Featured Image: Lance Skuthorpe Junior in 1938. Alf Marks rode with Lance Skuthorpe and is duly acknowledged in the Longreach (Queensland) ‘Stockman’s Hall of Fame’.
I said I’d write about interesting people I met and worked with. Alf Marks and Herbie Eveleigh were two such genuine ‘unforgettables’. This is a true story with some minor embellishments.
‘Seven Fox Power Cunning’ & ‘Insomnia’
Alf was a legend but with many flaws! His early education included fragile ‘terms of endearment’ with nationally iconic showmen and horsemen such as Tex Morton, Lance Skuthorpe and the Gill Brothers. Reputedly one of Alf’s “Big Top’ acts was to bite the back fetlocks of unbroken bucking Brumbies! He told me the survival strategy was to very very quickly ‘pull your head in’ extremely low to the ground while the aggrieved horse fiercely lashed out millimetres above! Well, I believed him anyway! Alf was the quintessential Aussie horseman and like many of his ilk had endured hard times with much of the drudgery serendipitous and self inflicted! By the time he reached Scone to take up thoroughbred training Alf was beginning to loose his long internecine battle with ‘Dr.Grog’.
Although a patient and gifted trainer his nemesis was his trackwork rider and race jockey Herbert! Mistrust bordering on paranoia cemented their relationship although each depended on one another to some degree with a measure of unacknowledged grudging respect thrown in. Herbert was also at the nether end of a distinguished career in the saddle and determined to ‘make every last one count’! His abstinence provided him with a cutting edge advantage over his trainer patron. He was also a very sharp riser ever ready to ‘catch the early worm’. His sobriquet was in fact ‘Mr. Eveready’ although the more cynically inclined attributed this epithet to a well-known make of electric battery with possible sinister applications in horse training and race preparation!
Alf was suspicious of Herbert’s extreme shrewdness and accused him of causing mutual insomnia! “He’s seven fox power cunning and we can’t sleep at night”, proclaimed Alf in his unique gravelly voiced ‘cultural’ cadence. “He lies awake all night thinking how he’s ‘gonna outsmart me and I lie awake all night thinking how he thinks he’s ‘gonna outsmart me”! “We can’t sleep at night”, groaned Alf laconically! “I’ve got the insomniac”!
It wasn’t Herbert’s fault when I received a telephone call late one night from a very distraught Alf in the Golden Fleece Hotel where he was then unwisely staying. “Herbert the’re after me” he intoned with great anxiety! “Weasels with faces thirty feet long and a weird bloke in the corner! I think I’ve got hepatitis”! I tried to explain to no avail I was not Herbert but Alf would have none of it! He repeated his bleak assertions to me over and over again! Eventually I managed to placate him enough to obtain his telephone number and promised to return his call. Unsure of myself I immediately ‘phoned my doctor friend Dave. “The horrors” was his immediate diagnosis! “Do you have any “Largactil’? I wasn’t sure so Dave arranged for me to pick up a dose at the Hospital. By this time it was midnight. I took the medicine to a very agitated and distressed Alf soaked in sweat and he still called me Herbert. He took the pills without fuss and I managed to persuade him to get to bed!
About two hours later I received another panic call! It was Alf again! “The weasels are still after me Herbert”! That was enough! I called at our surgery across the road and armed with some knowledge of the ‘human dose’ I added a bit to the loading bolus of ‘Largactil’ and watched to make sure while a hysterical Alf swallowed it all with plenty of water! I was able to repay Dave for a much earlier ‘medical’ intervention in a case of ‘Milk Fever’ at a Parkville dairy farm!
Two days later Alf stopped me in the street, called me by my proper name, and thanked me profusely for the best night’s sleep he ever had! “Slept like a baby for 24 hours” he said! It turned out Gill Brothers’ Circus had been in town and Alf had ben on a five-day ‘bender’ with his old mate Jack Gill! Talk about ‘weird weasels’ and a sure fire cure for insomnia!
Not long before his ultimate demise and still suffering from ‘insidious insomnia’ Alf managed to procure a job as night watchman on a local Stud. At about three o’clock on a very cold freezing August morning Cliff and I had just settled back pleased but exhausted and a little smug after a most arduous foaling. ‘Dainty Clare (Imp)’ had declared war on any human intervention ever since arriving from the UK! Even when almost comatose with the exertions of a massive dystocia she fought us all the way! While silently congratulating ourselves a loudly croaking frog suddenly materialised out of nowhere! “You wouldn’t believe that”, said Alf with very droll and serious mien. “Fancy a frog inside her causing all that trouble for so long”! I rest my case!
W. P. Howey