painted in the featured image? ‘Banjo’ is the favourite mount used by John Letts in his ground-breaking ‘from the saddle on-the-spot TV interviews’ adopted by the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival in 1993 following its earlier introduction in 1989. John Letts is renowned as the winner of two Melbourne Cups: Piping Lane (1972) and Beldale Ball (1980). John rode 2,350 winners in an illustrious career spanning 30 years.

Local Flemington legend John Patterson lent ‘Banjo’ to John Letts. John was Chief Clerk of the Course at the VRC’s showcase Flemington Racecourse since 1969. John purchased ‘Banjo’ as a lightly raced two year old from his breeder Aub Goodman of West Gippsland VIC. He was actually there to pick up ‘Banjo’s’ brother Trewarric Mustard but selected both. The latter sadly met with a sad fate. ‘Banjo’ went on to enduring fame both as John Patterson’s crowd favourite mount and John Letts’ much preferred steed at the races. John Patterson insists that ‘Banjo’ and ‘Lettsy’ share many endearing character traits!

Trewarric Impulse is by the John Stanton bred Quidong Brigadier out of the mare Colony Illusion by Mescal. So what’s the Scone connection? It’s not much I concede. The ASHS national secretariat is based in Scone since inception in 1971. Sam Hordern stood the imported ‘Mescal’ (USA Quarter Horse) at is Dry Creek property in 1968. This is a short few kilometres north of Scone just off the New England Highway. ‘Mescal’ was one of the very first of his breed to reach Australia. ASHS Hunter Valley officials Chairman Joy Poole OAM and GM Maree Sankey presented the Westpac Star of the Year trophy at the VRC’s Emirates Stakes Day in 2012.


You can see a real-time shot of the young John Letts (1973) in the jockey’s room at Victoria Park (Adelaide) by checking into the video ‘A Race of Horses’ on this website. My bragging rights are that I feature in a movie with Oscar-winning Hollywood legend Dean Semmler holding the camera. It’s true: honest!!

See: http://sconevetdynasty.com.au/a-race-of-horses/


Olympic Games Defining Moments

Olympic Games Defining Moments

Featured Image:

Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games 2000 ‘Lone Horseman’ Steve Jefferys galloped into the arena on ‘Ammo’; cracked his whip, reared and disappeared. Was this the ultimate ‘defining moment’?

I confess this is another of my dated patrician philosophical perceptions; now reflections.

Defining Moments

Are you rapidly approaching your use-by date when you begin to contemplate defining moments? Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz prescribes as follows: “Defining moments occur when we direct our lives onto a new pathway, borne of an illuminating insight and an expanded awareness”. I was actually somewhat flattered when former long term Councillor Peter Hodges remarked my statement in the UHSC chamber on Coal Seam Gas was a ‘defining moment’? Journalist Matt Walter (SMH Monday May 21, 2012) described Darren Lockyer’s magical try in the State of Origin decider in Melbourne in 2006 as a ‘defining moment’ for the Maroons? I like the association but not the colour of victory. The Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot this year was designated by most percipient pundits as a defining moment for Black Caviar. Thanks to Luke Nowlen and his self-confessional brain fade how close was that call! Georgina Robinson in the SMH (Tuesday, June 26, 2012) states the clean sweep of Wales by the Wallabies was a defining moment. Suddenly I’m feeling elated and in exalted company. After elation arrive deflation and its back to the prosaic present. I suppose many of you are already thinking any ‘defining moment’ involving me would inevitably include something to do with an overabundance of gas? The CSG industry has conceived an amusing euphemism: ‘fugitive emissions’. I could expatiate at length about it in a profane or vulgar way: incompetent sphincters and fugitive emissions’! Don’t think too much about it.

I suggest there have been quite a few defining moments during the current term of the UHSC? Cast your mind back to the Scone Traffic Lights, New Administration Building, Bickham Coal Mine, Timor Limestone Quarry, Bluett Award, Air Quality Monitoring, Wind Farms, Water Augmentation, Road and Rail Corridors in Scone and latterly Coal Seam Gas exploration? It’s quite a list. These happenings hardly fit into the Mel Schwartz definition but are defining decisions in the lifetime of an elected LGA. Previously I reflected on balance (‘Balance or Manifest Destiny’). Essentially balance is the process and outcome of a robust democracy. It may well be that 51% of you agree and/or concur and 49% vehemently disagree?

