Bill Roycroft (1915–2011) was a gold medal Olympic equestrian.
His courage, loyalty, laconic bush humour and, above all, his capacity to endure are well displayed in this portrait of a great Australian horseman.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 25, 1998
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
I happened to be born in Melbourne, and I don't know what age I was when I - I suppose I was a few weeks old when I came back to a little place called Flowerdale. And Flowerdale is where I grew up until I was 14.
Flowerdale is approximately 70 mile north of - well it's north-east of Melbourne, up over Kinglake, Kinglake, it's quite a range there, Kinglake. And Flowerdale was where I was established until I was 14, and time went on from there of course. I left school at 14 and the family broke up...
The family, as far as I can remember, they were milking cows on a place just out of Flowerdale, and my first memory that I can remember, was an old Indian, and he had two horses and a wagonette on the road, and it was close to where they were milking cows. And I can look back and that's the first I can more or less remember as a young child, was these horses moving away, and he was running after them to stop them. That's about the first I can remember.
Yes, they did. Well, the family moved from there to another establishment, oh I suppose there was some five mile from there. And that was only until they had leased another property, and moved to there. Now, when we moved to this property that they'd leased, then it was school days for me. Walk to school or ride behind one of my brothers. And life went on from there.
Well it was quite a mixed up thing. There was, see there was seven in the family. There was two girls and five brothers. And the eldest brother when I firstly went to school had already left school. I believe he left school at 12 year old. And funny thing about that, as we grew up he was the best writer and speller of the whole family. Now, as for riding to school, there was quite a few of us, you know, still going to school. There would be six of us still going to school. Now there wasn't a horse for each one. You, you rode behind one of the others, or you walked to school. But it was usually dink behind them. Sometimes there'd be three of us on one horse, you know. And at one of those rides behind my brother called Ted, we got bucked off this pony and broke my arm, and he galloped home with a flapping arm. It was quite a long time ago, you know, and things were different those times, because Mother then had to put the horse in the jinker and take me 14 mile to have my arm set. And the setting of the arm those days, you know, was two boards on your arm and wrapped around with adhesive tape or something. That was the setting of my arm.
Oh I can't remember the pain now, but I suppose there was some pain.
I guess so.
The little school was at a place called Break O'Day. Now how the hell it come by the name of Break O'Day I don't know, but there was a nice creek there and it was called Break O'Day Creek. Now whether some people lived on that creek and they were called Break O'Day, so the place was named after them. You see that's going way back before we had a telephone. There was no telephone there and no electricity, none of those sort of things. And that was school for me, but I suppose that was the grounding in my riding, because eventually I had my own horse to ride to school. And it was bush country with big fallen trees on the side of the road, gutters, and going to and from school we jumped those things. And looking back, a few years when Laurie Morgan and I competed, after an event we'd go to the bar and have a drink together. And he said to me one day, as somebody wandered up alongside us, "How can you two blokes be good at cross-country riding?" And he turned to me and said "Bill, remember our cross-country to school". You know, that's how it was.
I never had a saddle until I was 14 year old.
Well yes. Well I suppose in those days, you had marvellous balance because bareback on any type of horse, you were a saddle on there with your balance. And I suppose that stuck to me right through my equestrian days.
Yeah, well the relationship, you know, as years went by and these horses I took to the Olympic Games, yes there was a relationship between them. But leading on from...
I don't want to leave your school yet, because I'd like to know, you said where the school was at Break O'Day. What kind of a school was it? Were there many teachers there? Were there many children? Could you describe the nature of the school?
Yes, I think when I left school there probably was about eight left at that school. There was big families, you know, there, because we were seven and I think we were one of the small families with the seven. There was tens and twelves all around the place. And, you know, there was a little school paddock for those horses. And they'd arrive there in the morning, you know, one from this way. They'd come from all different ways to the school.
They were turned loose in this paddock, because the little creek flowed through this school ground and the horses had water to drink and they had feed, because it was a small paddock.
No, no, you all had, you went right through to eighth grade. You started off, I suppose, I don't know how the hell they worked it out those days, but you finished up in eighth grade in that school.
Well you see, only had one teacher. Sometimes we just have a learner or a reliever, but mostly we were a bit lucky in having a good teacher that could take the children right through from their first grade to they left school, you know, eighth grade.
I couldn't get out of school quick enough, you know. But they were damn good those days those teachers, because the first thing you learnt at school was to read and write and arithmetic. I think if they go back to those days today they'd be doing something. So many, I believe, that don't go right through so they can read or write. They're pushed through, they don't keep them back if they - they just keep pushing them through. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know.
Well I used to love to take my boots off and run barefooted. As soon as I was out of school, finished for the day, I took my boots off and run barefooted you know. And I don't know I suppose it was I hated being restricted. And once you went into school those days there was no fooling about. No playing about like they do today and taking over the teacher. I know what the cuts and a good cane was.
Oh a few times. Yes. And I suppose I deserved it.
Yes, I think I was, yes. We used to high jump and vault, you know, with the old poles and yeah. Oh yes, I think because running, I could run like a hare, barefooted.
Oh, we used to have school sports, but we never went on from there. I have a brother that, he could run and was very good at 220, 440, 880. He could run the lot, but stupid man, he never really did anything with it.
Well it was a dairy farm. It was a dairy farm, and my father used to plough and you know, going back in those early days he ploughed with two horses and a single furrow plough. It was so damn tedious, you know, and then it progressed to three horses and a disc plough that had two discs on it. It was all different, it was all different to what happens today, the mechanised aids. You know, I can see the old Dad now with a bag of oats around, tied to the thing around his neck, and sprinkling the oats on the field, on the paddocks, by hand, you know. Well that was going way back.
He was a very kind man. I think back on it he was terribly damn kind because he many a time - he never ever belted me, but he should have, I'm sure he should have. I think I gave him plenty of opportunities to do that to me.
Well you know, there was a stick or a strap or something.
Well, I think it's probably at times he's told me to do something and I haven't done it, you know.
Well mainly, after I left - well we milked cows before we went to school, you know, and we milked them when we came home.
We milked cows by hand those days. There was no machines. That was before machines. So it was - and I think back on it now, you know, how things could have been much different if they'd have been more looking ahead. If he'd have thought, now, instead of having all these horses I'd put them on push-bikes. Everybody ride a push-bike. If you take a family of seven and you just think of the horses it took, as we grew up everybody had a horse. Horses to drive - pulling the jinker for the women. And then to feed those horses you had a big shed full of chaff. And to get that chaff you had to plough the fields with those horses. Then you had to store that away, all this feed and all these horses to create this feed. Now if they'd put them all on push-bikes, and milked a big mob of cows that could have been fed where those horses were being fed, you know, it would have been a different life. They could have made much more money.
Well what the hell, you know.
I thought Mother was a hell of a - she was a very soft person. You know, I think one of the boys, our boys is a bit like my mother, soft and very thoughtful. And I thought she was a very good looking woman, she was. That might have been her downfall later on in life. I don't know.
Well the family broke up eventually. And we split up.
I was, I suppose I was about 15 then. I went with my mother to New South Wales. And I was eventually - I suppose I was looking after myself at 15. I was - I was a messenger boy in the Water Commission in New South Wales, the Irrigation Commission, Leeton, New South Wales. And I probably learnt to fight a bit there, because the messenger boys, we used to scrap a bit. That was a pretty big, pretty big office there where they run the Irrigation Commission. That was just before they brought in the rice into Leeton and Griffith and those places.
I suppose it was. But I don't know whether it worried me greatly. I suppose it did those times. But it did my elder brothers. They were older than me. They took it hard, and one sister. One of my sisters also went with my mother. And one of the brothers was, had, he had paralysis, and he was put into Melbourne and boarded in Melbourne, and went to - finished his schooling in Melbourne. And stayed there for the rest of his life. Finished up owning shops, and he did well for himself eventually.
Yes, yes, it was a brother of my father.
I think she made that decision. But I didn't stay with them. I went out on my own, and I slept in sheds and I did all sorts of funny things you know.
Oh, I think I just said "Look, well I'm going on my own".
I was 14.
My first job was breaking in all the hacks on the property into harness. I set to and I used to - of course they were ridden so they were well mouthed these horses, and there was a spring cart. I don't know whether you know anything about a spring cart, but it's like a dray that you cart things in. Your horse got sharves on it and you have a heavy type of horse that pulls it. And you carted your oats and stuff with it. So I used to catch these horses and tie them to the fence, pull the cart up on to them, put the harnesses on them. And I knew about putting kicking straps on them so they couldn't kick, and a belly band and all that sort of stuff. And I'd untie them off the fence, slip back into the cart and let them go. I used to go out on to the road and away we'd go. Well they were well mouthed so I could hold them, and I used to stand up in the cart, and I broke in about seven or eight horses, just after leaving school at 14.
Or my brother's horses and sister's horses. The whole lot, yeah. And the Mother took a couple of those horses with her when she went north, yeah.
Yes, I did, I did, because if you grow up on a property, you know - I went there before I could remember much at all. And growing up it was home, you know.
The home's still there. I like to go back there once a year, and I drive around all that place up there, Flowerdale, and all the places that I used to roam over. And in my - see when I left school there was no damn money, things were very tough. And you don't probably remember terribly much about the old Depression, but when I was 14 - see that made me about 28... I was born 1915, that puts me into 28, 29, or thereabouts anyhow. And that's running into the old Depression. And boy, that was - they know nothing about today what went on all back in those times. Bank managers carrying their swag. And you know, you would go some 15 or 16 mile and you'd pass quite a few swaggies. We called them swaggies, carrying their swag. And there was one old woman in my area that used to carry a swag, Old Mary we used to call her. Today you don't see a swaggie on the road. You see people walking, might be travelling somewhere, but you don't see swaggies carrying their swags so they camp under a tree or under a bridge. But we did, we saw that, you know.
Yes, I suppose I was. I was interviewed, I read a bit of paper, they wanted messenger boys and so I went and applied and was accepted. And I spent two years - I spent two years as a messenger boy.
Well there was a bit of opposition you know, and I found my bike was getting wrapped up in wire - I'd have a message to do and I'd get my bike, it's tied up in wire. So I sorted them out. You know, see I broke my thumb on the first one, so I had to fight one at lunch-time and the other one after work. So the boys in my office they strapped my thumb up so I could fight after work. But we were only kids and it wasn't much of a scrap I suppose.
No, no, it wasn't scary, no.
No, I can't remember being scared. I think you know, looking back, if I'd have been a bit more scared, or thinking a bit more about my cross-country - somewhere along the line I'll tell you about Munich. There it would have helped be to be a bit scared.
I don't know, you know, pain, people worry a great lot, it bores me to tears. People, you know, they bruise their thumb or some damn thing or they cut a thumb, they're off to see the doctor, you know, into the doctor. I've had one ear nearly torn off, you know, with a horse, and I said to Mavis, "See if you can stitch that thing up". She said "No". Barry was here, "Take him to hospital". So they took me and had it stitched up. A lot of those things, you know, people, they rush off to the hospital, rush off to the doctor. Doesn't work you know.
No, no, it was not. I think probably - oh things are different you know. I lost my damn teeth through carelessness. And not brushing your teeth and looking after your teeth. Today - God I made sure our boys looked after their teeth and they kept their teeth. So as we go through you'll find the change from my time. And, you know, these swaggies I was talking to you about, they slept in all sorts of - under bridges and anywhere they could get a bit of shelter for the night, somebody's hay shed.
Well I got, I got sick of being a messenger boy and being sent here, sent there, you know. So I left there and I returned back down to Flowerdale. I didn't live right in the - I didn't live in the home that we'd left all those years ago. I lived in an old hut. And I trapped rabbits. I liked to call myself a fur trader. It always sounded better than a rabbit trapper. But you see, you could make a living, a poor living. You got your chap that picked up the carcass, the carcass of the rabbits, he paid you for those carcass and paid you pretty damn poorly. If it had a bit of a bruise in it, so you got less money for it. You know, you got five, you got sixpence or something for a good rabbit. And he toured around, picked your rabbits up, took them back and sold them in Melbourne. Well naturally enough he couldn't give you much money because he probably didn't get a hell of a lot of money when he got back to Melbourne. Because they were the Depression days, and of course it affected the city as well as the country.
Mostly. Mostly, yes.
No I worked anywhere I could get work. Anybody wanted work, yes, I did it. I did some fencing if, you know, somebody wanted fencing done. As I came along before the war, I worked a lot on big properties, stations, where there was - mostly I worked with horses on these big properties. You'd be in a mower, mowing ferns on the side of a hill or, you know, you'd be pulling post to fence, and all different types of jobs, apart from rabbit trapping.
Harness horses, but then you know, on these big properties there was sheep to be mustered and that was done on horseback, or cattle to be brought in. That was done on horseback. Everything was horseback to me. Dances were - when I started dancing it was on a horse's back, to dances. We carried our good clothes on a bag and changed when we got there. Tied the horse to the fence and danced all night. After the dance was over, back into your working clothes and ride home. And it wasn't only me, you know, there'd be a party of up to 15 of us, riding horses to a dance.
Yes, oh well, I made friends out of people more or less in the same - same category as me, you know. Because they weren't getting it easy. You know, even the big properties, even the big properties those days, mostly they were working out of the banks, you know and they couldn't pay you big wages. They didn't have the damn money to pay you.
I wasn't going to starve. I was going to eat. And we made enough money to buy clothes so we could have a decent suit to go out in. Yes, I think we, we got by all right. Pretty tough way of getting by I suppose but...
Oh well, I suppose the - you know, the rabbits, we ate a lot of rabbits. We ate that many rabbits that I don't particularly like to have a rabbit any more. And there was foxes, you know. Back in those days women wore foxes, fox furs around the neck. And a fox, a good fox skin, knitted fox skin, was worth good money. And we did - I was a pretty good rifle shot, and we used to catch foxes in that area around Flowerdale it was a mountainous hilly country, a lot of bracken ferns. And foxes lived in - that's where they hid amongst these ferns. And we learnt to have - make a whistle out of the top of a tin that made a noise something like a rabbit squealing. And we'd - we'd do this way up a gully somewhere and a fox would hear this and think there was a rabbit in trouble, and he would come to where this sound was being made. And when he got in distance we would shoot him. Skin the fox and we'd peg that out on the tree, or on the side of - a lot of our huts we stayed in they were wooden huts, so you pegged your skin on the side of the hut.
If you could get contract fencing, probably in those days, or occasionally you would get a contract cutting timber, because you would mostly have wood fires. And if you could find a patch of timber - dry, it had to be dry timber - and you were good with an axe and a saw, you could make pretty good money that way. Not big money as we know money today, but put a few pounds and shillings in your pocket.
Yes. Yes, I started shearing I suppose when I was - I suppose I was 17 when I started shearing. Yes, and going back - I can't remember right back when I started how much money per hundred it was. But when I finished, just before I went to the war, it was 28 shillings a hundred. Now today, today they're getting about, nearly $2 a sheep. So that'd be $200 a hundred, you know. And they'd be shearing, some of them shearing their 200 sheep a day.
So during that time that you were doing all these rural odd jobs and turning a hand to anything, it was the Depression. What was the main things - what were the main things that you remember from rural life in the Depression?
Well I was in Leeton, as a messenger boy for two years. Gave it up, returned south, to a place called Homewood, near Flowerdale. I returned back up to Leeton, New South Wales. And there I did get a job in the canning factory for a while. That was when that fruit was pouring in, and there was a - there was a big homing place there for people from Sydney, Melbourne, to accommodate them. They were all women in those accommodations. And they stayed on there while fruit season was on and then they returned to Sydney, Melbourne. And these shanty towns around those cites - was deplorable, you know. Although I was getting a dollar here and there, or in those days, it was shilling, pence, pounds, these people were finding it damn hard you know, with little kids in these - well, these accommodation they built was just out of tin and bags and any damn sort of shelter they'd give them. You know, in around Leeton it can be damn hot there in the summertime. [INTERRUPTION]
Once more I returned south. Met up with my brother Tom. Older than me. And he had a letter from a chap named Roberts from Callaghan['s] Creek - it's a tributary off the Mitta Mitta. And he wanted us to go share-farming. That's milking cows. So we both arrived up at his property. And we found there was no milking shed, no yards, no nothing, but we were to build these. It was one on the end of this big property. And so we set to and built a hut. Out of, it was out of - you probably wouldn't know about slip rails, post and slip rails that they built fences of in the old days. Well that's what we built this hut of. And all we had was tin or - what do you call it?
Oh, just sheets of iron it was. We made a chimney out of that. And bricked it,with, just with dirt and bricks and stuff, to make a fireplace. Then we had to build the yard, build the place to milk the cows, a place to separate, because we milked and then separated. And a chap would come once - twice a week he used to come - and pick up the cream. We used to send cream to a place called Eskdale. Eskdale was down in the Mitta Valley. And we stayed share farming there for two, two years, milking 50 cows by hand, this brother and I. And when we did milk and turn it into cream, we had to take that a mile on a sledge to where the chap would pick it up to go to Eskdale. Now we made enough money to just to live, but we would, I suppose we would have damn near starved if we weren't good at rabbit trapping and fox shooting to supplement our income from the share farming. You see, because the pasture was pretty poor and there was no super spread on the ground. It was just kangaroo grass, you probably remember kangaroo grass. Anyhow that's what the cows had to milk on. So we decided we'd pack up with this. Oh, in the meantime, I thought I'd get some ponies. So I toured up to Corryong from there. I rode a push-bike from where we were to Corryong, bought two ponies, returned back to where we were on Callaghan['s] Creek, left my bike behind this time, caught the train from Mitta Mitta - it's not the Mitta Mitta of today you know. That Mitta Mitta that I knew, Tallangatta rather, Tallangatta, that Tallangatta is now covered with water. The Hume Weir has gone over the old Tallangatta. And that was rather a very nice town, with two big nice pubs there - brick, built of brick. I suppose they're - I don't know whether they ever see them if the weir goes down. But this time I caught the train to Corryong. And brought these two ponies home. Now one was a little buck jumping bugger, so I led him home. And I travelled down as far as Eskdale, a name of a place, went bush there on a bridal track over into the Tallangatta Valley and stayed with people that I knew for the night. Then went bush again next day, over the range, back down into the Mitta Valley. And eventually home. Now that little pony can buck like hell and for some time he used empty me out pretty regularly. But later on - I will tell you about it - he finished up taking a girl to school. That will come later on.
No, I was pretty resilient those times because you see I was only about 17 or 18. It come pretty easy those times.
Yes. Yes. I got to know this pony. You know, for years and years that pony - or for a lot of years anyhow - this pony, you'd saddle him up, pull the girth up, pull and he'd buck, you know. Let him have his buck, then get on and ride him away. And I earned quite a bit of money with that pony like that, because I bet people they couldn't ride him. Saddle him up and he'd buck and they wouldn't get on him, give me the money. And I bet them I could ride him. I'd let him have his buck and get on and ride him.
