Gold! Gold! Gold!
Featured Image: ‘The Man from Snowy River’; Sydney Olympic Stadium; Friday 15th September 2000′.
Late great ABC Radio sports commentator Norman May will never be forgotten. His ecstatic and exultant call of: “Gold! Gold! Gold! For Australia” will be forever imprinted on the Australian psyche wherever and whenever Olympic Sport is discussed. (The original occasion was the final of the 4 x 100 Metres Men’s Medley Relay at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow).
There is little doubt that in the modern era the Sydney Olympic Games of 2000 won the Gold Medal for excellence in almost every department. Recently (2016) London mounted a strong challenge. It’s my personal belief that the Opening Ceremony in Sydney was a victory for the ‘Green & Gold’ despite HM ERII making a personal marquee contribution in London with James Bond. The opening stanza in Sydney featured that most Aussie of Aussie icons: the Australian Stock Horse. This was truly innovative, imaginative and unique. It ‘stamped its brand and made its marque’ to belabour the clichés. The rest of the world looked on in wonderment.
What is not so well known is the role played by Scone and the Australian Stock Horse Society (ASHS) in the coruscating display? Then ASHS GM and long term Scone resident Brian Brown was the man responsible for alerting SOCOG (Sydney Olympic Committee for Organising the Games) to the concept of including our ‘indigenous’ breed of horse into the program. Brian produced a Feasibility Report for the then Director of Operations for SOCOG. A secret meeting was convened at the new Scone Race Club and the report discussed. Despite opposition from some quarters (‘I don’t want my athletes to be besmirched by horse dung’) the report was adopted in principle. Brian stepped aside as ASHS GM in 1996. He was succeeded by Steve Guihot.
Steve now runs ‘Paddock 2 Pantry’ in Scone. Several recruitment camps were held; pivotal among them were those convened at White Park, Scone. No-one knew. It was the best kept secret. Steve told me there were many heroes along the way. Foremost among them was Senior Sergeant Don Eyb. Don is/was in charge of the NSW Mounted Police Unit based at Redfern in Sydney. If ever you’ve been privileged enough to witness the NSW Mounted Police Musical Rides at the Royal Easter Show each year you’d recognise the exquisite choreography. Don has produced this for all the 20+ years I’ve been involved with the RAS of NSW. He ultimately directed the ‘greatest show on earth’ for the world to witness at Sydney Olympic Stadium on Friday 15th September 2000. I was one of the very, very lucky ones to be there.
The first ‘Boot Camp’ was held at White Park Scone from 10th – 12th March 2000 commanded by Don (‘The Don’) Eyb and Horse-master Tony Jablonski. Darrell Clifford and Fiona Wallis were ‘score & store keepers’. By the time the second Boot Camp was held in June a few locals began to ask some questions. The answer was simple: ‘They’re doing an ad for Omo’! Joy Poole and David Atkins provided motivation. There followed a 10 day Boot Camp at Castle Hill which included visits to the Olympic Stadium for accreditation and familiarisation. The Castle Hill tavern was a significant beneficiary of the largesse of the assembled team.
Don Eyb said it was the most nerve racking experience of his life! Ceremony organisers Ric Birch and Ignatius Jones had a basic concept of riders bringing in the Olympic Flag; staying for the National Anthem; and then taking out the Australian Flag as well as forming the Olympic Rings. The rest, as they say in the classics, was up to Don. He and Tony moulded a disparate team who hadn’t even known each other at the start. It was an achievement of Herculean proportions; much of it fashioned in Scone.
The Opening Ceremony of the
Games of the XXVIIth Olympiad
Friday, September 15, 2000
Stadium Australia, Homebush
Friday afternoon and 110,000 people took their seats in the largest stadium ever constructed for an Olympic Games. The expectations and excitement were at a peak. For 100 days the flame that was ignited by the Grecian sun had travelled throughout Australia, through the hands of 11,000 people, and yet no-one knew who it had been chosen for the honour of lighting the final cauldron, the ultimate symbol of the start of the greatest sport’s carnival on earth. The reason the secret remained so well kept? It wasn’t even completely confirmed by the 2 men who had the task, until late Thursday evening!
Each seat in the stadium held a gift for the attendees. A small yellow “Globite” school case which contained a program for the night’s entertainment, a pair of yellow socks, a wrist band – containing red flashing lights, and a small torch; These items were the ‘props’ the audience would use at appropriate times during the Opening Ceremony to add some special touches to the proceedings. Thousands of volunteers lined the aisles, and helped the audience get “into the swing” of things.
As the final countdown flashed on the large screens the sound of 110,000 voices started to rise, reaching a crescendo in the last seconds, and an Aussie icon burst into the enormous arena. A ‘bushman’ (Steve Jeffrys) and his horse (‘Ammo’) gallop to the centre of the 4-acres. The horse – representing the important role they have played in the recent history of Australia, from pioneering days to the ‘race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup’ – rears twice, the rider cracks his whip, and so the evening started. They are joined by 120 mounted Australian horsemen and women, from the Australian Stock Horse Association, each carrying a black and white symbolic Olympic flag. The stirring strains of the theme from the hit movie “The Man from Snowy River” accompanied the galloping hooves. They charge down the length of the arena in lines, breaking off to form a single line around the whole arena, as a gigantic flag unfolds, and greets the world with a traditional Aussie welcome – “G’day!”
Forming up into a cavalcade the horses proceed to march down the centre of the arena, and start to break off, to form the five circles to represent the Olympic rings they form patterns that changed and moved, executing the largest choreographed display involving animals. Scone locals in the elegant charade included Lynda Watson, Jilly Henderson and Time Cone; all from Upper Hunter icon ‘working horse’ families.
The act created a world record by using 120 horses. The 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records in the category of the most horses used in a display; beating the 80 used in a display in the USA. For Sydney 2000 the Games were formally opened by Governor-General Sir William Deane. The ceremony was described by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch as the most beautiful ceremony the world has ever seen.
It was a ‘totalitarian’ triumph. Our township of Scone and its resident Australian Stock Horse Society head office can hold their collective heads very high suffused with enormous pride. This is a unique totem and will never be repeated. Adding lustre to the claim was ‘the official welcome by 1000 mounted horses’ when the Olympic Torch traversed through Scone earlier in the year. Peter White (Belltrees) was in charge and excelled with his organisation. The total may have fallen just short of 1000 but it was a magnificent display. Jim Clarke OAM was one of the selected ‘elite’ torch bearers on foot. Trainer Danny Edwards from Newcastle was the senior saddled horseman in the aged stakes: 104 years young!