Which brings me to stewardship? As a mildly reluctant pre-teenager I vaguely remember being perched in a church congregation well over 50 years ago. My late mother was the organist and prevailed on my support to supply power to the hand-pumped bellows organ. While squirming on my rock hard elevated organ pew the presiding minister based his sermon on the interrogative: ‘Give an account of your stewardship’? I cannot recall anything of his address but even today I still reflect on his title pronouncement? Now it’s my turn? Ubiquitous Wikipedia defines stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources. The concept of stewardship has been applied in diverse realms, including with respect to environment, economics, health, property, information, and religion, and is linked to the concept of sustainability. Sounds like the running sheet for a LGA? The bottom line says you look after something belonging to someone else. For me this has meant writing prepared statements on most if not all the defining decisions reflected above. ‘Say what you do and do what you say’? I have reported on some of these via this medium. I would like to think I/we had earned a pass mark. During my extended University career I acquired some acumen in attaining 51%. Maybe this was prescient preparation for a truncated career in local government? You try to please a marginal majority. Robert D. Kaplan in ‘An Empire Wilderness – Travels into America’s Future’ has defined democracy thus: ‘Democracy has evolved as the lowest common denominator of practical wisdom for a nation of individuals, most of whom prefer to be left alone to make money’. Churchill considered it to be the worst form of government except for all the rest! Suddenly I feel better!

Are you/did you contemplate ‘throwing your hat in the ring’ come September? Perhaps it’ll be your turn to define the moments? Constructive suggestions and studied solutions are most palatable. I know from experience that it’s much more productive. As the “Two Ronny’s’ used to sign off: “It’s goodbye from me and goodbye from him”! Thank you for your support or otherwise tolerance and patience during this term of local government!

Champions of Yesteryear: Vo Rogue, Vic & Harley

Champions of Yesteryear: Vo Rogue, Vic & Harley

Featured Image: Vo Rogue and Vic Rail

I’ve taken the liberty of extracting most of this from the late Harley Walden’s most sensitive appraisal of two of his favourites in his regular column for Scone.com. I duly acknowledge the source: http://www.scone.com.au/champions-of-yesteryear/

Only Harley Walden has a local connection. I have recorded much of his story in detail elsewhere in my ‘blogs’ and writings. Harley shares much in common with his heroes Vic Rail and Vo Rogue. ‘Battler’ is the appropriate adhesive ‘glue’ in local argot. He likes to take a shot at those whom he considered ‘toffs’! It’s an inspiring story of triumph over relative adversity in the very best Australian tradition. Vo Rogue was the quintessential people’s champion just like ‘Gunsynd’ before him. Apart from out-and-out real champions like Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx these are the very best promotion racing can have.

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Scone: Nursery of Champions

Scone: Nursery of Champions

Remember you heard it here first. However both honour and honesty demand I admit the truth. It wasn’t my idea. The tribute and title belong to my spouse Sarah. We were sitting together in the Upper Hunter Council Chambers. On the menu for discussion was the future of Kelly Street post-bypass. This is called the Kelly Street Revitalisation Project Committee. I’m all in favour and have had some input. We are considering a Scone Horse Heritage Precinct encompassing the central commercial corridor of our conurbation. It was a spontaneous and inspired instant of epiphany for Sarah. Scone: Nursery of Champions. That’s it I thought! We don’t always agree on sudden impulses!

It’s all about branding I suppose? At least that’s the message I dragged with me from the 20th century. Now I have to justify the claim. If we are talking horses and thoroughbreds in particular (which we are) then the august assertion is a given. I would say that wouldn’t I? A further mantra is to focus on what we have now as an advantage. I like it almost as much.