Well, I don't - see that's a long time back. The enjoyment I got out of horses I suppose was - I did a lot of breaking in of horses eventually you know, and was to get the horse from just a wild horse down to a horse you ride, or drive. Because we used to have to break them in to both saddle and to harness. And you know, for that we'd get 30 shillings. You think about it. Thirty shillings, go get the horse most times, get this unbroken horse, tie it to the side of the break, bring it home, break it in. And it had returned to its owner quiet, broken in to saddle, 30 shillings you know. But it's different times. They certainly don't do it today. Now we - I'm telling you about the...
Well we, we left there. We left there with a buggy and two horses and these two ponies in the, as we call it, a sulky, you know. It was a - it was a buggy that had the horse tied behind, and later we went into New South Wales. See we were the - Callaghan['s] Creek was in Victoria. And my brother got us shearing, shearing in a place just over the border. And he went to an agent there and he got us shearing jobs way out on the Langara Station the other side of Hillston, over the Lachlan River. And I toured through there with the horse and had to meet up with him. And I just got there, he'd left the day before. So I toured back to Leeton and stayed with people I knew in Leeton, or people that I lived in their shed while I was being a messenger boy, some years before. And I remember that shed that I used to sleep in. I used to eat with them, but I slept in a shed, and I found that cow manure, if you burnt cow manure was good for keeping the mosquitoes off you. So...
Well there was nothing in it. Apart from rabbit skins and that, you know, and the chap Roberts that we were milking for, he was getting damn little out of it. Because we were getting half share of what we were doing. And he had a family of - he had three girls and a boy. So he'd been doing it very hard, and he was running sheep and he was having trouble with dingoes. It was rather bushy country there where we were. It was a big property in this valley, but all around was timbered country. You know, the hills going towards Mitta Mitta was all timber hills. And the other side going to Tallangatta Valley, that was all timber. And a lot of dingoes. At night-time you'd hear these dingoes howling. And kangaroos. We used to shoot these kangaroos, we used to get a permit for so many skins and we could sell the skins. Wombats, which are protected today, we used to get so much for their scalps. Because they're a damn nuisance those wombats, you know, they're starting to live under people's houses and creating a bit of a problem.
Well we used to visit people across in, over the range down into the Tallangatta Valley. And we did the same across into the Mitta Valley from where we were. But it didn't do anything much for you, the only thing you did jump a log if it was in your way, you know, across a gutter. But apart from that we got a bit blasé about riding. It was our transport. You know, we weren't doing it much for sport or - oh we did later on in life when I met up with Mavis, my wife...
But at that stage it was our transport to get there, get here, or get there, you know. So we didn't see anything romantic about riding through the bush.
Well I worked in the orchards there and I did have a stint out on the plains with big teams of horses in the wheat belts. You know, you'd have about 14 horses in a team. And yoking up, collaring them up in the morning early, take the collar, and you'd decollar them at lunch-time, wash their shoulders, and the same thing at night-time. And it might sound a bit funny, but we used to keep pee to wash the horses shoulders. It was good for hardening and sore shoulders.
I wouldn't suggest if you get a cut or something that you try it, but we did. Yes.
I beg your pardon?
Well I suppose I heard it was good for a horse's shoulders. So I just followed on.
It seemed to, yes. Yep. But you know, washing their shoulders, washing the sweat off their shoulders and keeping their shoulders clean. And the collars that you put on, keep them clean, did help. Because horses with sore shoulders wasn't a particularly nice thing to see. Because as soon as they got going the collar rubbed their shoulders and bled, and you know, it wasn't right.
I think I probably did. Yes. Later on, later on in life I was working on a property and I only got the job because the station owner thought I was good with horses.
Oh, just my background I suppose, from starting off in school with horses, you know. Worked with horses, to work with horses and to dances on horses. You know.
Yes you do.
Well, you were as kind as possible, you might find one that wanted a bit of rough treatment, but mostly you were pretty kind to a horse. You saw he was watered, fed, and you know, looked after, kept clean. And we didn't rug - we didn't rug up there roundly. That was pretty - much warmer than it is down here. Horses weren't rugged. But they were washed down after they'd worked all day and I think most people rather look after a horse than be cruel to it.
And where did you go after Leeton, after you were in Leeton?
We left, the brother and I returned and we came south. We drove the buggy all the way south, back down around Flowerdale. And then we went shearing. And we were both blade shearers at the time. That's old blade shears. Perhaps you - I don't know whether you know about blade shearers or not, but I started off with blade shears. And I kept it up for some time. And didn't get around to machine shearing much just before the war.
Well with them, yes there was. There was fair amount of skill in preparing them. You pull the blade back so you took a bigger blow each time you made a cut with those shears, you took more wool. But you had to be damn careful that you didn't take too much skin either. It was, particularly with merino sheep that are wrinkly, you had to be careful with blades that you didn't take too much skin.
Oh that was it. No, no, no, no. I was all for the machines. Much easier. Because in blade shearing, in blade shearing you do your run, your two hour's run and you stop for morning lunch. Instead of sitting down and enjoying your cup of tea and that, you'd be out grinding those shears over an old grindstone, that you either pedalled or somebody turned for you with a handle. And you sharpened those shears again. You were never - and it was a lot of work in those shears to have them cutting properly without pulling the wool. Because they kick enough without the shears being blunt and pulling them.
No, I wasn't shearing when war broke out. Yes, I was. Yes, I was shearing. I was shearing at Bob McCracken's Switzerland Station, yes. I always skip that bit. He - he was a good man to shear for, Bob McCracken. And he loved yarns. And in those days, I could tell a yarn or two. You know, we'd be sitting having lunch and after we'd fixed our shears and telling me yarn. He enjoyed that.
Oh real stories. Oh these weren't made up. I suppose somebody had told me and I - those days I could remember yarns, you know. So after Switzerland, we shored then at Murrimbindi Station, just across - but war broke out - what was it? I should remember the date.
1939 and it was a Monday. Was it a Monday? I forget the day. But we were shearing and I remember there was two Irish blokes shearing alongside me, and you know, "Are you going to join up you fellas and go and fight for Britain?" And I said "Of course we will, of course we will". And they've said something about Ireland was Ireland when England was a pup and Ireland will be Ireland when England's buggered up. And I don't - I think they probably got a beat of a belting after the shearing was over.
Well see they were Irish and they were...
No, no, no, no. But we didn't particularly like that and told them so. They better watch what they're saying.
Well it didn't mean much to me at the time, because I thought, well with the way things have gone, it'll be over quick smart, you know. But as you know, it wasn't over quick smart.
No, no, but straight after that I went into the Light Horse, I went straight into the Light Horse. And because you know, my stupid thoughts those times, being young, that maybe they'd take the Light Horse to go. But there was no damn way they were going to take the Light Horse - mechanised age. So the only time they used the Light Horse during the war was some of the Queenslanders they took to New Guinea and used them for packing supplies up into the hills. There was no fighting of this past - Light Horse would be no good in this last World War.
No, no, no. We joined it right there, it was the 20th Light Horse they called it. It was Mansfield, Yea, Seymour combined. And we went to Torquay in a big camp at Torquay down near Geelong. And there we were, we were in camp there I think for a month. And then abandoned. And we joined up then - oh I think I went scrubbing for a while. Now you probably, most people wouldn't know what scrubbing means. But in forest country they ring-bark a tree, they ring-bark a tree. That's a ring around and around the tree, they cut into it. And that kills the tree, but it grows suckers below where you put that cut. And that's what we call scrubbing. You go scrubbing. So we go and knock those suckers off. And then the tree eventually dies. The bottom part eventually dies. That's scrubbing. So I was scrubbing in very hilly country when I decided - Dunkirk fell. Remember Dunkirk? When Dunkirk fell I thought it's time I go enlist. So I went to Yea and met up with a lot of boys who were in the town there. I said "I'm going to enlist", they said "We're coming with you". So I think there was about 14 of us went to Melbourne and we enlisted at Caulfield. Caulfield Racecourse. They said to us when we went in, "Where do you boys want to go?" and well I said "I want to go to the 2nd 22nd Infantry, they're camped at Rokeby near Yea". And I thought well I was a bit fond of Mavis at the time, see, and she was near Yea. So, nothing was done about it. The whole 14 of us said "Yes, Rokeby will do us". So we were split up and we went down to, we went down to Mornington, to a camp in Mornington. And we were only there for a couple of weeks. And they split us up again. They sent seven of us to Colac. Now you came through Colac. And we camped on the Colac showgrounds there. And the seven of us were in where they used to stable the horses at the show. And they built a tin fence along it, wood on the floor, and we slept on straw palliases. And you had two blankets to keep you warm, you know. But a lot of the other, they came from all over Victoria to there, and some were in the pigs stall, where they used to keep the pigs. And they had trouble with rats and mice and things there. And from there they formed a regiment called the 2nd 14 Field Regiment in Puckapunyal. And we were drafted to there. And there was, there was half of us, the 2nd 14 Field Regiment, Victorians and half South Australians. And from there we went on and trained and eventually it was to Darwin we were sent.
There lies a story, and probably a very fortunate story for me. Because we had applied to go to the - we said we wanted to go to the 2nd 22nd. They'd noted that down, but time had elapsed and we'd been sent to Colac. And at the same time as our transfer came through to go to the 2nd 22nd, we got a - we got an application to the headquarters at Colac to release us for send off by the Shire of Yea. Now so many would enlist and the shire would ask them to be let - go home to have a send off. Well the captain, and he was a Captain Smith from Mansfield, was in charge of our unit, said "Well Bill, we can't let you go, because you're on draft to the 2nd 22nd and you go tomorrow". He said "I can't give you permission to go once you're on draft". So anyhow, there was a tin fence right round that place. Well the seven of us went over the tin fence and we hitchhiked to Melbourne and back and back to Yea. And we stayed adrift for six days and then returned back to camp.
Oh I don't know Mavis what we do in those six days. I don't know. You'd have to ask Mavis what we did in those six days. But I suppose we relaxed a bit from, you know, going up and down, up and down.
No, we were going to miss that send off. Anyhow it was any damn excuse to get away from you know, left right, left right, you know, I fell over once and he said "What's wrong with you?" I said "I was buggered". He said to me "Buggered if you don't get up I'll give you more pack-drill". So...
That's right, yes.
Well, you're in trouble I suppose in as much as you've got to do pack-drill. That's in Australia, but if you leave overseas you're liable to be shot as - I believe they did shoot an odd one during the war, the First World War. I haven't heard of anybody being shot on the second one.
Well we did pack-drill. You put a pack on your back and they march you up and down, up and down. Left, right, left, right. Up and down, you know. And you do that for about half an hour or more, carrying a big pack. And I eventually said to the CO "What about our transfer to the 2nd 22nd?" "Well" he said, "Mr Roycroft, we don't want you". He said "I sent them a - I got a telegram asking where you were. So I sent them back a telegram, they're absent without leave. I got a telegram back saying, we don't take them that go absent without leave". So I wasn't there. But it was very fortunate because eventually I was guard of honour on most of those blokes in Tol Plantation New Britain, where they'd been massacred by the Japanese. See luck's a fortune. I would have been a long skeleton - all there was the green ants clean them up very quickly there. There's millions of green, these big green ants. And all was there just their bones. And their boots. They never took their - their boots were still there. Their dead meat tickets or the identification disk that we wore all the time. They were thrown away or burnt, or something. So they were put in sandbags and buried those boys. Some they identified by their dentures. Mostly they were just gone by the way, just lost. So that was escape for me. And that was Tol Plantation, New Britain. We'd been to New Guinea right up to the Sepik River after the Japs. Then across the New Britain...
We trained, we trained on there and eventually the brass come up from Melbourne for us to do a shoot - we were artillery, and we were to do a shoot at 2 o'clock in the morning. And it was a cold frosty night, and it was the only time ever that overproof rum was issued to the troops. They're supposed to you know, but that was the only time ever it was issued. And I didn't drink the stuff, and I don't think most of the young blokes did. But the officers must because they made a hell of a mess of that shoot. We were supposed to do the shoot and then go to the Middle East. So they didn't send us, they sent us to Darwin. We shipped off to Darwin and we were to support there for the 2nd 21st and there lies another story, because eventually the 2nd 21st was sent to Ambon, and they couldn't get us on the boat. We took our guns and the trucks and things down to the wharf, and they said "We can't get you on, you'll have to wait for the next ship". And Ambon fell before the next ship came in. So here again, most of those 2nd 21st never come back. They died of starvation or beriberi and one of my school friends, a very nice young fella, he went west there. He saw me just before he left Darwin. He said "I'll see you over there, Bill". But he didn't see us there. Ambon went. And you know, most of those fellas, or a hell of a lot of them died in 1945, and the war was practically over, you know.
We constantly trained you know. We were trained - we were artillery and we were on the old 18 pound guns you know, they were pretty antique guns. But we also trained as infantry, so we were our own protection, you know. We could fight as infantry or use these damn big guns. And that meant a lot of marching and bivouacking and practising fighting each other, you know. Which wasn't really fighting each other, but you imagine you were, you know. And you did a lot of things that nearly drove you mad. We had to build ramps, so our trucks up on these ramps, and we used to have to clean the bottom of these trucks, the tail shafts and everything that was underneath the truck had to be clean. And they'd come and inspect those damn things and you know...
Something for you to do, you know, for God's sake. Just something for you to do. And rather than just nothing to do I suppose you'd go mad if you didn't, but oh it used to make me mad. And some of those officers - a lot of our officers were cadets, you know, and back in those days the kids used to go to college or somewhere and they had to do so much training in the army afterwards. What'd they call them? Something cadets. And some of these boys only 18, 19, there were a lot of officers with a bit of age had gone away with the 6th Divvy, and a lot of these kids were made officers. Lieutenants, captains - and see at 22 - I was 22 then I think. And I'd been around quite a lot, a bit more or less grown up. And then these kids giving me orders. This used to rankle me. You know, you walk past them, "You didn't salute me, Gunner." "Bugger it, I saluted you every time today I've been near you." "You've got to salute us every time you pass us." What a bloody lot of rot. And this sort of thing used to really rankle. And the blokes, the blokes that went in when Dunkirk fell, they were most of them were mature people. They weren't kids. They didn't go in in the early part when the war started, because they thought damn it, this isn't - they're not going to get to England. But when Dunkirk fell they came in in droves from the country. And most of our people that were in that regiment were country people. We did get recruits from the city eventually.
No, I hated it. And you see, they eventually made me a sergeant. I think to stop me going crook. Give me some authority. So I'd have to be - I'd be asking a few questions. But I got on terribly well with the troops, even being the sergeant, I didn't have any problems.
Oh yes, oh yes, I did drill them, yes.
No. No, no. I used to love to teach them with the bayonet, how to fight with a bayonet. You know, there was no chance I don't think ever, because they had machine-guns this war, there wasn't much bayonet business like they did in the old days. But it was fun just doing it.
We spent two years in Darwin, and they more or less health classed us and sent us south to Sydney. We come down to Sydney and we were out in Sutherland, Sutherland Park, Sutherland Park out of Sydney. And they, I don't know whether some troops had been in there before, but we took up camp there, and we spent quite a bit of our time taking over the wharves and loading ships and unloading ships where the wharfies were on strike. Going back on that, who was Prime Minister then? Curtin?
Was Curtin Prime Minister then?
Well they said what a marvellous bloke he was, you know, he got on so well with the workers and that, people. I thought what a bastard he was to let the wharfies be on strike and his soldiers unloading ships. Ships going to New Guinea, you know, the troops were unloading and loading. Ships coming in we were unloading, and loading ships going out. We followed the Centaur, the hospital ship, they sank the hospital ship, remember. We probably were the next ship after the Centaur that went to New Guinea...
Sydney. Yeah, we went from Sydney... We didn't actually go from Sydney, but we were in camp there. We went up to Brisbane. We were camped just down from Brisbane at Redland Bay. If you look at a map you'll see Redland Bay. And we were in Redland Bay for, I think, three weeks or a fortnight or a month. Something. And from there we were sent. Our CO that was in charge of us, he went to New Guinea before us and was dead before we got there with scrub typhus. Scrub typhus was a bug that lived on rats, field rats, and if you kill the rat, he'll eat the rat and got on you, bit you, you had a fever that killed thousands of troops. And he died of scrub typhus. And when we arrived there, they outfitted us with clothes and mokka oil. Your clothes were covered in this mokka oil. And the CO said, "I don't want any of you boys bitten with this flea. Don't sleep on the ground. You take transport. But you go to the Yanks, and get those sleepers that they sleep off the ground. I don't care how you get them, but get them." And we did.
[laughs] I don't really know, I wasn't in the parties that went and got them. But they got them. I don't know, but they got them.
It was an oily sort of stuff that you put all over your clothes. And we were very careful we didn't sleep on the ground, or where we could, because often we had to sleep on the ground. Our sheet, we'd put that down, sleep on the sheet.
Oh, we didn't see a great lot of action at all. The action, we were harassing the Japanese because we were hunting them back all the time.
They were on the move back, and we got to New Guinea. The biggest - the Waitavelo Feature [Plantation] in New Britain was the biggest hold up there because you'd belt them back out and they'd build tunnels. They were great tunnel builders or earth builders. They'd go back into another trench and we lost quite a few troops there.
Well I was on the gun, I was sergeant on a gun, and we got orders. You were linked up to a Tannoy set the whole time and you got the - orders take place and you were given the range, angle of sight and all that sort of thing. Line range, angle of sight, and you had to get your gun and so many rounds fire, you know. And then we had extreme range. It was - we had - our shells were done by coloured powder. If it was just - you could fire your gun so it was a like a trench mortar. It would just fire a couple of hundred yards. Your gun would be pointing up in the air, you know, and then it might be three charge and then you get extreme - it was an extreme shell which is as far as the gun would fire.
Oh no, you don't see the enemy no. You only see the ones you killed or - the only ones, the infantry, if I'd been in the infantry, yes, I would have seen the enemy.
Well it didn't strike me terribly bad until I, we went and found these fellas in Tol Plantation, New Britain, and they were lying out in their sevens and they were elevens, you know, just the skeletons there. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne was one of the 2nd 22nd that did escape. I can't think of his name. If I think of his name I'll tell you. The name's escaped me. Ted Best. Ted Best was Lord Mayor of Melbourne. He was one of about seven or so that escaped across the jungle and eventually was picked up. But I suppose there was 2,000 more of them that were killed, massacred by the Japanese... [INTERRUPTION]
I wouldn't know, I wouldn't know exactly. I suppose I should have found out, because Ted Best I know did escape, and you were always going to, but you never ever got around to asking Ted how - how and how many. But it was - see I was over six foot and I was one of the guard of honour when they did something about these boys. We - I was lucky again, right there in New Guinea, because we were flying, we were flying at night, super charged. And one of the boys said "Whoa, Bill, you've got a crack in the breach block". The breach block is the, you fire your shell in and you close your breach block and it's a big block in behind. He said there's a crack. And so I just stood them all down. If I'd have fired that shell, I'd have got that breach block fair in the belly, because I'm right behind the thing. That's where the number one of the guns sits there. Right behind the gun. From there - well, we played a lot of sport there too. I was a pretty good basketball player. And we used to hang these things on these big trees and play and the toughest blokes were the Americans. We could beat nearly everybody but the Americans, they were pretty good. Now, from - I got away before the war finished because I was one of quite a few that had gone to New Guinea and left a baby behind. Because Mavis and I married when we arrived down from Darwin and a baby was left behind as we sailed off and I think Barry, the eldest, he must have been round the 18 month or something before I saw him. Mavis will probably say that's wrong. So you'll have to ask Mavis really about that. So there was me and there was another one, Bob Gorrie, he was killed just before we left. While we were blasting the Waitavelo Feature [Plantation]. He was up with the signallers and the Japanese were pretty good at converting bombs. They'd run out of the proper shells to fire back and they'd converted something out of ships that they were firing and they used to come, instead of coming over, you know, like a bullet would come, they used to come over end over end, and he stood up out of his trench and said "Are you all right boys?" and as he stood up one fell and killed him. And I think it was the same time young Bostock from Mansfield was killed there also. So we did lose an odd one. And we lost a few treading on Japanese sand - you know, what do they call them?