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George Ryder

Ryder, George Edward (1905–1989)

By Wayne Peake

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012


Foreword (by the author WPH)

Featured Image: Bob Hawke, Neville Voigt, Tommy Smith and STC Chairman George Ryder at Rosehill Races

An erudite lady friend of mine with a deeply profound knowledge of the industry has written:

Thank you also for the article about GER. I’ m amazed that a man from such humble beginnings and such a paucity of education could rise to become a Captain of Industry.  Australia certainly is the land of opportunity where labor omnia vincit!  Love J…y.

I think it would be fair to claim that all four men assembled in the Featured Image were ‘from humble origins’? The Prime Minister, Champion Trainer and Chairman of the Sydney Turf Club might slightly shade outstanding jockey Neville Voigt from Quirindi; but not by much? As an immigrant I think it speaks volumes that all four are able to stand together equally on the podium in celebration of a seminal event?

Tommy Smith stated categorically that George Ryder was the best man for racing in his time. Who am I to argue? He was a great friend of Scone and the Scone Race Club although ‘controversial’ at times! He was the most stimulating company and a brilliant raconteur. I’m proud to have known him. The following biography by Wayne Peake captures the man superbly. There are some ‘not for publication stories’ which could richly enhance the encomium! It’s my opinion that George Ryder competes with Stanley Wootton for the title of most influential thoroughbred racing entrepreneur in NSW during the second half of the 20th century. Some might argue his influence was detrimental to the ‘breed’? Among his mantras were ‘put speed to speed and prey they stay’; ‘there are no looking races’ and ‘we need horses that fly around saucers’. He might have been thinking of the STC’s Canterbury Racecourse when promulgating the latter? I heard him say it when he was searching for a son of Dr Fager (USA) to stand at Kia Ora.

See also: http://sconevetdynasty.com.au/arabs-cup-meeting/

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Minnamurra (Outback) 1990

Minnamurra (Outback) 1990


Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society; ‘Moving Images and the Theatre’; The Shiralee; Filming in the Upper Hunter; Scone’s Civic Theatre: Heather Ashford assisted by Mary Woodlands: Federation Publication No 1 Scone and Upper Historical Society Incorporated, Scone NSW 2337 Australia. 1997. ISBN 0 949187 14 3. © Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society, Incorporated. Designed and printed by Pritchard’s Press Pty. Ltd. 206 Kelly Street, Scone NSW 2337.

Featured Image:

Greg Bennett (Photo Alister Jones) & Horses at Belltrees (Photo Michael White): Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society; ‘Moving Images and the Theatre’ (See above)


David Stratton in The Avocado Plantation described this production as “almost Snowy III” in story line and a “mob of horses galloping across country at the climax”.

One local identity who played a big part in the production was Greg Bennett, who tells the story of his involvement:

“In September of 1987 I was approached by John Sexton Productions, to assist with the making of the movie Outback. The film was to be funded by American money and was to include a number of American actors, as well as some Australian actors.

“My initial involvement was to assist in location management; i. e. finding the correct locations to suit specific areas of the script.

“Belltrees was chosen for many of the locations, mainly because the property lent itself well for livestock and staff accommodation.

“The story of the movie, which was later called Minnamurra, involved the gathering together of a large number of Remount horses to be sent by ship to South Africa to help in the war effort during the Boer War. One family was in financial difficulty at the time following the death of the owner of the property. His daughter took it upon herself to deliver the horses ti the wharves of Sydney for shipping to South Africa.

“My second and most important involvement with Minnamurra was to locate 250 horses and to help with their training, feeding and transportation from one set to another.

“Heath Harris, who has been involved in many Australian Horse Movies, was the horse master, and I assisted with the day-to-day care and welfare of 250 horses on the movie set.”

Another local involved with Greg was Steve Van Hemert.

The Producer was John Sexton; director Ina Berry and photography in the charge of Ross Berryman.

The Premier, attended by a large crowd of locals and visitors, was held in the Civic Theatre, Scone in 1990.

Obama Cairo Speech 2009

Featured Image: President Barack Obama

I swore I wouldn’t do this; but I just have! I discovered the following ‘saved’ document in my UHSC files while searching for information on Murrurundi Races! How things have changed in the globe’s dominant democracy in nine short years! Are we following suit with some extraordinary speeches in our Parliament in recent days? Just musing?

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