Oh yes, yeah. On the gun - there was about eight on the gun - we were 25 pound guns in New Guinea. And on that gun was about eight of us and there is now only two of us left. One is Bill Sanders, and he's way up in New South Wales and I ring him pretty repeatedly. One from Geelong was a great friend of mine, Jack Rossack and he was a mighty man. We'd have to dig our guns in you know, and he was so strong he'd be throwing so much in there he'd nearly work in the shade. I used to have to slow him down because we'd finish and have our gun in position and the lieutenant or captain who'd come would say, "Come on Bill, come and give these fellas a hand". So we learnt to slow down a bit.
Oh yeah, we were, yes. Yeah, we kept in touch, until - well they're all dead now apart from Bill Sanders and me. See I'm 83, I suppose we're pretty close gone. I've got to the stage now with all these fellas I used to drink with, I say "Now come and have a drink". They say "Bugger you Bill, everybody you drink with dies".
Oh doesn't - you know one night, we were pulling up camp to go. The night before we pulled up in one camp but we moved on. We had to do guard every night. Every night you did guard and it was all jungle you know through New Guinea and that. And you'd lay, you'd have your tapes to get out to the night bloke by a vine. You'd follow that out. And one of the fellas, you had to give a password and then he had to give you the counter password. And this night it was "clear". You'd say "clear", and he should say "lucidly" straight away. And one of the chaps was going out to his post and gave the password, and this bloke was trying to - forgot what the password was, you know. I never forgot that damn password. He'd forgotten what the password was and the bloke shot him. Shot him in the throat. And that's something that, you know, I can hear that scream now. And they said to me the next morning, "Move up, get your thing out, Bill, we're going to bury him here on your site". The one that he shot. And that poor bugger that shot him, you know, that drove him mad. He was never any more good. But see that was the thing, the Japanese used to be all around you. And damn wild pigs over there which trip your strip wires, you know, and let off whatever you had set. All those things do harass you. But it was the - all the way up to the Sepik River along the coast, you were usually pretty close to the beach and that sea swishing in and swishing out. You'd be listening for something [inaudible] while you were doing your two hour guard, and all you'd hear is this swish in, swish out you know. This is the sea coming in and swish out. And then the bloke would come and relieve you. Where have you been?
I had dengue fever. I had dengue fever, you had a hell of a fever for a while and then that's gone. That didn't leave any effect. I got malaria after the war. Tell you about that later.
No, no, we took atoprine, we took atoprine, it left you pretty yellow. It was the yellow type of atoprine and you were pretty yellow in the skin. But you never got it there. We had one chap with us that they found he was a malaria carrier. He'd spent seven years in New Guinea prior to the war, and he never got malaria. But he was a carrier. Mosquito bite him and bite you. And so they discharged him. Bob Gorrie was his name.
We were given a certain amount of leave which I spent with Mavis. Then we were - sent to Tatura. That's a place up the back of central Victoria. And I was there to guard Japanese. And most of the old diggers from the First World War , you know, they might have been just a bit too young to get into the First World War, had not got there quite, well those fellows did the guarding. And they were very good, they said "Oh Bill, you know, go to sleep, we'll do it". But I used to go with them and they said, "Well don't take your rifle or machine-gun with you because if they're having trouble, the Japanese, they'll come and try and assault you to be taken out of their camp". Because apparently the Japanese used to have it in for one, they'd kill him or half kill him. So the way to get out when the guards went in, they'd try to attack them so they'd take them out of there. So I went with my machine-gun, I said "Well anybody attacks me, he's going to be a dead Japanese".
Well, I disliked the little buggers of course. But when I travelled to England on that Japanese boat - that'll come later.
Oh no, no. You know, I see a lot of them still and I don't particularly like them. And I think, you know, we're trading with the little buggers. And no, I hate the thought that I look at you people and think you know, that's nice, I look at the Australian type. And what are we going to have, an Asian type here. We'll be - when you walk down the street in Melbourne or Sydney now in different parts, you'd swear to God you were in Japan or Korea or somewhere.
Well, I was there I suppose - don't know if I've got this quite right or not - I was home, I was home on leave and it was, it was declared war was over. I went back to that camp, I went back to that camp, Tatura, after armistice. See the prisoners were there and they were still being guarded. So in actual fact the war was over when I went to Tatura. Armistice was when I was home on that leave that I'd got from New Guinea. So I didn't return. Some of them went back. And see we were in Tol Plantation just down from Rabaul. And those, those of the 2nd 14th that were still there went up into Rabaul and took over when armistice was signed, and put all those Japanese there they put them in barbed wire.
I was in Yea. At home.
Oh yes. Oh yeah... Oh, there was great celebrations there.
Yes, I was. Yes, I was, and you know we really shouldn't have been fighting there. I think that was very silly that we lost troops up there. I told you the ones we lost and I know that there was quite a few of the infantry lost there. And they bypass there now, you see, they bypass New Guinea. All we were doing was mopping up Japanese that were bypassed. The war had gone past New Guinea. So there was really no need, you know, it was just a matter of sitting there. Don't go in and lose men. And Blamey, I blame Blamey for doing that, you know. That should never have happened.
Well we knew damn quite well that the only thing that some of those suicide blokes you had, watch that they didn't come in and try and massacre you too. But they didn't really know, the Japanese that were left there they didn't know the war was over... They didn't know that, you know, Australia had gone past. And the Americans.
Yes. I built - I knew about building our huts in Darwin. And before we left up there I spent quite a bit of time showing these Americans how to build these huts and live with them. But oh boy, they lived so much better than we did... No wonder our girls used to go for them, because they had the money... And they had the uniforms. They carried, you know, they were smartly dressed. So you can just imagine our young girls going for them in a big way. Plenty of money to spend.
I got on all right with them, yes. Well, with these fellas that I had to teach how to build these, these huts, yes... But a big mistake they did make you know, there was two of the planes just - there was one lot of Australians coming down and the Americans going up into there. And as they passed the Australians said "You'll be sorry Yank". And the Yanks said "You'll be sorry when you see your sister, too". That was enough, bang. And when we were on our way down, we got down - on the route we came down, we went by truck right across through Mt. Isa and got onto the trains at Mt. Isa. We trucked across from Darwin to Mt. Isa. And then we trucked from there back down to Sydney. But before we got to Brisbane, we were, we were lectured that they'd nearly taken guns to each other in Brisbane, the Australians and the Yanks. So leave them alone, leave the Yanks alone. But while we were in Sydney, while we were in Sydney, waiting to go there, we had lots of fights with the Yanks. We'd go into Sydney, you know, from Sutherland, Sutherland Park it was, and you'd be walking down the street and there was a big fella with me, Jim Heinz, from South Australia. He just wouldn't tolerate Yanks. Put them down. Bang, bang, you know. And there was another big fella with us, Leigh Parr. Leigh Parr grabbed a bloke on the tram, he was harassing one of the conductresses, one of the girls, so he grabbed this by the arse of the pants and pelted him out as the tram went, you know. Phew. But once I got a bit sick of going in with those fellas. You walk into a cafe full of Yanks going "Bloody Yanks" and into these Yanks. And we got more beltings. [laughs] My nose was getting knocked about quite a bit. You know, big nose.
... Yeah, I suppose we did, you know. I think a lot of the thing was that the Yanks were having so much to do with our women, you know.
I suppose. I suppose there was. They said you know, when the - I think it was the - what was it? - the night they arrived back in and they arrived into Melbourne and they said "Yanks, you better get out before they release us you know". Because they went back in there and any Yank, they belted them.
I was there for 52 air raids. Yeah. I was there for the big one, you know, when they sank all these ships, and yeah. We were in Nightcliff. Nightcliff's now a suburb of Darwin. We built the camp. We built that camp in Nightcliff. We were at Winnellie. Winnellie on the highway going into Darwin, about seven mile out of Darwin. And while we were there our CO said "Look, we want a sporting arena. We'll go out and clean some of the jungle out near Nightcliff". And they - he said, "And that'll be a damn nice place for a camp there, right on Nightcliff looking over the sea". So we did built a camp there. And that is a suburb of Darwin now, Nightcliff.
When the which?
You could hardly see the place for dust, you know. But they knew, they knew where everything was. There was - they knew where the hotel, the big new hotel, the Hydro Hotel, a beautiful big hotel. They never touched it, because I suppose they reckon, they shot out the things that mattered. They did the post office, they killed about nine people at the post office. And the big oil tank, there was a massive oil tank that supplied ships right alongside the wharf where the ships came in. They never touched that, they never touched that on that big raid. And they didn't touch that for some time. But when they looked as if they weren't going to make Darwin, they bombed that oil tank, and it burnt. And it burnt and burnt and burnt. And as it burnt down it'd melt the sides of the thing. And it burnt there for ages before it burnt all that oil. But it was amazing because they sank all those ships and there was all sorts of people on it. You didn't know whether they were damn Japanese coming ashore. Some - a hell of a lot went down with their ships, or were killed on their ship, but there was a hell of a lot come ashore.
Well, you never thought about it much until the siren went. There was a siren and there was a little boat in the harbour used to go round and you could hear this boat with its siren also, used to dash around the harbour. But then we'd know that, yeah, there was planes coming. And if we were in a vehicle moving somewhere we'd make sure that we'd move to somewhere where there's a trench or slit trench. And then we'd watch the planes coming in, if it was daytime, we'd watch them coming in, and if they were going to be directly overhead, we'd watch for the bombs leaving their racks. And if they left the racks before they got near us we'd know they were going to fall close, so we'd get in our slip trench or whatever we had. And there in Darwin you know, it was only a very film - a film bit of soil on very hard stone. I don't know what the stone was, whether it was - what type of stone it was. But you only had to look over the cliff and just down a little bit, it was all stone, you know. So normally our trenches was built of sand, just on top of the ground. So these things we used to get into. And we had a fair idea, if the plane was a little bit to one side you could see the plane coming, if it was going to be either side of you, you didn't worry about getting in at all. And you'd hear the explosion some distance away. But if they were coming directly over the top of you and you were watching, watching underneath the plane, and you could see if they dropped those damn bombs. And if they were over the top and let them go, no worry, because they'd land half a mile or a mile further on. See when they leave the rack underneath the plane, they're travelling at the same pace as that plane's travelling. So they're not going to come straight down. They're going to go to hell further on. But we did not worry greatly about them. But at night-time, night-time if you heard the planes coming you got into a trench because you couldn't see whether they were going to be over the top of you or on to the side. So you made sure. And we were pretty damn lucky. The closest a bomb fell to me probably was 50 yards away, you know. And that didn't kill anybody, but it was very close to some of our boys that were in a vehicle. They were on one side of a road and it landed on the other side, and they just happened to be on a raised road, and the daisy-cutters or whatever the hell they dropped, probably just went into the bank and not over the top. And when I talk about daisy-cutters, they were smallish bombs they'd drop and they hit the ground and they'd cut the grass, and they spread and cut the grass. The big 50 pounders and heavier bombs, they went in and they threw up into the air. They weren't near as dangerous to us as what the daisy-cutters. [INTERRUPTION]
I suppose, I suppose just being there, being a party of some 2,000. See just personally I suppose I did damn little. But just being there and being a part of the thing. I can't say that I contributed much at all. I didn't get any - grab any Japanese personally and take him prisoner. But I probably, by giving the order to pull the gun, you know, fire, because I was in charge of that 25 pounder gun, I possibly killed quite a few Japanese. But I wouldn't know how many, and wouldn't know if I even did kill a Japanese. But that was the purpose of being there, was to defend Australia. And at the time, kill as many Japanese as I could.
Well I used to think about, you know, that they'd bypassed New Guinea and pressing the Japanese when we were only cleaning up. I thought how damn stupid that was, you know. And I thought - see we were having ones on the Waitavelo Feature [Plantation] New Britain being killed and we lost a few there being killed in Waitavelo Feature [Plantation]. And all we were doing was mopping up Japanese. Now all we had to do was sit quiet, just see that they didn't kill us, because they were still about killing us. And just wait for armistice. Because I'd left New Guinea and wasn't home - I was just home on leave for a fortnight and an armistice was signed. So what the hell were we doing, you know, losing people at that late stage?
No, no, never, no. Because I was with...
I must tell you about that, but then let me go back to Darwin and tell you about this first raid. The devastation, the devastation of the place then. Because you know, they knew all about Darwin, they knew exactly where we were and who was - what was going on there. And they knew those ships, because they waited to get all those ships in the harbour, and of course when the tide went out in Darwin, those damn ships were stuck there, they couldn't move out. And they had one ship tied up at the wharf. Now they sank that thing there. It was sitting in the mud when the Japanese bombed it. Just imagine all those sailors from all over the world that were there on those ships, come ashore the ones that weren't killed. It was quite havoc, and those - all the ones who were killed though they were buried in a big common grave, you know. There was no way you could pick out and bury this one because you knew who they were. That was rather devastating, but very thoughtful, if you were to think about it. And when that raid came, the AIF, the volunteers that were there in Darwin, they stayed there but there was thousands and thousands breaking their legs getting the hell out of there, because they were the militia. And I don't care if they do print this, you know, about the militia. They were the ones that didn't want to go to war. They didn't want to fight. And there was a lot of people, and I won't bring religion into this, because this is not really good either, because we did have Robert Charlies with us. Not a great lot of them, but we did have them with us. And I don't know whether you know what a Robert Charlie is but...
I suppose, yes. And we knew how many we had because when you have a parade for church parade, you know, the ones that fell out for the Robert Charlies, there was never many fell out. So I suppose there was a lot to do when war broke out, you know, because I was telling you about shearing and they said "Ireland was Ireland when England was a pup, and Ireland will be Ireland when England's buggered up", you know. That went right through I think and we don't think about it any more and I don't think that it's - I don't think it goes on so much any more. I think the Robert Charlies are getting a bit more liberalised and they're not governed so much by their church. But this is getting away from the questions in Darwin. Now the place there in Darwin, when those bombers came over the place it was a red type of dust, because the soil was red. And you know, the place you could hardly see for dust from their bombs exploding and the dust that went up. And of course all these ships being sank in the harbour. And there was a Liberator flying around at the time. They never touched that Liberator. But when that first raid went, that Liberator landed. Now it wasn't long before their second wave come in and they knew that Liberator was there and they got the Liberator next time. They bombed out all these special parts, but left the Hydro Hotel, beautiful new hotel. And the oil well, they never touched that big oil, big oil tank. Because you - their idea was they were going to take Darwin. But after the big battle at the sea, we lost the Perth - they sank the Perth and the Houston. Now we - when the Houston was in the harbour in Darwin not long before that big raid, they - we went out on to that thing. And there was about 2,000 Americans on that Houston, mighty battleship. Now the Japanese got her and the Perth in the big sea battle, but we got a lot of theirs. And I think that stopped the Japanese landing on Darwin or attempting to land on Darwin. And while we were there, before we left Darwin, our CO said we must, we must have a look at the mouth of the Mary River, because his idea was the Japanese wouldn't have come in straight into Darwin, in through the harbour, they would come in the harbour where the mouth of the Mary River runs in, in Arnhem Land [?]. So we went in there, the 2IC, myself and several others, and surveyed that area in the mouth of the Mary River. And there was an old fella there running cattle, and that was the only place in the Territory I saw white faced cattle, Hereford cattle. And they were wilder than the buffalo. And the old fella that was there, he'd gone back living black fella, tin hut and he had gins in the hut with him. Very well educated old fella, but he hadn't been in to Darwin for years. Thought there was something going on by the planes that were overhead flying about.
He didn't know there was a war on. We had taken papers with us, so we left the papers. He was a well educated old bloke [inaudible], but he'd been out all the years there and just - firstly in the years when he was younger, he used to shoot buffaloes or whatever he could shoot, skin them and sell the hides, because they used to come in boats up the mouth of the Mary River. And he use to sell hides.
Well he hadn't sold them for years and years you know, or hadn't mustered. There were real old bullocks there and then they just died of old age, you know.
Yes, yes we were, and we knew he was coming too. So they picked out the six footers and we had to do special training, brighten ourselves up and be very smart. And we were on parade for him when he landed.
It was the Duke of, Duke of - ah, Duke of York. Yep. I think he was the bald-headed one, if I remember rightly. And we had to parade to him and those parades you know, they just marched past, perhaps he gets a look at you as he goes by. But - and then it's all over, you know what I mean. And you've been doing this in the heat for days to be smart for the Duke. Bugger the Duke, I thought.
Yes. Yes, armistice was signed while I was home on leave. Now I had to go back to camp. It was in Melbourne, you had to report back. And I was sent to Tatura to - where the Japanese - well Japanese, Germans, and Italians - were all in camps in Tatura just up from Melbourne. And I was sent to the Japanese section. And the old fellas, most of them were old returned soldiers from the First World War that were doing the guarding there. And they said, "Bill, when you go in, don't take arms with you, because they're liable to come out and clout you or do something, the ones that might be in trouble in there, and that gets them out of that particular camp". But it didn't worry me, I took my machine-gun with me. I said "Anybody approaches me will die, so what the hell", you know.
Oh, I don't know whether, I suppose it was hatred, but I hate the - you know, just the look of the Japanese. The shape of the face and the...
Were they what?
Oh yes. Yes, they were well treated. But they were, they were grubby, you know. Their camp, their - it was untidy, nothing done in the way of planting trees or cleaning the place. And as you walked through their huts, they were untidy and dirty. Where I believe the Germans, the Germans were beautifully done. They planted trees and, you know, made themselves more or less look like home. And the Italians, the Italians were much better than the Japanese, but not comparable with the Germans. The Germans were rather outstanding. As you went past the different camps you could see the great difference in just how they were looked after. I wasn't there for a great long time. I said I wanted to be discharged and I was, I was, went to Heidelberg Hospital. You had to go through and be checked out to see if you were okay before they gave you - they discharged you. And I said to the nurse, "Have you got an aspirin?" I had a damn headache when I went in there. I thought perhaps it was - I'd drank too much. But anyhow she said, "Into bed with you, you've got malaria". I had a, I had a fever. And you see I'd taken atropine and all the time, they said take it for six weeks after you arrive home. And I did that, but immediately I stopped taking atropine, apparently I got malaria. And I only spent some time in hospital and I was discharged then. And never had a reoccurrence [sic] of malaria ever since. Some reckon they do, but I've never had it again.
Going back now and picking up on your personal life and taking a quite different angle, Bill, when did you start as a young man, way back going right back to when you were a teenager, getting interested in girls? And for a boy in the country, how did you go about meeting girls and so on?
Well I don't know [laughs]...
I suppose I was a horseman and I used to go to shows and you'd meet them around shows. Because you know, women were competing on horses also. And the dances, I suppose, the dance meetings.
...I suppose I was still looking at girls when I went to school. Because I was 14 when I left school. And there were some damn good looking girls at school, you know. [laughs] But - well dances, I remember dances, you know. I'd get a bit loud at times, because it probably comes over badly. Dances. Yeah, that was - dances was the place I would think. Because there where you picked up a girl and you had a girl dancing close to you. I remember - I was pretty shy. I used to drink, I used to drink a fair bit just to get courage, you know. You know, in those days, girls would be sitting along one wall of the - seats along one wall of the hall. And you'd walk, you'd have to walk across the hall to ask a girl to dance. And if she said no, then you had to walk all the way back. [laughs] That was rather embarrassing. And if I'd had enough to drink I didn't give a damn whether they'd dance with me or they didn't. And I didn't care whether they said no, or they would. But no, mostly I think I was a pretty good dancer. And I think most of the girls wanted to dance with me anyhow... Now that's bragging a bit.
Oh, I don't say I had a pick of the bunch, but... They were great times you know, youth's a marvellous thing. I often look back and it's a pity it's wasted on the young, isn't it?
Oh, well there was the foxtrot and there's other dances. I've forgotten now what they were. And I loved the waltz. And I was good at waltzing, you know.
Well there was usually somebody round the country that could play a piano well. And then there might be somebody that played the violin, but mostly it was - it relied on the piano. And there might be somebody with two spoons, you know, doing a tap as they went. It was great fun, and mostly at those country dances there'd be a couple of fights during the night. And somebody would be pinching somebody else's girl. And a lot of these dances we went to, you know, in the country when I was very young, was on horseback. Girls in jinkers and the horses were tied up outside the hall. And then you'd back on the horse and home afterwards. All hours.
Oh I suppose I did get into quite a few fights, and probably got more hidings than I had wins. Because I've a big nose and it seemed to cop a lot of punishment... that sort of broke the night up, and everybody, you know, if there was a fight on, everybody out, because they loved to see somebody fighting. And then all back in and start dancing again.
I think at dances, probably danced with her, and also around shows. Because she showed horses and so did I. And that's how I think it started off.
Oh, she was a brilliant looking little girl, you know. About 17, I think she was 17 or 18, when I went off to the war. And we wrote, we kept in touch by writing. And she said she'd marry me when I returned on leave from Darwin. Well we married, and we were stationed in Sydney, and she had to get from Melbourne to Sydney and it was a bit difficult in those days because you weren't allowed to cross the border. But the train those days used to - they used to have to change trains at Albury, because the line didn't - they were different shaped lines, you know, one was so many metres wide and the New South Wales was different. So there were two trains they had to travel. You'd travel on the train to Albury, and you had to change there on to the other train from Sydney. So the thing was, the things used to cross there from Melbourne in Albury, cross into New South Wales. So that's how they got into New South Wales, just get on the train next morning and away. If you were in the car or something you'd have to cross the Murray and they used to catch them that way. But on a train they seemed to be able to get away with it. So she arrived in, and of course we stayed, we stayed in Sydney, I forget exactly how many months, but we were there for some time. So I used to come and see Mavis. She used to stay with her aunt in Sydney.
We got married, we got married in Yea. That's the home place where Mavis came from.
We got married when we were on leave. When we came down from Darwin they gave us a fortnight's leave and we married then. I arrived straight down, and we married straight away. It was all arranged by letter and that, and the groomsman was one of my army mates. And he's still alive, George La Fontaine.
No she stayed, she was in Sydney. She had trouble getting - as I was telling you - on that train.
But she stayed in Sydney and she stayed there until I left. We went - they shipped us off up to Brisbane, and we were camped just down from Brisbane, until we got a boat. And we sailed from Brisbane to New Guinea.
Yes, they weren't allowed to travel around.
I don't know. Never went into it why. But I suppose we were in the army to fight the Japanese, not to be fiddling around with women. [laughs]
I was six years older, so that made me 27, didn't it.
Well I don't know. I don't suppose I even thought about it. Hell, you know, we're going and what the hell, you know.
I suppose it was important to get married before she married somebody else, you know. I don't know.
Barry, you met him yesterday.
Well I thought that was pretty good. Because he wasn't waking me up of a night-time, you know. I was still sleeping soundly and Mavis was doing the worrying about getting up and feeding him at night. And apparently he was a bad baby. Good in the daytime, and a bugger at night-time.
Oh yes, I suppose I do, yes.
Well there wasn't much to celebrate you know, because drink was pretty hard to - you got a bottle - they did eventually give us a bottle of beer a week. We got a bottle of beer a week. And we had one captain that used to give his whisky - the officers got spirits, but the also-rans they got beer - and we used to cool our beer in buckets of petrol. You know, petrol is very cold, doesn't matter where you've got it. Petrol is very cold. And we'd put our bottles of beer in a bucket of petrol. You know, we'd got the petrol for our vehicles. And you'll find petrol is very cold and that's how we chilled our beer off. And it didn't go very far you know, one bottle of beer a week. You'd...
He liked beer. He didn't like it. And I think he used to encourage the other officers to give, you know, now and again, give their whisky too, or whatever, gin or whatever they drank.
He was popular. He was a nice bloke. He was Sir Alec Creswick's wife [sic] first husband. She was a - she was a Hordern. You know, Horderns, big people in Sydney. She was a Hordern, very wealthy people. And she had married this officer, but then divorced him after the war. And I think he'd become an alcoholic after the war and he was divorced, anyhow, I know.
Although he'd been giving his whisky away. Yes. Anyway, I - moving on now to after the war was over and you came back and you had a wife and a child. So - and you'd asked to be discharged. What did you plan to do with yourself?
Well there was always the hint - you didn't know for sure then that there would be soldier settlement for returned soldiers. Like they did after the First World War. They settled a hell of a lot of soldiers on the land and around. Orchards you find, Leeton, Leeton was where we - I went there a few times. That was established with soldier settlers. They settled them on orchards, fruit, all sorts of fruit. And of course they did rice and then further out from Leeton of course, there was the big wheat belts. A lot of the soldier settlers were on big farms and grew wheat.
Yes... my thoughts were, I hope it will happen. But in the meantime I did different jobs on properties and I was a truck driver in the Forestry Commission. There was a lot of work to be done in the forests. And I drove a tip truck in the forests for some time.
No, well I used to return home. I would have the truck and I used to return home to Mavis of a night. Yes. And after that...
We were living on Mavis's people's place, on a cottage that they put on their property. So I stayed with them until we branched out. I used to drink at a hotel in Yea, and I was pretty popular with the publican there, and his people were related to Golden Crust Bakery Melbourne. They were big bakers. They used to call themselves the Golden Crust Bakery in Melbourne. They were in a big way. And they bought a property just down from Flowerdale, a big property and they wanted a manager. Now this publican that owned the hotel there in Yea said, told them, "Get in touch with Bill Roycroft. He is from the farming land and he knows about farming". So they wrote to me and asked me would I go to Melbourne and be interviewed, which I did. And I knew about a woman approaching into a room, you stood up and you did those sort of things, just a proper thing to do. And I think his daughter wandered in and I stood up, and I think that probably got me the job, you know. So this bloke, apart from knowing about, about that, he knows about being a gentleman also. So I got the job of managing this property. And we were there, we were there managing this property, and I - it goes back a little bit. There was a chap on the soldier settlement down there that was already on the settlement when a chap coming to settle on this property here was killed somewhere around Werribee coming down to come on the property. So he wrote to me and said "Bill, that place here near me will be put up for selection again. Why don't you apply?" And I didn't really want to be a dairy farmer, because I was managing a sheep property. And - but he said "Come and have a look, Bill. Come and have a look". So I drove down and had a look down there. And really, it's great country this here. And when I walked onto this property it had bullocks running on it, fat bullocks. And there was tons of feed on the place. And I thought, God, you know, this is great country. So I applied for it. I applied for this and was selected to settle on this property. That's how I come to get this place that we're on here now.
I wrote in to the - to the authorities and applied for it.
Well I was interviewed and there were so many there at the interview, I thought well what the hell, I want to be - I want to get a sheep property anyhow. This is a dairy farm I'm applying for. So it doesn't really matter if I don't get it. Walked out of the place and went back in doing my job. I remember where I was when Mavis drove up in the car and said "You've got that property". I can see the place now. And it was on a - I was nearly at the other end of the property that I was managing and I can see the slope of the country I was on when she arrived and said "Bill, you've got that place".
Well yes. I think something of my own you know. This'll be my property and yep. Yeah, that was a great feeling and then to get down here - a brother of mine was, he was my second oldest brother, he had a truck. He said "Bill, when you want to move down, I'll take all your stuff down for you". I had an old ex-army utility that I had a frame built on. So he brought my furniture down and we didn't have that much damn furniture anyhow. And I brought a horse, a cow, and a lot of tools, my fencing tools, you know, crowbars, shovels, all the things I'd need, a crosscut saw, for - to start on a farm. And I can remember coming through Colac or one of those places. And they wanted to know where we were going to show this night. You know, they thought I was travelling with a circus or something with this cow and horse.
Two, two. Barry and Wayne were born then. And Mavis stayed with friends on Chocolyn just the other side of Camperdown. We'd been friendly with them for years, and Mavis stayed with them with the two kiddies. And I stayed with the chap that had written to me and said "Bill, come and have a look at this place that's coming up for selection again". That was Bob Drysdale who was just down the road here a couple of mile. He was already settled on his place. And he'd - nearly all of them were still living in huts, because houses had to be built. And he was still in a hut and I camped in with him. And I used to camp with him, come here and do things on the place. And with several of the chaps that he knew that were carpenters, they came here and built the - I got the material in and they built that garage out where our car is parked now. And we lived in that for nearly 12 months, until they built this house here. Because they were having - it was an unmade road from Roycroft's Road at the bottom, up to here. There was no road, it was just a track. An unmade road up there. So in the wet times it was damn hard for them to get in with material. And we set to then to build a cowshed. Now, they said, "We want your cowshed". They surveyed the place, there was a manager here to manage all these properties that were being settled. And he said "Your dairy will be in here about 200 yards in from the road". And I said "You have another guess. Mine will be six feet from the fence down here. Right here". Where the old thing is there now. "And if you want to argue with me, I'll go to Head Authority. I'll go to Melbourne about this. I'm not going 200 yards to build tracks into a dairy and tracks out. I will have a loop on the road where the milk wagon will come around and pick up our milk or cream. And that's it". So we set to, Mavis and I and built the bricks, all the bricks in that place down there is done hand, done by hand. We put down the concrete floor and then we built those, we used to stack those concrete. And there was 1,300 of those bricks, they're about twelve by, four by six by six. They're big bricks. All concrete. Now we had to get in scoria sand cement to make those bricks. And that was all done by hand. And they were a mould. You'd put them in this mould and you'd be making one brick at a time. Open the mould. It'd be put the stuff in there at a certain mixture that it didn't flop about once you took the mould off it. It was solid. And then that would dry and there you'd have your brick. And I used to keep watering them, make them tough, tough bricks.
I didn't mind because then hard work was what I knew how to do. And I was good at what I did, you know. Because I was a fence contractor years ago, when you were paid very little money to pull down an old fence, and erect a new fence. Well I knew all about those things.
No, but it was - once we - well we started off here before the machines were set up we milked by hand. And then we had no electricity, no electricity, so everything was oil lamps and we had an engine to drive the machines for a start. And that had to be all done by an engineer that came round and fixed it up. And it was all damn costly too, and we didn't have much money. But the Settlement Commission, they helped us for the first 12 months. They were very good. We had to pay it back but it was on a very small loan, and it was really something very good that the government did for us after the war.
Yeah, well I think a lot of them went broke because they were damn lazy or they didn't have the know how. You know, there was on this settlement, on this settlement, a few blokes that they went through an agricultural college. They went to an agricultural college to learn how to farm. Well they were damn useless, you know. The ones that were born on a farm and come up and did it practically right from childhood, they were successful. I think there was two on this - there was 45 settlers on this area, and I think two probably were a failure. Well they didn't do terribly well. They weren't exactly absolute failure I don't suppose, but they didn't do terribly well, and left the farm eventually. But most of them were successful because they'd come through the - born on farms, their father's farms, and they'd gone on from there.
Yes, of course.
Well Mavis, not only she was a terribly good cook, but she was good at looking after the kids. She was good at taking over the dairy if I was sick. I don't think I was sick very often, but it showed up when I went off to the Olympic Games. She took over the place and probably managed the damn place better than I did. Yes, very capable, Mavis. Horse-wise, riding, or driving... And looking after the property, yes.
Well we made horses - we brought one pony with us when we came down. I told you about the horse being in the back of this utility. We, we did a lot - you know, before we came here we'd done a lot in shows and gymkhanas and we knew all about competing in shows and that. Of course, with one, this one pony we brought with us, well you can't do much at a show with one pony. So we set about to getting horses. And the first one we bought, we wanted something to pull a sledge, because you had posts to pull about, corner posts and barbed wire and all the stuff had to be moved about to do your fencing. All the fencing that was done on this place I had to do it, because there was nothing here only a boundary fence, and that was old and broken down. So we found a chap that had a horse that was suitable. He wasn't, he was by a thoroughbred out of the heavy, and he was heavy enough to pull a sledge so we could put our material on it to take it where we wanted. And he was light enough also to ride. So the Noorat Show, which is a big show down here, it's just been a week ago, we went to the Noorat Show and Mavis rode this horse. We groomed him up and made him look pretty good. And she won the lady rider on him, beating all the tops around, you know. And I show jumped the damn horse over straight fences. It wasn't Olympic fences those times, they were straight - they'd had hurdles, what they called hurdles and they had fixed fences. So - and the fixed fences were bigger than the hurdles. So over the hurdles you went at fast pace. And they judged you by whether your horse tipped in front or tipped behind. It was worse - more penalties if you tipped - if the horse tipped it in front than rather with his hind legs. Because if you tipped in front, that's liable to tip you on your head, you see. And over the fixed fences, that was more a hunting pace. And - quieter pace, and they judged you by the pace you travelled, how the horse jumped the fence, a different way of judging. But there were skilled people that used to do it, that used to judge. And you won it by what marks you got, or what penalties you got. So that was the start. So from there on we looked around to buy horses, and a horse Robin Hood, a nice chestnut horse, we heard of this horse, and seeing that I didn't go to the Olympics in Melbourne, 1956, Mavis and I decided that we would go to the 1960 Olympics. And that was our aim then, to get horses that would be suitable to go. So Robin Hood was a colt, and I think he was two year old or something like that. We purchased him, we had to have him gelded, and I broke that horse in and started on, and there was another one - oh we got polocrosse ponies also. This is quite a long story you know. I don't know whether it takes up too much time to go explaining all this sort of thing.
Polocrosse is, polocrosse is a game played with a polocrosse type stick. And it's played on the horse similar to polo, only thing polo had a different type of weapon to hit the ball. The polocrosse stick you gathered up a softer ball, and you threw it, and you had to have your stick with the net on the end of it, but you'd throw to your people that were performing with you, and they could catch the thing out of the air, or pick it up off the ground full gallop. It was quite, it was quite a game. And we played that for 8 years. But you had to have the horses to do it. So I saw a chap ride past one day here with cattle. And a beast broke away and he chased this beast and turned on the beast, and I thought, by God, you know, that's a good type of horse he's riding. I'd like to get on to that. So as he went back past, he'd taken his cattle past here and was returning, I walked to the fence and hailed him. I said "That's a great horse you're riding". And he said "Daisy cutting bitch". I said "Don't you like her?" "Oh, not particularly. I'm riding her for a certain fellow just to give her some work". I said "You don't want to buy her?" "No, I don't want to buy her". But I said "You wouldn't mind if I see the chap and buy her?" "No, I don't care". So I hurriedly saw this fellow, and he sold me the mare. She was a mare and I think she was about four or five year old then. But she was a beautiful mare. Dixie. I got the mare from a chap just around here at Dixie. So I called her Dixie. And I played her for 8 years. But I had another one apart from her, a spare one. And Mavis - we were looking for horses, big sale in Hamilton, you know, they used to have a big sale there, two or three times a year. And there was lots of horses in those sales. So we bought this horse, Tex. Coloured, coloured horse. He was skewbald. Beautiful looking little horse. And we bought him for £20. We couldn't afford much money those days, but we were a bit horse crazy. So we bought this one. And Mavis played polocrosse on him, and looking at his teeth one day we found he was only a two year old. We shouldn't have been playing that horse, you know. And she played on him for the time we played. Eight years we played. And we had some great tournaments we used to go and play.
Yes. Yes. We used to do everything on them. We'd play polocrosse on them then we'd jump them or we'd hack them. And you know, we'd do anything on a horse then, they'd be your stock horse.
Well I suppose it's a bit like an axe man. He's good, he's good with an axe, so he goes in for chopping wood, you know. He's great at it. And it shows. Well, and it's like a cricketer, he's very good at cricket, so he loves to play cricket. Because he's good at it. Well we were both reasonably good at horses, so I suppose that's why we liked to do it, because you like to do something you're pretty good at.
Can I take you right back now, because you said that you were already involved in horses before you came here, and had been in gymkhanas and other events. Can I - when was the first time that you went in for a horse competition in your life? The first time.
When was the first time I went in for...
Well that's way back when we were still on the farm, still on the farm in Flowerdale, and there used to be gymkhanas all around. Flowerdale used to have a gymkhana. That's where - and there's foot running, there's horse events, bending and flag raising and all that sort of thing. And just down the way there was another name - there was Homewood, Glenburn - all those little places used to have these events every year. They were marvellous, because people could travel to these in a jinker or they could ride their horse there. You know, going back into those times, see Strath Creek, they used to have a very good one, and that's where I was managing that property, that sheep property at Strath Creek. But it was a bit liking to the early milking days. Just here at Dixie was a creamery. And just across here at Cobrico, just near where our boys went to school, Cobrico, there was a cheese factory, out where Barry is there, there is one. They were handy, a bit like the gymkhanas where you go per horse, and then you could come home and do your job in the evening. And they were all horse set up those things because they were close enough for a horse to cart the cream or the milk to those factories. And so it was with gymkhanas. You could go to Glenburn or you could go to Strath Creek, or you go to Flowerdale, to compete these. Just in a horse and jinker or ride there, because it was a horse world.
I can remember the first time somebody said "Bill, have a loan of this saddle". I used to compete bareback, very young. And I got in this damn saddle and I felt lost in this saddle, because I was away from the horse, you know.
I won occasionally, yes. But I was beaten often enough too, yes. It's just being beaten and taken - you can't be winning all the time. And it pays - makes a damn good sport if you're to be beaten and win, and be beaten, you know.
Oh, of course you always did, because there might be a couple of shillings. See it was pounds, shillings and pence those days.
And when you started competing and Mavis did too, after you were married, and you'd come back from the war, you got involved in events then. Is there any that you remember particularly that really hooked you in and made you think this is good stuff? When you were doing, you know, when you first got involved, when you came back after the war in show-riding?
I think the thing that used to, I used to like doing was over the old straight fences and hurdles, you know. And even those days they used to - and they used to have high jumps. They'd have a high jump set up and they had the fence on a big lean, so the horse would be jumping up to six foot and seven foot over these things. I never really had a good horse for high jumping. It was mostly hurdles or the old straight fences. But I did, I used to enjoy flag and barrel racing, and billycan racing, where you had a billycan full of water you had to bolt on to your horse bareback, over a couple of hurdles, around the peg, back over the hurdles, and try and finish up with water in your billy after the billycan race. And I did that, you know, I used to compete, even when we were settled here over the years, I'd go to the show, Camperdown Show, Noorat Show, Hamilton Show, these places, and compete on this mare, Dixie. She was brilliant at these flag and barrel racing and that sort of thing. And I still did it, you know, even grown up and away from the childhood, I still as a grown man used to like doing it. And we'd compete, we'd compete in the morning leading a horse, in the led classes and then we'd be in the riding classes, hacks. And then during lunch-time they used to use the sporting event, flag and barrel racing, we'd compete in those. And then the afternoon was taken up with show jumping. So it was a full day for us.
Ah, well no, no, no. Dressage didn't come into - not the country shows. [INTERRUPTION]
No, I suppose not. The only thing that would resemble it, they'd send you out to work your horse. You all go round in a ring and they pick out a certain amount of the horses that they like to work individually. And the rest, they'd say, we don't want you, you can go. The ones they sorted out, then they'd send them out individually. Now you show me what you can do, and today, today I think they probably do a little bit in that they probably go out and do a half pass with the horse, you know, and do a flying change and they may do show how beautiful the horse is, to hack it around, individually. Now I don't know for sure, but possibly they do do that today. Mostly it was - they'd set a thing for you to do, out to that peg, now I want you to canter to there and I want you to trot to that other peg, or do something. Some would do that. When I judged, I used to send them out, you know, you just show me just how damn good this horse is. And they'd go, they'd please what they wanted to do, not what I told them to do. Not set out a course for them. I'd let them show me just what that horse could do.
When did you get the idea that you were perhaps a bit better than just somebody who could win country shows and gymkhana? When did you begin to get the feeling that maybe you could do something on a grander level with your work?
Well see I competed against most of these fellows that went away to the first - went away to 1956. They went to Stockholm and competed in Stockholm, because our quarantine, our quarantine regulations wouldn't allow horses into Australia. So...
We didn't have any, we didn't have any events here until after Stockholm. It was after Stockholm they started up one day eventing and we had our big three-day event in Sydney and Melbourne. That was following '56. But having competed, or knowing these fellows that competed, that went away in 1956, I knew I could beat those damn fellas riding a horse, because I could ride a pretty rough horse, you know, one that bucked and that sort of thing. So they, they got fourth at the Games, those fellas. And I knew damn well I could beat them. So when we competed against them in Melbourne, I beat all those fellas. Well firstly, where they competed in Melbourne at Oaklands, they set up a course there for 1956 for the pentathlon. They had stables, built up rough stables there, because the country that's running the pentathlon had to supply the horses. So that meant that they could run the pentathlon because no horses had to be brought in. But we had to get the horses ready for them to compete on, all these countries coming in. And it was, it was that course that, that's where they built the course, the first three-day event course for Australia. And I camped in one of those huts that they had there for the pentathlon 1956. And the boys that had been to the Games in Stockholm said "Bill, we're having a meeting" after they walked that course that they'd built. And I said "What's your meeting about?" They said "We're going to protest about the size of these jumps. They're going to kill us or our horses. They're too big". "Well" I said, "what they build I'll jump, so I don't want to be in your meeting. Thank you very much". So you see, I thought if that frightens those fellas that's great, you know, because they've got to jump it. Anyhow they didn't alter the fence, and most of those fellas that's competed at Stockholm didn't finish the course. They were eliminated on the way. And I was second in that thing. Another chap that could do good dressage, he beat me by a few points. So I was second in my first three-day event... And we went on to Gawler, I think I was first and second at Gawler, the big one on the hilly country in Gawler. Funny thing about it you know, I was getting up, I was 43 then I suppose. And they said "Bill, it's a pity you're so old you know". I said "What the hell do you mean, I'm so old?" "Well you know, we like them around about 20 or 21". And I said "What the hell have you got to do to go to the Games? I'm winning. Now what the hell have you got to do?" So they kept on saying that, next one come up, I'm winning again. I kept on winning. So eventually they thought, well we'll have to take him I suppose.
I was 45, see, when I went to Rome. And Laurie Morgan was too.
Because we'd just settled in here you know, and I couldn't even afford to wear a hat, and I couldn't afford to buy horses.
No, no it wasn't a big expense. No, but it was the damn expense - I was running pretty damn short here you know, because I was trying to get on my feet on this property. Because although they allotted us a few cows, we had to buy cows and there was improvements to be done on the place, superphosphate and seed. You know, there was so much to do and to get going. And I used to get around without a hat and I love to wear a hat, because I couldn't damn well afford to buy a hat. I had more hair to keep my head from the sun, I suppose...
I couldn't put down a time, or date, probably. But we discussed it, Mavis and I. We go to the next Olympic Games, just like that, you know. And of course that meant getting horses to do it and we set about doing just that. And of course, you just don't go to the Games because yes, I'm going to go to the Games. You've got to compete and you've got to win and all those things go with it. And of course, it's a bit different to going to equestrian games, eventing, because it's not like an athlete that's runner, or a swimmer, he has his trunks, or he has his shoes, his spikes he runs in and his shorts. You know, when you think about it, you've got to have a horse that's suitable, it'll do all three phases. It's got to be good at dressage, steeplechasing, because you've got a steeplechase and you've got to show jump. And you've got to be pretty good at doing those damn things. You've got to, apart from sitting on his back, you've got to be able to do these things. And it's not just a matter of sitting on his back, you've got to, with your legs, teach him to do all the things he does from one figure to another figure. Canter one time, trot, canter, or extended trot and all those damn well half pass. They don't think about it, most of these people that go to the Olympic Games. And they haven't up until we've won quite a few medals given any thought much to the equestrians, just what they do and go through. Not the other athletes. I think they look down a bit on us, bloody horsemen, you know. But they are, in my opinion now, they are the cream of the Olympic world is the horsemen.
Because of what they've got to do to get there and be there, you know. The spills and thrills and the knocks about that you get with falls. If you don't - you don't get there through getting on a nice horse and doing it nice and smoothly. God, you got to take a lot of risk with that horse. And you see, what happened to me in Rome with pipes that should never have been there anyhow, that put, that I fell at, and you know, that's just one occasion. I think that probably they don't give enough thought, or enough money. See we did it very hard, we didn't, from no government support in the early days, it was all done by the likes of Sir Alec Creswick, Barnes, those fellas that had money that put it in. And they put a hell of a lot of money in to get the first team that went away to Stockholm. Then they supplied again for 1960. I think after 1960 the government started to get a bit interested and probably did give a little money, but mostly it was raised by the riders and the authorities themselves.
Now, in deciding that you wanted to go to the 1960 Olympics in Rome and discussing it with Mavis, there was a real financial consideration for you in that too, wasn't there, there was a sacrifice for you.
Well of course there is a sacrifice, yes... But I suppose most people - if you think about the same time Herb Elliot, Herb Elliot, you know, he was a brilliant long distance runner, Herb Elliott. Now he had to put a lot of time in, he had to put a lot of time to get himself to the peak where he did do well. And he had a manager, old Carruthies? Carruthers?...
Percy Cerutty, yeah. He did it the hard way, and I suppose if you go back into my early times, we were amateurs and we had to prove we were damn amateurs, you know. If you took money for doing something in the way of sport you were not an amateur. Now Laurie Morgan who went with us to 1960, he had to prove that he wasn't playing football for Fitzroy. Now if they'd have found out that he'd been paid £3, £3 a week to play for football, they wouldn't have taken him you know. Amateurism was that damn strict then.
No, he would not.
Yes, that's right, that's right. He - and he had been paid, but they'd lost the papers. Something happened with the papers and they couldn't prove that he'd been paid. And you know, we were doing a stint in England, training for Rome, and we were riding across the plains there to Aldershot, they had sandy looking plains, and they were doing a stint 'Rocket to the Moon.' They made a film in South Australia, 'Rocket to the Moon,' you know, and we were riding, John Kelly and I, across these plains to Aldershot, and a person pulled us up and said, "Would you do a stint for us? We want somebody to lead a pack-horse and pass an old dusty vehicle, cruising across these plains". Now that's a bloke going out to prospect and he goes past a stockman with his horse and pack saddle. And I said "Yes, I'll do it". And John Kelly said, "He'll do it but you will not pay him". "Why won't we pay him?" "Because he's an amateur, we don't want him made a professional", you know. It was just like that. And I did a big jumping at Hickstead in England, we were quarantining our horses in England so we show jumped and did other things, and we were at Hickstead and somebody there said to me, "Bill, will you jump a course for us, over the water jump, over the banks, we want a short film for pony club. Now would you do it?" "Yes, I'll do it." They said "We will pay you". I said "Well how much are you allowed to pay me without making me a professional?" They said, I think it was £35 or something they could pay me without being professional. So I did it for them, the water jump and the banks and that, and I did it on a horse called Stony Crossing, yep. So it was, it was a different age, you know. We were definitely amateurs. Today, everybody's a professional, but there's no amateurs going to the Games anymore.
So when you decided that you wanted to go to the Rome Olympics, you had to - what did you have to find? What did you have to get together yourself to be able to go? And what came from those who'd donated to the cause?
Well, we had to get a horse suitable for that Games. Now I got, I got - what did we call him, Boonabaroo, Boonabaroo we called this chestnut horse. Well he had to be castrated for a start, because he was a colt, and we had to break him in, get to riding him, teaching him to jump, teach him to do dressage. And from there I think we got another horse, a little horse we called Our Solo. Where you're going around the shows you meet up with a chap who used to say "Bill, I've got a better horse than that horse of yours". And he was talking about a mare that I did everything with on, a mare called Dixie. And this went on for several shows round Colac, Warrnambool. And he said "Look, Bill, come and have a look at this horse". So Mavis and I went over, it was near Camperdown this chap with his horse. And he saddled him up and when he girthed him up the horse bucked. And he said "That's a funny thing, he's never done that before". So I wasn't terribly worried about that, you know, girth up the horse, if he's a bit fresh he'll have a bit of a buck. So I rode the horse and he was a very nice one, I stepped on him and rode him about. And I bought him, right on the spot I bought him and rode the horse home to here. And that horse we went on with him, played polo-crosse on him, show jumped him, evented him. We did everything, he was a marvellous stock horse. And then I've got two, I've got two, two eventers. Then we were coming back from Sydney, been to the Sydney show, we started going around to Melbourne, Sydney, by this time, because the boys had started to compete on ponies. They were very good, Barry and Wayne were big enough then to compete on ponies. And we were coming back from Sydney and we stopped at Wangaratta with a chap we knew there with horses. And there we bought a horse called - ah, I've got to think of names. Names get away from me now. I've got to think about this fella. Beautiful big horse. They'd already showed him in Sydney in the heavyweight hack. Ah...
I'll have to tell you about this horse later. Sabre! Sabre was the horse's name, Sabre. And there's a photo of him here I will let you see sometime. Beautiful big horse, so I've now got three horses. And I used to have to put a lot of time in. You know, if you've got to work three horses, do all this with them, takes a lot of time and effort. And with the help of Mavis we got by. Now those horses had to be worked and got fit. And I prided myself on the horses that I never exhausted a horse in the cross-country. Now cross-country's for around five mile you know, over about 35 fixed fences. Into water, out of water, all sorts of jumps they had to do. Now we were living in an area where there was a nice climb up a hill, and I used to do each morning on each horse about seven mile. And they'd get a run along about half-pace twice a week. And in the afternoon they would go out again and they would do a bit of dressage, kelly[?] show jumping. And I tell you, our show jumping were pretty damn rough, it was a 44 gallon drum with a pole across it. We didn't have all the stuff that's necessary, or should have been necessary, to do with our horses.
Yes, yes. But getting the horse fit was - and of course the great thing too was know how to feed a horse. When you started off on the horse, if he was in reasonable condition, if he was a big fat horse, you didn't go out and put a lot of pressure on him straight away. But if he's in reasonable condition, I always thought it took about eight weeks, eight weeks you would have that horse ready to do an event. Now in your feeding, your feeding for a start - when you start off with a horse you got to be careful you didn't over oat him, not too much oats for a start. You built him up with his feed to what he worked. And as you built him up and you were getting close to an event, he would be getting around the sixteen, eighteen or nineteen pound, depending on the size of the horse, a week, a day, a day. He would be eating that feed. Now it was a combination of good chaff, and lucerne, and of a night-time he'd get a bran mash. I never ever fed pellets, I kept right away from pellets, because in making pellets you would never know what goes into the pellet. It could be mildewy lucerne or bad hay. You would never know what goes into that once it's mixed up with molasses and that sort of stuff. Well that's my thoughts on it. Maybe that, somebody will sue me for life if they read that bit. I'm not saying it does go into it, but I was always frightened that it did go. I'm not purposely saying it does go in.
Yes I did... Let me, before I go any further, your horse's feet, your shoeing, so many horses are lamed by the shoe pressing too hard on the heel or on the toe, on the soft part in the toe on the sole of the foot, there's so much to be known about the horse's foot, the shoe. And I did most of my own shoeing myself. There was an old farrier in Terang that did a lot of my shoeing, he was brilliant, a brilliant at shoeing horses. And I think probably I learnt a lot from him. But I did pick up a lot myself, from horses that were sore and I found out why they were sore in the feet, and it was a lot to do with shoeing. And it still goes on. [Inaudible - probably Stanaswa] the horse - we have hanging on our wall that won 24 races, he was, he was - through his career - a bit sore. He was leased out by three blokes, three or four blokes. And that horse, while he was racing was always a bit scratchy, always a bit sore, and I used to say "The bloody horse is sore you know. Why the hell do you still race him?" But he'd run 18 races with these people and they eventually handed him back to me and said "His racing days are over, Bill. You take him home". So I brought the horse home and for six months I fixed his feet. I knew how, I knew what was wrong with the horse, and I rang the trainer back and said "Will you take this horse back with me now? Me, not anybody else. Take him back with Mavis and I". Okay, he took the horse back and he won six more races with that horse. And he won three more in Melbourne with the horse. Now that just goes to show how essential it is to know and do about horses' feet. No feet, no horse, you know. And it goes a bit like for runners I suppose.
Ah well, yes. Well, I would argue a bit about this because I think a good rider on a poor horse will get more results out of that horse than a poor rider on a poor horse. So you see I think a good rider on a good horse then, he's - unless, you always have those risks where you have an unfortunate fall or some damn thing - but yes, I think a good rider, a champion rider on a mediocre horse can get good results. But a poor rider on a poor horse, bloody hopeless.
I think, I think - yes, yes, you're probably right there. You're right and wrong in another way, that I did have a horse that I went very quickly on. But Solo, you see Solo we played polocrosse on him. He was loaned to a girl, Joan Palmer, to play polocrosse on, and eventually she finished up with that horse when I retired him. But yes, I knew that horse inside out and I think your question is pretty good, because eventually in England the manager said to me, "Bill, both your horses, Sabre and Solo will go to the Olympic Games. They're champions. The other boy - Crago's horse certainly won't go. But he will ride one of your horses. Now which horse do you want to ride?" He asked me "Which horse do you want to ride, Bill?" I said "My big horse, the glorious big horse". Sixteen hand big horse, strong horse. Sabre. Okay, Brian Crago will now, from now in England go back on your little horse, Our Solo. So he did. But he couldn't get on with the little horse. He was stopping at jumps, he was, you know, running off and he was knocking fences down. So Creswick said "Bill, back on that little horse, Crago will take your big horse". And there was no - I couldn't argue the point with him. I wanted to ride that big horse, but the manager said no, that's how it's going to be. So okay it was. I went back on the little horse and immediately I was doing all right on the little horse, because I knew the little horse too. So the question you asked me was pretty good, wasn't it?
Well, yes. We competed - I think the last time we competed was at Oaklands, Melbourne. I think it was Oaklands, Melbourne, and Sir Alec Creswick said to me "Bill, I'm taking both those horses of yours back to Ferntree Gully", which was just out of Melbourne, he had a big property there. Well he had a fair sized property. Just out there - outside Melbourne, nice bit of land. He said "If you take these horses home you're going to compete on them, you're going to bugger about on them and lame them or do something and we won't have them for the Games. Now they're going to stay with me until they're vetted for the Olympic Games". So okay. I didn't say you can go to buggery, I want the horse home because I had more horses home here. I had the big horse Eldorado up there. I had him here and he could have gone to the Games too, had they any damn sense they would have taken him, because they took a, they took two horses with us that they never ever used. One lame all the time, and one was just, had a bad heart or something, never used it. But we had a few, I suppose we had a few people in charge that shouldn't have been altogether there, and vets that - you know, a lot of vets they're brilliant at doing operations and things, but they haven't got, they haven't had the practical that a lot of the old blokes had.
I wouldn't say, I wouldn't say that I was brilliant at looking at a horse and saying he's going to be good. You can be made a terrible damn liar. I think you know, I think most horses can be pretty good. Some are, you know, just hopeless, but most horses can - there may be a bit of difficulty getting on with them, but eventually if you persevere you can get something really good out of a horse. Unless they got some lameness or you know.
Well they - we were eventually taken from Sydney. We loaded them on a boat in Sydney and they put a yard, a wooden yard on the aft hatch of the ship, and they had ten ton of sand on that yard. And each side the aft of the ship was stalls the horses were in. And we had ramps built up so they'd walk up a ramp into this yard. And twice a day those horses were either lunged or - I used the little horse, Solo, I used to ride him round this yard on the hatch. Most of them lunged them around on the lunge. They lunged them round for half an hour or twenty minutes. Back in the stable, then back again in the afternoon they went out. Twice a day they went into that yard and were worked. And being exercised like that when we got to England we could compete on them. I think seven weeks after we got to England we could compete on them. We did compete on them. Now it was a lengthy trip to England because we spent Christmas on the boat, just off Perth I think, we were off Perth, Western Australia for Christmas. And we went through the Suez then - just before Suez Canal was closed. And we unloaded wool in Genoa. Genoa, Italy. And we spent a week there. I think it was near a week we spent at... So instead of being four weeks trip we took, you know, some five weeks on that trip across. And unloaded them at Liverpool.
And there lies a story with John Kelly and I, we drank a fair bit that last night, because the sailors, most of those sailors on that boat were Scotch. And boy they could drink those damn Scotch blokes. And we weren't all that bad I suppose, but next morning, five o'clock in the morning, we had to clean out those boxes, because they had to be stored away in Liverpool to come bring the horses home when they were coming back to Australia. And I think John Kelly and I, we drank a bit too much that night, because unloading - we had heaps of manure in a bag and we're walking backwards with this, and I tripped over some of the timber that they'd pulled down, and fell against that round thing they tie the ship up on. I don't know what they call it, bulkhead or whatever the hell it is. But I broke two ribs, two short ribs at the back. And crunch, you know. So we travelled all the way down from, to Aldershot where we were in the stables where the cavalry stable their horses from London. They come down every once a year and stable their horse there and compete. And by next morning I'm pretty crook with this, so they take me to the doctor and he said "Oh, a couple of cracked ribs, you'll be okay". So up we went on these horses. Now straight out, off the boat, they'd been exercised on the boat, but no work. And they were pretty damn fresh you know, they were bucking and hoofing. And by the time we'd finished the day I was really sore. And back to the doctor and he x-rayed me. And he said "You've got two broken ribs, they're broken off those two short ribs at your back". So I stayed in bed for a few days, and the doctor used to come each morning and use my behind as a dart board. He used to come with this syringe full of stuff and throw it in my - you know, oh boy. But it was okay, but I got pleurisy. And boy that knocked hell out of me. You try and cough with pleurisy and with broken ribs. If you ever get them, try it. So - anyhow I got over that, and, but they were out working my little horse and they weren't keeping him - he was a bit flat-footed the little horse, and soft soled, flat on the feet. And they made him very sore and by the time I was fit to ride the horse again, I had to be dead careful with him. And if you happen to know Aldershot at all, Wellington's statue is there. Have you ever - do you know it? Wellington's statue. It's on a mound, quite a rise bit of ground. And it was all sandy around it and nice soil. So that's where I got the little horse fit. I used to trot him up over this thing, down the other side, slow then back. I did all his training before we competed at Cowfold we firstly competed. And it was at Cowfold, I've got photos showing you, showing people how I hit a fence there and that little horse nearly fell with me. So that's how we travelled on the boat. It was really, it was rather pleasant, because on those cargo boats, people used to like to get on them, because there'd be only three or four people on them. They used to have a few cabins, and there was a schoolteacher and another couple on that same boat as us. But we all in a nice big room each. Not just like a little cabin, it was a room on these boats. And it was very pleasant travelling.
No, no Mavis stayed home looking after, keeping the honey flowing into the hive... She came over later and I'd bought a small car in England. She took that car and she travelled around and her and Meg Kelly, John Kelly's wife, they went to France and toured around France and quietly down to Rome. And they used to drive up and down to the Games each day.
Well I suppose we probably stayed there four or five months. We stayed there quite a while. But we'd no need to. All we did was do what more or less we were doing here you know, just keeping the horses fit until Badminton. And we competed at Badminton. I won Badminton. Laurie Morgan was second in Badminton. Neale Lavis was fourth because he put, his horse put his foot in the water, there was a water jump, and that cost him four penalties for putting his foot in the water. And Anneli Drummond-Hay, the English girl was third. John Kelly was tenth, and Brian Crago was eleventh.
Well, it gave them a bit of a shock I think, because they beat hell out of us at dressage you know, oh the bloody Australians they can't do dressage. Our dressage wasn't all that bad. I think we lie about fifth after dressage, but in the cross-country we fairly kill them.
I used to do most of my dressage as I worked my horses up and down the road, you know. You can do it - and I carried it out. As you do, you know, you do the things, a working trot is a nice easy working trot, then you do a medium trot, or you do an extended trot. You can do all those things as you're getting your horse fit. And you canter. And you've got a horse, you've got to know that the pressure where your legs, one leg forward one leg back a little will make him canter on his near side leading. Or you vice your legs the other way and he'll canter on the other leg leading. Or you want him to half pass, so the leg goes back and that. And you hold him, and he'll walk sideways, you know. You can do all those damn things as you do your long work. And I was forced to go to Franz Mairinger who was our trainer at Bowral, New South Wales. And Franz's - when I was with him for a while, he said "I don't know what the hell they sent you up here for". You know. But I think there - how did I learn dressage, I should have explained that. I bought Wynmalen's book. Wynmalen was a great dressage rider that wrote books. And he wrote two books on dressage. And when I had to - I knew I had to do dressage, I bought his book. And they all said, "Well you bought his wrong book anyhow, Bill". But I read this damn book, I knew how to do the movements and I put them into practice. Now you'll find today, today they'll be at this trainer and they'll be at the other trainer. Somebody's running a school, they'll be at that school. They're crazy. If you know what you're supposed to do in the head then you put it into practice, you know. They said to me in England, "Bill, get the best trainer you can find in England". So I got the best bloke I knew of, and I let him ride all the other boys' horses, and this is before we went to, we went to Munich, Germany. And after I'd seen him ride those horses for a while, I said "I don't want to see you again, thank you". I paid him off. And I got in touch with them in Australia and they said "Bill, you've got to have that trainer. Now you've got to have a trainer. If you sack that bloke, you get another trainer". So I looked for the one that was most successful at Badminton was Bertie Hill. Bert Hill from down in Devon. So I rang Bertie, and I said "Bertie, will you take the boys down there? I want them down there for six weeks". "Yes, I'll have them, Bill". He had a big indoor school. I talked to his wife and she said "Yes, Bert will have them down". And she said "Aren't you coming, Bill?" I said "No, I'm not coming". "Can't Bertie teach you something?" I said "No, Bertie can't teach me anything. Perhaps you could, but Bertie couldn't." So I didn't go down with them. I didn't go down. I did my own thing, and when we went to Munich, those boys had spent weeks with the top bloke in England, their dressage was no damn good. But I won the dressage bar one point, one point. And that was because a bloody German judged it in Germany. They always had one, one on the judging of the country that the Games are being competed in. So there you go. If you know what to do and put it into practice. Now that's what everybody should do, but they go to this school, they go to that school, you know.
In going to England so far in advance of the Rome Olympics, what was the idea behind that? To get the horse settled into that sort of European climate? Or what was the reason that you went so far in advance?
I think their idea was they sent the team away for Stockholm, they were in England about 18 months before Stockholm. And they'd taken Australian horses with them and they didn't use one of those horses. They bought second-hand horses in England, you know, horses that the English had discarded or didn't want and paid a lot of damn money for these horses, you know. And they competed on them in Stockholm. And they came fourth, which was pretty damn good. Now I think their idea was send us over early and let us do the same thing. We wouldn't have to worry about our farms or whether the cow was milking or whether she was going dry, or - and the sheep blokes wouldn't care whether their sheep had foot-rot or, they'd be away and they'd concentrate on their work.
Now Franz Mairinger was with us and he said on the boat as we went over - he called us all in to his room and we'd have a meeting about what we do when we get to England. Now he said "We'll work in the morning, we'll work in the morning and we'll put our horses away and you can go and do what you want. Tour around England, have a look about". I said "That won't be for me, I'll be working my horses twice a day. They'll go out in the morning and they'll go out again in the afternoon. And they'll have a pick at grass for 20 minutes" and Laurie Morgan said "So will mine" and so did the others. Well he said, "Majority rules. That's what will happen. I'll work you in the morning and in the afternoon you can take your horses out again and please yourself what you do". So we were a different kettle of fish to his first team. But he worked them in the morning under his instruction, and then they buggered off and the horses stayed in the stable the rest of the time, you know. And that's what used to happen in Britain. That's what happened over there. They used to work their horses in the morning and those poor damn horses stayed in that stable 'til the next morning. So our horses went out and enjoyed, you know - standing in a stable, God damn it. I could never understand their thoughts about it. But see, this is where we opened it up for the rest of the world. We found after that that they were taking their horses out twice a day too. When we went to Rome a few of them were starting to come out in the afternoon. Not all of them, but some of them in the afternoon, because we went out, they came out. See, it kept your horse nice and fresh if he wasn't standing there, bad on his legs just standing in a hard stable. And they - and we shod our horses lightly. Very light shoes on the feet. Think about it, you know, these sort of things they don't think about. You pick up a shoe, just quietly, it only weighs its weight, whatever the weight is. You pick it up at the extent the very swift thing that the horse picks his feet up from the ground, and it weighs four or five times the weight of the shoe. Then it's up in the air with no nothing. It doesn't mean a damn thing, and it's still going up when his horse wants to put his foot down. Then it's down on the ground, and he picks it up again. And that's being done all the time that horse is doing his gallop. That's why, that's why the racehorses are shoed with alloy shoes. Very light shoes. And I finished up with my eventing career using their shoes - I used to have very light, because I had a good - and I will show people those shoes. I've got them down in my shed, and I will show what I did use before I started using alloy shoes. And you know, weight off the feet is weight off their back. So I suppose I sort of drift away from what I was talking about...
But the next question I was going to ask you was when you got to Rome and you were on the way to the Olympics, could you describe what it was like for you? How it felt arriving there, arriving there in the Olympic Village, and what the whole situation was. Before we get to the events themselves, you know, being there as an Australian competitor, at the Rome Olympics, could you paint a bit of a picture for that, of that?
Well I suppose that'd be easier if I was young and romantic. But I've been through so many, so many of these things that I've become blasé. But, well let's go back to the first one. Yes, it was exciting. Of course it was exciting, even though I was 45, it was exciting to be there, going to do it for Australia. Yes it was. And from England we flew the horses, we flew the horses to Rome. And we landed, we flew over, very pretty area, we flew in over Rome nine o'clock at night, we circled over Rome and landed. And they - our ramp to get our horses off was too short. They couldn't get our horses down. So they're out with saws and hammers and that, and built an extra ramp on the end to get us down. And where were should have been off by about 10 o'clock at least, we didn't get the horses off until 12 o'clock that night. Now then we had to go to Praterni del Vado [the venue was actually Pratoni del Vivaro] where the horse - where we were going to take place and the horses were stabled. That was about 30 mile up from Rome on a high plain. And it was much cooler up there than what it was down in Rome, because we were well elevated up there. And by two o'clock that night we got them into their stables there and we - that is one Games we did stay in the Games, we stayed in the Village. And we came back down to the Village and by five o'clock next morning we were on our way again, back up to the horses and work them. Because they did have a practice ground away from the stables you had a ground that you could do your work on, or jump if necessary. And there was some smashed up timber there I can tell you. You know, a lot of these people that weren't really up to it, they used to smash up a lot of the jumps that they had out to practice over.
Well the first ride, apart from just doing a practice round, was the dressage. And that area then I imagine were going to hold the three-day event there, so they just cleaned the place up, you know. And the grass was dry and scrub and that was very close about. You could see it was just - been taken in there by the army had gone in there and cleaned up the place. And the first event that was ever run there. We were back there recently and the place is different altogether now. New trees have been planted there and it's nice and green and being watered, and a lot of events taking place there. But we were the first in I would say, into that spot. It was a good area to run a three-day event over. But my first ride, as you asked me, they had to hunt the chooks off the arena before I went in. I rode round, the chooks were wandering through. Because there was a lot of peasant type people living there. You know, I suppose they were nice people, but they were living in hovels around and they probably just worked for the people that owned that big area. Today I think it's probably a government run area and well looked after. So I did my dressage there, and I don't know where I lied. I think I did the worst dressage probably of the lot. Normally did. But I don't know for sure now where I lie in the dressage. Neale Lavis, I think Laurie Morgan may have done the best out of us, the captain.
Well our dressage, the next day is your trial endurance. That means you do a roads and tracks, that's approximately six mile. And the second - that brings you to the start of your steeplechase. And in Rome, this being my first, I knew about taking short-cuts if you could get a shortcut, save your horse any trouble that was possible. And I set off on my first roads and tracks, and we went up a very steep climb up the side of a hill, and along, and I came to a fence, gateway. And there was a gate, and there was a chap standing on that gateway. And he said something, I don't know what it was, he said something in Italian. But I brushed past him anyhow, and he wasn't supposed to let me through there, because we were supposed to go much further and go around - there was no flags but I think they were put there to stop you from going. So you had to do, you had to do the six mile, rather than - I did about three mile and I was back to the start of the steeplechase. Now the steeplechase was two and a half mile and you had a time to do that. They gave you about four minutes I think to do that steeplechasing. And I did it in faster time than was allotted to me, and you get a few bonus points for doing it faster.
To explain to you about that, in the days when they brought in three-day eventing it was called military. The whole thing - this three-day event was supposed to be for cavalry officers that you went into battle, you know. You had, your dressage the horse did his parade work was nice you know, you did things on the parade with him. Then you went into battle and you went in damn fast, or you went in pretty damn quick, which was your roads and tracks. Anyhow the cross-country part was supposed to be taking a message somewhere, back to headquarters, and you galloped and you went over any obstacle that was in front of you, you jumped the damn thing, you know, to get there as quick as possible. That was, that's how three-day - and then your show jumping on the final day was to show the horse after that terrible cross-country to get back with a message, that horse was still capable of going out and doing his job. And that was the show jumping. And that was - they've just changed it, now, just now, on the continent, from military to three-day eventing, yeah. Tour eventing they call it now. So I do my steeplechase and I do it in time. But the Italians have got me down there for some, for being late or being too damn long doing my steeplechase. And fortunately we had a chap, Clive Cochrane, with us, very brilliant at his job, and he sorted those Italians out quick smart, and fixed up what they thought was a mistake. It wasn't. Now, there's quite stories going around about what we did in Rome. After the steeplechase we had to do about an eight mile or more roads and tracks before we get to the start of our cross-country. Now there's a lot of scrub country, and straight off the steeplechase course was tea-tree type of scrub, and we had to - they had taken us right round that when we did the roads and tracks. But just off the steeplechase track there was a goat track, a goat track through. It was pretty hard to see but I could see there was a goat track through this, which took me, took me from going way to hell around the place back to nearly to where I started my steeplechasing. And when we did that roads and tracks in a vehicle - they took us around in a vehicle to show us where we had to do the roads and tracks - we'd gone for miles and we come back on top of a high bit of country, and I said to Neale Lavis, "Look back there Neale, just look down there. There's about 500 yards I would say that's the steeplechase course, where we come off the steeplechase course. Now there must be a track through there. There must be a track through there somewhere". So after the day that you walked that course and do the steeplechase course, you're allowed to walk it as many times as you like before the day that you have to compete. So we went back next day and we found a track through there. We found a track from where we come off the steeplechase through this patch of timber that cut off I suppose the best part of four mile. Now you just imagine what that does to save your horse.
So I do my steeplechase and I cut through the first little bit and I cut straight back into that timber and I get back to the start of the cross-country, and there should have been a Canadian ahead of me. And the Canadian's waiting - you get then to what they call the 10 minute box, your horses have a compulsory ten minute break before they let you to do your cross-country. That's with the vets to show that your horse is still sound and is capable of going on and doing another five mile cross-country. The Canadian said to me, "Bill, did you see Tommy anywhere?" I said "No, I didn't see Tommy". "God damn it" they said, "he's got lost". I said "Not to worry fellas, he'll be, he'll come in". You see when I cut that big lump of territory off, he did what they were supposed to do and he was still doing his roads and tracks. And this fella said to me after the Games was over, "Why the hell didn't you tell us about that?" He said "You know we belong to the Commonwealth". I couldn't be worried about him belonging to the Commonwealth.
Oh, that's the cross-country. Well I went well, I went well 'til I got to those pipes. Jumped everything nice and clean. There was big concrete pipes. They would have been about seven six, seven foot six wide, and just on four foot high. But you see, they said "Oh those bloody Italians", they set their fence like that, it was a trap. But they had to jump those fences themselves, so they weren't a trap. I - those pipes side by side so you would have been jumping side on, they would have been too wide, two pipes side by side. And one pipe on its own wouldn't have been big enough. So they lied them facing you with the open end facing you, the pipes. And they had a little thin bit of wood along, which was nothing for a horse to see. And I imagined the horse galloping through them, they were sitting on flat ground, and on the landing side of them you went down steep - down, downhill. But the horse approaching them would be looking through those damn pipes. And so I was right to jump in the right place to jump it and he cantered through them. He galloped through the damn pipes. And somewhere we've got that photo showing you where he hits those pipes. And of course I had a similar position on that horse over a fence before. And I didn't bail out to get away from the horse, so he didn't come - so he come on top of me and concussed me, left me lying there and he galloped away. And he was stopped, he was stopped at a gateway heading back for the stables and was caught by one of the grooms, Angelie Cleveland. And we met that little girl recently at Rome Olympics.
But he didn't, he turned a somersault and I was underneath him.
Well a dislocated collar-bone and a broken bone behind my shoulder. And I was injured down - all down the right leg. But just sore I guess. But the thing was the bad concussion. I was - I was just lying there for some time and when I come to, I said "Where's my bloody horse?" and he was standing alongside me. They'd had him back waiting for me to come around. So I got aboard him and off again. And next jump after that was an Irish bank with a ditch in front of it and a ditch behind it. And the thing was to jump onto that bank and off it. But he jumped the whole damn thing, you know, and we were still on downhill to giant steps, big steps up on to - and then five feet down onto a road, and a short stride to a post and rail fence with the brush behind it. And of course by that time I was non compos anyhow. I don't remember. They said I damn near fell there. Or Mavis said I nearly fell again there. And then we had one more fence after that, it was a big - barrels, beer barrels stacked on top of each other. And the - and Clive Cochrane, our secretary was standing at that jump. And he said I said to him, "Where do I go?" Now those days, after the cross-country, after your five mile cross-country, you had what they call a mile run in. And that wasn't - that was only done at about a half-pace. Not at a gallop. And we - and the area we had to do was up a valley and through red and white flags, turning - they used to call them turning flags. And there was a chap there to see you went through those flags. And they say I stopped there, I must have been saying to that bloke, "Where do I go?" and dumb bugger probably pointed which way I had to go, and that was back down another little valley to the yards where they stop you and weigh you in. You've got to carry eleven eleven, or seventy-five in the metric, eleven - eleven stone, eleven pound. That's what the horse has to carry. And you've got to carry that and when you finish that mile run in, you're not to dismount until the authority says you can dismount. And you go to the scales and weigh in, and you must weigh in at the correct weight or be eliminated. And the Americans were there waiting for their horses and the Canadians. And they said, "Poor old Bill looks a bit buggered, doesn't he?" So the Americans are giving me whisky to drink and the Canadians have got oxygen up my nose. And you know, it's all great for you.
I finished the course, yes.
Oh God, you wouldn't be feeling any pain then... No, no I wasn't feeling any pain. You know, it was just the heat of the moment. Anyhow a bit of pain's nothing. I wouldn't be worried about that, you know. Concussion the next day... but anyhow from there, it was a funny thing, you know, from there they put me on a stretcher there. He's buggered the old fella, put him on a stretcher. And they took me to the place where they look after anybody that's been injured. I don't know what that call them, the casualty room I suppose. And they took me off that stretcher and put me on the casualty room stretcher. So if I'd have been badly injured they would have killed me anyhow. So they decided I had to go to hospital, so they put me back on another stretcher and took me to the helicopter and took me off that stretcher and put me on the helicopter stretcher. And they had to tuck me up a bit to get me in the helicopter, it was only one of those little ones. And talking about that helicopter, you know, I rode out past that damn thing and back in past the thing - four times a day I used to pass that little helicopter sitting there. And I used to think some poor bugger will get a ride in this thing. And that poor bugger was me.
They were quite good. They were quite good in hospital. They packed my head in ice and I said to them, there was one could speak a little bit of English, "Can you give me something for the pain?" because by that time I'd cooled off you know, and I was feeling pain. And they said, "Oh no, no". I suppose they think if they gave something to put me to sleep - they kept me awake all night, I wasn't sleeping. And they weren't giving me anything to kill the pain. I suppose they worry about blood on your brain or some damn thing, you know. They packed my head in ice all damn night... To stop the bleeding I suppose.
Well next morning Mavis told me that - I knew that the horse had broken down, the one Brian Crago... He hit him with the whip, the second fence we crossed was a big ditch, and it was six foot deep and you had to jump about 16 feet to clear that thing off the top of the bank. The ones that tried to go a little bit over the bank, they finished up in the ditch. And Brian Crago on this big horse hit him with the whip there, he thought he might stop. And the horse took him full gallop you know, and that broke the horse down because he was carrying, he was carrying three stone of lead. He was only a little light rider, and all that lead on the horse, he broke down. Broke his tendon and he was broken down. So that meant I'm in hospital, the horse had broken down, they've got two riders. Now you've got to have three to finish... And I knew, I knew, because Mavis had come in and told me that they wouldn't get that horse right. See they got to be vetted those horses next morning before they do the show jumping the final day.
No, no, you can't change. Once you do your dressage you can't change horses. That's final, finish. So I said "I've got to get out of here". And they said "Well you're going to be here three or four days, you know, you won't be getting out of here". So they took my clothes away, I just had my underpants, that's all I had on, knickers. So I said "Well I'll be going you know". They said "You won't be riding this afternoon". I said "You watch television, you just watch television this afternoon". So I said "You don't let me go, I'll walk out in me knickers". And so they went away and they got a doctor to write out a thing for me that I signed, I left the hospital letting them out of any risk letting me out, you know. So Mavis and Clive Cochrane, the secretary chap, they came and picked me up.
Oh of course, of course, yeah. Yeah, she'd ride with a broken arm, so what the hell. Yes, so we went back to the hotel that she stayed in. I forget the name of the hotel now, but she knows what it is. She went and had - when we were in Rome this time she went and had a look...
Well that was night. See we went back and stayed there the night. Oh, I stayed in hospital that night, but we went back to her hotel and they wanted to inject me with pain-killers and I said what the hell, pain-killers. The show jumping took about a minute, you know. Once they ring the bell for you to go, the show jumping itself takes about a minute. Well for God's sake if you can't stand a bit of pain for a minute, there's something wrong with you, isn't it? So by the time they got me out to there they had the horse saddled and I think I was, I was listed eighth to go, but so many had fallen by the way I was pretty damn close to first to go do the show jumping. And I jumped a clean round and I didn't have much power in my right arm, but I just held loosely. You see, he'd been trained to play polocrosse that pony, Solo, and he was used to being reined with one hand, left or right. Because you were using a polo stick or a polocrosse stick in that right hand. So he was brilliant at being guided with one hand. And I jumped a clean round.
Yes. They held it in the Borghese Gardens, the Borghese Gardens in Rome, beautiful spot. And Vicki, Wayne's wife won a big jump in those same gardens years - oh about two years ago she won a big jump on those same gardens.
Oh well, look, it was something - no, I wasn't worried about. Perhaps I was feeling a bit of pain but it wasn't worrying me. And it didn't stop my riding. My legs were okay. So what the hell, you know... I'd probably been hurt more playing football.
Well I wasn't feeling all that bad. It worried me, it worried me a bit that the jar over the fence might send me off. And Neale Lavis, the other boy that's the only one left in the team now, because Morgan's dead and so was Lavis - so was Crago, Brian Crago. They're both gone. So Neale, Neale walked the course with me and he kept saying "Bill, you know where you're going?" "I'm okay". And he kept saying this. "You sure you know where you're going?" "You cranky bugger, I do know where I'm going". And it was tricky you know, that course they set there, they were having a bit of trouble with the distance, the distance, you know, some 700 yards or 600 yards. They had to have a certain distance that you had to travel. So to get it in, you had to bypass an odd fence. Instead of jumping the damn fence, you went around it or went either side of the thing to make the distance. And this created two of them, Harry Freeman-Jackson from Rome - from Ireland, he messed up and jumped the wrong fence. So that eliminated him from the team. And they had to take one of the other boys' scores, which was a bad one. With his score they could have been bronze medal winners. Him being out put them right out altogether. And there was one other country that went the wrong way. So ever after, ever at the Games now, they're not allowed to do this by making their distance.
My final ride, yes certainly did make a difference. Because if I hadn't ridden there would have been no gold, no team gold medal. Because you have to have three finish on that final day to get any medal, you know. So me having a clean round probably didn't mean that much difference, but I did jump a clean round, because we could have had a lot of faults. Long as I competed, I could have had a lot of faults and still won the gold medal. Because when Laurie Morgan went, I think Laurie had one or two fences down, because he could have nearly knocked all those fences down and still won the gold medal... We were that far ahead of the rest of the teams. Yes.
Well I think possibly it was so many were eliminated in the cross-country. I think out of seventy odd starters, nearly half them fell by the way in the cross-country. So we didn't compete against a hell of a lot of team on that final day. I think probably they probably - the first time probably met thoroughbred horses, and men who could ride them, you know.
No, they were more for the warm-bloods. They're a bit heavier type and couldn't - they couldn't stand the speed that was required for cross-country. And, I don't know, it's pretty contentious and it's not right of me to say damn it, they weren't as good as us. Perhaps they had a lot of damn bad luck. Well I had bad luck, didn't I, but I was lucky enough to come back and still compete on that final day. So I don't think it's right of me to be bigheaded and say well for Christ's sake we were much better.
Yes, we were. Yes, we were. That was our thing. And I think - I can remember one of our riders saying - I had trouble at Gawler - and one of our riders that had been said to the manager, "Why the hell didn't you leave him alone? You told him not to go too fast. He likes riding fast. Why didn't you leave him alone?" That sort of thing. But I suppose a hell of a lot of them, they probably, they just weren't up to it. And we've got to be damn careful, you know, even in Australia, just because he is winning here, unless your courses are up to it, he's not really the tops. Well we run a lot of events, right from very little ones, you know, and they get their score and that puts them up another grade, and then they win there and they go up another grade. And then they get up to the top, it's different to when we did it. They were all the right height when we went out and jumped them. We didn't start off with a little fence, and then up a bigger fence and then up. We didn't have those grades in my time. Not in my early time anyhow. And the cross-countries, we didn't have a pre-novice, then a novice, and then an intermediate and then an advanced. We didn't have those. We jumped the top one straight away and to hell if you couldn't jump it, you stayed home. That's the big difference.
Well I suppose it's probably good to bring on the ones that - they weren't all Laurie Morgans you know that rode their ponies to school bareback and jumped big logs. Today we've got to think about it that kids are picked up on the bus and carted to school. Like this area here, our boys probably never gone to an Olympic Games, probably never kept up with horses, had I not taken them off that bus and said okay boys, you're going three miles to the state school and you're going to ride or walk. You know, 45 settlers on this area here and none of the others ever competed like our boys did. No one much ever got on the horse I suppose, because they picked up from school, home from school, and then television come in, watch television. Different, it is different now.
We had a party that night. We did, and we probably drank a bit too much that night. I used my left hand, because my right one wasn't terribly good, but I seemed to get on pretty well with that left hand then. Yes. It was great, and you know, I was, I was first to go, I was nearly first to go, because most riders had fallen by the way. You know, I was eighth of all the countries, eighth to go. And I think I was about second to go into that show jumping because the rest of them had fallen by the way. When I finished I went and sat up in the stand with Mavis, and I was terribly worried about these other fellas. For God's sake now I hope they don't take the wrong course and eliminate the team. Me being worried about it, what the hell were they been doing when they were sitting watching me go. Can he make it, you know, every jump. Did I forget where I was? It was a bit stupid of me wasn't it? Me sitting up worrying about them.
Were you surprised at what a hero that ride, that last ride, had made you back in Australia? I mean people here were so excited about what their enduring, brave Aussie Bill Roycroft had done. Were you surprised that it had turned you into a hero?
Yeah, I was surprised. I was. And there was a chap, and he rang, Dan O'Grady, he was a man that raced horses and he had a shop in there. I went into see him and he said, he greeted me and said "Bugger you, Bill". And I said "What are you buggering me for?" He said, "You had my wife crying like a baby". [laughs] Yeah. It did affect people apparently. And there was a chap in Camperdown, I'd done the Camperdown Show not long after that, and he dressed up and wrapped himself in bandages and rode in, you know, this is Bill Roycroft. Yeah. All silly things like that do affect people I suppose.
Not greatly no, no I think they had it all before I got home, you know, because after - when the Games had finished Mavis and I and a few of the other team, we drove up through Italy to the top, out through Austria, Holland, Belgium, back into France. We went through Germany and bought saddles. Across into England, we did Scotland, Ireland, back, caught the boat home. So by the time we got home you know, the whole thing had died down. They'd forgotten it.
So that was the Rome Olympics. Your first Olympics and there was a gold medal. Why didn't you feel, well that's good enough, I've done the Olympics now? Why did you decide you wanted to go to the next Olympics?
Yeah, I suppose that's a damn good question, isn't it? Had I been satisfied, gone played golf, you know, I could have been - what's the champion golf player? Greg...
No, no. But I probably could have been a Greg Norman and made money, rather than spend it, you know. Perhaps there wasn't the money to be made in golf those days like he's making now.
Well I prepared more horses. Eldorado, a big chestnut horse, Avatar and Stony Crossing. I took three horses of mine there. Barry went as a show jump rider on a horse called Jannali. And we flew, we flew those horses to Tokyo. And I had a lot of nice flights on planes, but that particular flight was a very frightening one. We went with six horses on a DC4, an old prop plane. And we couldn't fly over 9,000 feet, and we had no radar. So we couldn't go over 9,000 feet because we had no oxygen. We had to - we flew into storm after storm after we left Moresby, because we had no radar. We didn't see any storms, but we flew into them. We were heading for Guam then. And you'd be going along and the plane would get very rough and we'd go to the head of the horses and stand with them. And she'd drop, you know. You'd fly into these down draughts and she'd drop three or four hundred feet, oh boy. And the roar of those engines when they were coming out of it. We had Franz Mairinger with us, and that's why I wrote the bit about his saying, you know. And he would never fly again after that trip. He would never go with horses in a plane after that.
Well the horses couldn't do anything, you know, because in that little plane, that DC4, only a small plane, we had them strapped in their boxes. They had straps underneath them, straps over the top, under their buttocks, around underneath their chest. And they couldn't go down in their box, nor could they come out of it. Had they not been strapped in, when that plane dropped out, they would have come out of those boxes and been in the plane with us. You know, those planes dropping like that, Neale Lavis was with us and we had seats at the tail end of the plane, a few seats. And looking back, when it got rough we'd go up to the head of the horses, but Neale's a sleepy little bloke, he'd been still there on his seat. And when the plane dropped out, he'd be feet off his seat you know. They'd drop out from underneath him. It was - and we had several of those big drops as we went. And one horse, Avatar, he was a guts for his feed, and it didn't worry him about the plane dropping. He'd be still grabbing at his hay net as the thing dropped. And we landed at Guam 12 o'clock at night. And I was glad to get down out of the thing. We had some top pilots there, and they told us after, after we got to Tokyo they were damn worried too, you know. One of those drops we could have kept dropping. You know, when they drop like that, with a load on, they're liable to tear the damn wings off it while they come out of it. Anyhow it was okay. But the Americans coming with their horses were run into rough weather too, and one horse played up so badly, he was bumping his head through the roof of the plane, they had to put him down. And the Irish, the Irish lost a horse too. I don't know what happened to him, but they lost one too.
We didn't have any worry with them. We rode them quietly next day. You don't go out and put the pressure on straight away, but we did ride them. And other times I've been on a long trip in the big jets, right through to Canada, across to England. And I've taken a horse out and then ride them quietly next day off the plane. I've had no trouble, although they tell me a lot of people are having trouble with horses off the planes.
Well, the big moment - there wasn't a great big moment there, because we didn't do terribly well. See we were about seventh, that was about the worst we ever did. We had John Kelly in the team, he had two falls, Neale Lavis had a fall. And I went clear. I had a fall, but I hung on to my horse's neck and got out of the penalty area. I wasn't penalised but it did take me a bit of time to get going. And when I say it took me time to get going, if you come off and not be in the penalty area, you wait 'til that judge comes and sees. You know, I'll have to tell you quickly about the penalty areas. They don't have them any more, about 12 months ago they cut them out. But you had a 10 metre circle in front of a jump and you had a 20 metre circle after you jumped the fence. And if you had to stop in the first part of it, it was 20 for a stop. If you fell in the penalty area after the jump you got 60 penalties. So those things don't happen any more, they've cut them out. Now what was I...
Oh yes, yes.
I hung round his neck. I hung round with my legs up until he got out. Now where they made the cross-country in Tokyo was virgin country, old scrub country. And this scrubby stuff had very deep roots. And they grubbed it out, they'd grubbed it out with bulldozers or something and just filled it in with loose soil. Now they pat it down and it looks pretty good, you know, but they had about two inches of rain the night before we competed there, and to hit one of those spots, boy your horse was down. Neale Lavis was in the same hole. His horse fell. But my horse didn't fall, but he was down on his knees and threw me up around his neck and I hung around his neck with my feet up and he went over the penalty area. And they draw - it's a white line on the earth they draw across. And I stopped there until I made the Japanese come down and see that I was over the penalty area before I touched down. Yep.
That was taking time.
Let me go back just for a time, very quickly, about you know, things that do happen that are funny. I thought it was pretty funny. There was one bloke didn't think it was very funny. We used to go down the bar of a night-ime. We were in a big hotel and the bar was down - downstairs underground. And during the night, I lost my false teeth. Not my top teeth, but I had my own front teeth at that time at the bottom, but I had a little partial plate at the back. And during the night I probably - they were hurting me, so I put them in a handkerchief, put them in my pocket, and I suppose during the night I pulled them out to use the handkerchief and dropped them on the floor. And one of these young Irish blokes saw them, picked them up and Harry Freeman-Jackson used to sleep with his teeth in a jar or something during the night. So he took Harry's teeth, put my teeth in the jar, and next morning I'm going down to breakfast and run into Harry. And he said "Some lousy bugger did a trick on me last night, Bill". "What they do, Harry?" "Put somebody's teeth in my jar". So I thought, God, you know, felt in my pocket. I raced back, sure enough they were mine. So I hurried back and I said "Harry, do you mind, they're mine". He cursed and swore something terrible, you know. I don't think he ever believed that it wasn't me that did it to him. It was one of his own boys.
No, that was in Tokyo...So that's one of the funny things that happened there.
Right. Right... So at least you mixed up teeth and not horses. You could tell your horses apart. What - what happened in Mexico? How did - see, after then you'd done a second - you'd gone to Tokyo and it hadn't gone so well...
We got a seventh in Tokyo, that was our worst.
Yes, well leading up to Mexico I keep beating them. "You're too bloody old, Bill, but if you keep winning, keep winning". And I was still winning going to Mexico. And I went with two - how many horses did I take to - I took two horses I think to Mexico. One and a spare. And Wayne, my son, he was in the team with us. Merv Bennett and one other. Oh, I forget their names now. Doesn't matter anyhow. But Mexico, I liked Mexico. Mexico, we were 60 mile, you know, away from Mexico. We weren't in the Village at Mexico. Nor were we in the Village at Tokyo. We were... Mexico was Valle de Bravo. Valle de Bravo was the name of the place. We named a horse after it when we came back. But I liked Mexico. We were billeted in the side of a hill there, our billets, and we used to have to go up these billets to sleep or get to your room. And down when you come to dine and wine. And strangely enough, you know, the high altitude, when we firstly got there just walking up that steps used to exhaust you, but while we were there for about four or five weeks, we could run up those things, you know, no worries. And it didn't affect our horses either, because we did our steeplechase a thousand feet higher than our cross-country. It didn't seem to - because our four horses that we competed on were six year old. Now today you cannot compete on a horse - not when you're getting ready to go anywhere or to compete - must be six year old. But those days we used to be able to compete on them as a five year old and that was okay. It wasn't okay overseas, but I asked them could we do it here, be ready for the Olympic Games. And it was one of those Games that will never be seen again. Where we did our cross-country we had to cross a creek, a fast flowing little creek, because it was mountainous there. It was normally flowing about five or six inches or a bit more in the creek. Beautiful little creek, and we had to cross that thing five or six times. Now, I was - about half of - half of the countries went while it was fine.
And it rained, and it poured rain, it just fell out of the sky. And I suppose in 20 minutes or so there was two inches of rain. And this high altitude, you know, from all mountainous around, that little stream become about 50 yards wide. Now you couldn't see where the little creek was. It was just a mountain of water. And I was on the steeplechase course way up above when it started, and I came down. We had a windy track down and it poured and it was hailing cold. And I turned - we came round one of these bends and the next thing I'm on the ground with my horse dragging me backwards, because when he threw me off I was - I hung on. And I looked up and there's two fellas in these big yellow, big yellow coats and trousers. And coming around the bend, you know, into the rain and that, the horse saw them and boom he was gone. And I had my head down, I didn't know what was going on, I had my head down against this terrible wind and rain. And didn't see what he what he was going to do. But if I'd have lost him there, if he'd have got away from me, I would never have caught him again. So by the time I got down to where we started the cross-country - see that was roads and tracks coming down from the steeplechase course, second roads and tracks - I was so damn cold, and there was ten minutes to go before you start your cross-country. While the vets check your horse. And the normal thing is to, before you go cross-country in case you have a fall, you go and have a pee. So right on the spot they didn't have a toilet to go, so I wandered across the road and got behind a house and didn't appear to be anybody there. So I had my pee. But I didn't have a zip fly. I had a button - buttons on the fly. I got them undone all right, but do you think I could get them done up. No bloody way could I. My hands were that cold. So I just made sure - it was all right but it was that bloody cold you know, they wouldn't have seen anything if it was hanging out. [laughs] So I go back to where we start and one of the other riders said "Bill, my shirt might be a bit drier than yours". But it wasn't much drier, but I did change it anyhow. And I couldn't very well ask him to do up my fly. So I went cross-country with my fly undone, yeah. That was okay, you know, you wouldn't have been able to see anything.
Yes, we jumped and we got the bronze medal there in Mexico.
Fifty-seven I was.
I probably didn't even think about it, you know. And I still had - I still had a good horse and you know.
We went, we went - we went to Mexico by plane, beautiful big plane, 747. It wasn't a jumbo, but it was good. We went Honolulu - Honolulu, America, you know. That was a marvellous trip. The only time the horse feels it there, they take off suddenly you know to get the speed up straight away. And they brake steeply when they land. That's the only time the horse feels it. The rest of it they chew away at their bit of feed. And to go to Munich, they were having trouble across through the country, I think across - anyhow there was some parts that we couldn't go Singapore that way. We had to go around via - to get into England we had to go to Canada. Because America had some horse sickness, they wouldn't let us land in America. So we went to Canada, Montreal. We landed in Montreal and then took off from Montreal to London. That was the longest flight we had. We had horses here and lugged a few more in New Zealand. And we landed at one of those - what are those islands in the sea there? - and we landed in a fog. They must have marvellous navigation, you know, because we couldn't go on because we didn't have the fuel to go on... They put down in a fog and we landed safely. But they were a bit worried, though, because they had to land on instruments.
Oh well, this is in those jets, no worry at all, you know. Well you were way up you know, you were up around the 36,000 feet and you're travelling at nearly a thousand miles an hour. It's marvellous.
We stayed - we went to England and we trained for a while in England. That's when they said in Australia, I've got to have somebody, I've got to train those boys, you know, and I was supposed to be one of the boys at 57. So I wasn't going to be trained. I sent the boys with Bertie Hill for six weeks. And I did my own thing. And across we went to Munich and we weren't in - our horses were seven mile out of Munich at a little place called Riem. They built a beautiful equestrian centre there, the biggest indoor school I'd seen in the world. And lots of dressage arenas to train in. The silly damn thing about it, you know, they had all those facilities there, and for dressage the Queen went over, and some big place she was staying, she looked out the window onto the lawns. And she said "It'd be a marvellous place to see dressage done, wouldn't it?" You know, the Germans immediately changed over from doing their dressage at Riem and had the dressage done on these lawns that she thought would look beautiful. And that meant for them carting tons of sand and putting on this damn lawn. And for the horses to do it, they had to travel from Riem, through Germany to get to this damn place. You know, people are so damn stupid, aren't they?
Just because she - she didn't mean them to do it, but she said that, wouldn't it look beautiful, the horses doing dressage on that lawn. So they picked her up straight away and did it.
No, we didn't. We were fourth there. But that's something I live with. Mexico - not Mexico - Munich, I still wake up of a night-time, you know, sweat on my face. I said, I see it now, I can see it all the time. Never leaves me. And I'll have it until I die. I was, I was one point off winning dressage and I was sitting on a horse that could do it, no worries, it was up to Bill. Don't let him stop. You know, I got so blasé about cross-country, it was so damn easy for me, I never worried about it. Had I been worried, I wouldn't have made the mistake I made. I stopped at a simple fence. To me, I was going too damn fast, and I was bringing the horse back to a speed that I should be for the jump, and I was bringing him back too long. He thought I wanted him to stop and boom, he stopped. Now that cost me 20. And he damn well stopped at one more fence too. It was a tricky fence, the next one he stopped at. Things happened there. When Clarke finished - he was first to go of our team, Clarke was in the team with me - he was first to go. And when he finished, the authorities said he's got to be tested. Now that meant going ten mile back to Munich, back to Riem, to have him tested by doctors. And they've got to have a witness to make sure they don't put his pee in mixed up with somebody else's, or put somebody else's pee in his jar. So I said to Jack Walsh, our manager who's an old cripple, "Jack, go with him. Go back - I want to go and see such and such events because I intend to jump it another way if I can get a look at it". And he wouldn't go, he wouldn't go. He made me go with - instead of me having the time, because Clarke having just gone I had lots of time 'til I was going to go on my horse. But to go with Clarke and then spend my time with him while doctors did the job, and then catch my own horse and do my own roads and tracks and my steeplechase and my ten mile to where we did our cross-country, the only thing that I can say - blame somebody else. It'd be nice to try and blame somebody else, but it doesn't stop me from - I'll die with it because that cost me the individual gold medal. I had it sitting there, you know, right round my neck because there on the final day I jumped a clean round. And had I gone clean cross-country there you are, I had a gold medal and a silver medal for the team. You know. So now you live with one of those.
Yes, the thing that I was good at. Yeah. I was talking to the girl Mathews up when we were on that train trip in Brisbane, raising funds for Atlanta. And she was telling me about her running. She beat the Golden Girl. Every time she met that Golden Girl before 1956 she beat that girl. And on the day, on the day that she run, that she should have the gold medal, she didn't put in, she didn't put in what she could do, and she was beaten back into third place. And she said today it worries her, right up to today. And she said people even think about the - it often comes up in conversation, why didn't you? You know, the funny thing about it, or probably the great thing, I think I'd feel better if those three riders had blasted me. You know, they never, ever said a word. They never ever said "You could do it, you rotten bastard, you could have done it", you know. And I would have taken it. I wouldn't have been belting them for saying that, because I would have deserved it, you know. But just being blasé, it was easy. Had I been nervous and worried about the damn thing, I wouldn't have let it happen. All the big fences, all the big fences and the hard ones, and there was some hard ones there, I did terribly well, because I had to ride them, you know. These little ones that caught me, didn't have to, they were so damn simple.
I was, I was, yeah, I was 57 then. And by the time Montreal, of course, I was 61. But you see, they told me earlier - I think it was a year before at the event in Melbourne, that was when the manager said "Bill, you're too old. It doesn't matter if you win, we won't be taking you". I said "Nice bloody time to tell me, isn't it", because I was about to go cross-country then, when he walked up and said we had a meeting last night. So I won that event. I went on to Gawler and I won in Gawler. I went to Sydney for the last one and I won there. So it was up to them to leave me or take me, wasn't it. But they took me anyhow. And we went to - we flew, flew the horses to Montreal. It was a good flight, you fly right over America, look down and you could see America as you went. And as we - oh the funny thing about going to Canada, you know, I used to think about these countries I competed in, mostly we were at war with those damn countries, you know, Japan, Germany. And it was - Italy, we were at war with Italy also, weren't we? And I thought, Canada, English-speaking country, we haven't been to war, that'll be lovely. Be lovely, you know. We landed in Montreal, French Canadians. And we spoke English and they hate the bloody English. They do, the French Canadians. And they had there the special Quebec policemen, big strong, black swarthy looking blokes with moustaches, you know, black moustaches. And when you arrived at these places you were accredited and you have a thing that you wear around you. Because after Munich, after Munich, the Jews being massacred there in the Village, things were very strict from then on. And of course, Montreal being the next one after Munich, they had all these police from Quebec. And we arrived in to be accredited, and they gave me mine, and forgot to sign the damn thing. Now we went down to the Village where all the equestrians were to camp, and they wouldn't let me in. Because my thing had not been signed. So we go back, we go back to try and get it rectified and everybody's cleared out. Because this was getting pretty late at night. And they'd all gone, there was nobody there to rectify it. So I was tired and I had the manager with me, and a lot of haggling. I told them that they were a pack of Gestapo bastards, you know, and the worst I've ever run into. Anyhow they eventually went back to the headquarters in Montreal and got this fixed up. They had a long time and we had to wait and wait 'til - to be let into this Village. And they eventually let me in, and then to be returned and have the accredited in the morning. But they never forgot that I called them a pack of Gestapo bastards. And there was one whitish coloured fellow, he was nice. He had whitish skin, and he looked like one of us more or less than the French Canadian. And he gave me all his medals when I left there. I've got them up in the cupboard there, the things he gave me, all his plaques that go on case and things. He said "These are for the bad time we gave you, Bill".
But they were tough, you know, they would shoot you, no worry, if you went - to get into our horses we had a special gate we had to go in that gate and show our thing to get into our horses, our own horses. And if you took a short-cut, which I went to do one day, and he said "You step through there, I shoot you", you know. And they would, no worry. And going in and out, when we were show jumping on the final day, we had to go out to where our horses were held and back into watch the ones that are going. And each time - we had our red coats on and these things, and of course we had them in, so we'd have to pull it out and show him to go out, and then pull it out and show him to come in. And I said to this bloke, "You are so bloody stupid, you know. You see me going in and out. You are bloody stupid". And he stuck the bayonet in my belly quick smart. You couldn't play with those buggers. And there was Peter Winton that had competed with us in London years ago, that was after the Tokyo Games, he competed with me in England. He was sitting in the seats and the area there was hilly sided and the thing was going up like a valley, so they had natural seating either side. And I could see him beckoning me to come and talk to him. Which I did. I walked across and he walked to me to the - I suppose he walked about five or six seats from where he was, to the partition. And I just said hello to him and him to me and the police, this Quebec bloke said "Sit down, sit down", and Peter said "Oh, it's my friend from Australia". "Sit down, sit down or I'll arrest you". So you go and sit down, you know. And I talked to the Queen about it, and she said "Shoot me. Now look, if they wanted to shoot me they could have done it there. I'm sitting there in the open with all my guards around, bodyguards were all there. But there I'm sitting in full light and all that scrub timber across the way there. Look they could have shot me if they wanted to shoot me". We dined with the Queen and the whole Royal Family there at Montreal. Because somebody loaned them a house and they were all there, Prince Philip, the whole lot. And of course, Princess Anne competed there, she rode there and had a fall. And I sat at the table with her. Because Colonel Sir John Miller, he used to be at most of the Games and he drove Prince Philip's four-in-hand team of horses. And he came to me and said "Bill, would you mind getting your meal, the Queen would like you to sit with her". And she's already sitting down. Now the meal you got was in the next room, on a big long table, and you chose your own food. So I went with John Miller following me, and of course the table was full of people, and I said "John, no way can I get a meal here, you have a look". He just walked in and said "Do you mind, Mr Roycroft's sitting with the Queen. He wants his meal". And they all walked away and let me get my meal. God I felt bad about that. So I went and sat down with them, it was just like sitting down alongside you, you know. "Sorry I'm late, ma'am, but you know, there was a crowd out there". "Oh that's all right, Mr Roycroft".
Oh I picked away I suppose, yeah. But she was nice to chat to. We could be talking away to you or anybody you know. She's very easy...
Oh yes she could. I've got an idea that she was --oh she was a business woman you know. And she knew all about horses. She loved our horses and their strength and their bone. She talked with vets that had tested our horses and she said "You know, there's something about Australia where their bone is strong and I think it's the sunlight". And our horses are not stabled like their horses are. And she told me during the meal that she would like to breed horses in Australia. Now I wasn't that silly that I stepped in here and said "Yes ma'am, you leave it - I'll talk with John, Colonel John Sir Miller" because he looked after all the horses at Badminton and those royal horses, the cavalry horses. He was in charge of all that lot. And I think, I think the Queen liked him very much, because during the - he brought her meal and her sweets, and "That's nice, John".
Pardon. Yes, we won the bronze medal at Montreal, yes.
A good round?
For me, no I had a damn fall in Montreal. It was a bottle - it was a bottle fence, and there was a big fence, number 12, coming downhill very wet and slippery, big box barrel and I think that frightened him. He slipped into that thing and jumped it. We jumped it all right, but I think it frightened him. But I made the mistake, see, the next fence was a bottle and had a neck on it which was not a big jump, not a big jump, but it was built similar to the big one I'd just jumped. And to jump the bottle, to jump in and out of it, was - my stride was too short, and it was too long for a bounce, just to bounce in and out of it. So I took the neck, and I come in, already to jump and he tried to stop and fell into it. And we both finished up in the yard, in the bottle, in the bottle part, which cost me 60 down the drain. So I had to jump - mount it and jump thereabout. Run in with the fastest time, but see, that put him back. Here again luck's a fortune.
Had Wayne with me in there, yes. Yeah Wayne rode twice with me at the Games.
Well it was finish for me. I decided that I was much too old, and I wouldn't be trying again. But as we completed Montreal it was a matter getting rid of our horses. We decided that the Equestrian Federation of Australia were very short of funds and they could not afford to bring our horses home. So all the horses had to be sold right there before we left, Canada. And we set about doing that. And all the horses were sold before we left there. I returned straight home from Canada and got back to reality, back to work and making a living as we do here. Mavis went on, Mavis went on to England from there and I think looked at ponies and did that sort of thing. But that was finish, that was finish of the Olympic Games for me. But I was in, when they had the Moscow Games, the equestrian body boycotted that. Is it boycott or boycoot?
Anyhow... they didn't go anyhow. And the government decided anybody that didn't go there they would sponsor them to wherever their alternative was in the world. Now the alternative events for that period was in Beaumont, France [it was actually in Fontainebleau]. And I went as their manager/trainer to England and then on to France for them to compete there. And Wayne, the son, was in that team, plus the other three. And they finished up with a bronze medal there. And well that was the last time then I took any part in the Olympics. I was getting on to the age where I should have turned around and played golf, but I still fiddled around with horses and competed here in Australia. Which was a bit silly, I should have gone and - because you know, I went on and on then until I was too damn old to - compete on horses and I was too old to start playing golf.
Well I suppose, getting ready, or striving to go to the Olympics probably gave me the most joy, when I won the first three-day event in Sydney, you know. And then onto Gawler, and winning there. But the first, the first time that I won the thing and knew that I could do it, was probably gave me the most pleasure.
The press, I can see the press coming, "You must be exhausted, Bill, you know, after that". I think I rode more than one horse around. And you know, it didn't exhaust me. I was fit and fit for riding. I suppose if I run a hundred yards I would have fallen over, but horse-riding, I seem to be able to ride all day and it never got exhausting. But apart from that, and then I - see the show jumping, I just did a clean round of show jumping and that was it, I'd won it. And then we went and drank a fair bit amongst the rest of the competitors. That's something I really enjoyed you know, was the other boys coming and having a drink with me after it was over. There was - and I think right through - right through my life as a competitor in the horse world, a friendly lot, you know, there didn't seem to be any, "Oh I hate this bloke" or "I hate that fella", you know. They were always friendly didn't matter how badly you beat them, they'd come and have a drink with you, or vice versa, if you were beaten you went and drank with them.
Yes, I carried the flag in Mexico. It was very funny there, you know, in Mexico, because they'd been shooting a few students just prior to the Olympics there. Because the students reckoned that they were spending money which they - on the Olympics there - that they couldn't afford, instead of looking after their poor people and more money for the universities. And they were having these big strikes with the university, with the students. And you know, up to 16 they were shooting of a night-time, and they said they will not stop the Olympics, it will go on. But there won't - we will have the opening ceremony and we will not have any guns on the place. Now we marched in I suppose a quarter of a mile, into the Village, and down over the sides of the road they were there, they were there with their rifles or whatever things they were going to stop. But you could see the army either side of the road. They weren't going to let those students take over, it was going to run and run correctly. So we marched in, and of course Australia, we were one of the first - I suppose Australia or Austria - we were pretty early into the arena. And then I had to stand with this flag the whole time, while all the others came in, and all the athletes behind me, they sat down or lied down, didn't matter to them. But I had to stand holding that flag. And it was rather gruesome for me too, because just prior to - a couple of days before, the horse stood on my toe and broke my big toe. I was out working my two horses, and I used to work for some time leading one, then I'd change over, put the saddle on the other horse. And while I was doing this, one stood on my toe, and in me trying to push him off he ground around and broke that toe, broke my big toe. So I'm in new shoes with a broken toe, carrying a flag. And you know, standing there with a broken toe. But there you go, that's how she was, and I couldn't do anything else but just stand with that flag until the whole lot of them came in and then we were marched off.
No. They knew I had a broken toe, they knew they had a broken toe, and the doctor put an injection into it, but it didn't do any good. I suppose it did good for a while, but he did it some time before we went in.
No, no, of course not. No. And you see years afterwards, Wayne, my son, carried the flag in Los Angeles.
Well, it's terrific you know, it's terrific, because those three boys, because I sent them to school on ponies and they continued on from that competing on horses, those - everything they did, it was always thinking ahead about the horses competing. And then because the Olympic Games come into it and they were striving for the Olympic Games, it kept those boys out of trouble, you know, where the other - a lot of their friends went to the towns, got into trouble with the police. They never caused me any trouble those boys, and it was I think through the horse and their involvement with the horse that kept them out of that trouble. Because they didn't - they put their time in on that horse, instead of being in the town having fun. I suppose they look back over years gone by, and think Christ, we probably missed a lot of fun. But I don't know. But they - they were very good to me and - you see over those period of years, I competed against those boys. They competed against me. And we were always good friends. There was no bickering between father and son, "I'll beat you" or "I'll do this", you know. It was always help you, help you, we all helped each other.
I think I probably helped them in that I saw they had good horses. And good type of horse. I think right from the start as little boys we put them on very good horses, and that encouraged them to go on. I think today a lot, you know, fathers and mothers, they don't know enough about it and they will buy them a horse that's not suitable and either frightens the young one or discourages them, "Oh bugger this, we go play golf or play cricket". I think for - to be very wise people, parents should buy them a very suitable horse and a horse that can do something. Even if they - we paid money you know, for one particularly good pony that went on for years that we really couldn't afford, but that went to the boys and competed in Melbourne, Sydney, with great success. And then was handed down, when Clarke, see Clarke had carried him on great success, winning in Melbourne, Sydney, in the big shows against all the competition. I think that is something that I did that was really sensible.
Oh I suppose instead of lasting 50 years as it has, we probably would have divorced pretty smartly. Who knows? Who knows? Perhaps she would have come my way or I would have gone her way.
What is it about horses? I mean you said that you rode the way you did and made a life really of riding because you were good at it. But there's also something about the horses themselves that has always fascinated you, isn't there? What is it about horses?
Well I suppose - that's rather hard to answer but it's a - I suppose it's a challenge. Now there was one particular horse we finished up taking him to Montreal. Now he was one of Hayes' horses from South Australia, one of the best known racehorse men in Australia, Hayes, and he was a highly bred horse. But a wayward horse. Apparently he jacked up with the jockeys and they couldn't get him to start. And he was sold at Wright Stevens in the sale yards in Melbourne. Now a lady that we know bought that horse and she had him for some time and said "Bill, I'm not going to do any good with that horse. Do you want him?" And I said "Whether I want him or not I'll have a look at him". So I looked at the horse and he was a good looking horse. And I gave her the money that she had paid for him at the sale, brought him home here and Mavis and I went to muster stock, so I got on this horse. Now that damn donkey of a horse he run me into a fence and he went everywhere and then he'd stop, jack up, just stop. Now I suppose most people would have said "Okay, I'll put a bullet between your ears" and boom, gone, but I was determined I was going to make something out of that horse. And you know, he would stop, stop. Now I tried belting the horse, no good, that didn't do anything for the horse. So I'd pull his head around to my leg, I'd pull his head around with the rein right round and hold his head tight against my leg, you know. And that hurts a horse, if you bend him around that hard like that. And he'd explode, he'd bound into the air, but he'd go, he'd go away you know. So every time he stopped I'd do this. Near side I'd pull his head around right around and hold it there. And he'd explode, but he'd go away. Now it wasn't long before that horse gave it away. He'd stop and before I'd just start to pull his head around he'd go. Each time you know. And it wasn't long before that horse gave it away completely. I finished up winning on him in Melbourne three-day event. And he went with me as - he went with me as my spare horse to Montreal.
And I've seen a few of these. Once - a horse I've got up here on the wall, Avatar, he was a brilliant racehorse, but he was a rig, he had one big stone and one up in his belly, a little stone up in his belly. We call them, they're a rig. So I bought this horse in Melbourne at the sales because he was related to Stanaswa, a horse that had won 24 races for us. He was being sold because being a stallion, half stallion, he started savaging horses as he raced. But he was a brilliant racehorse, but they banned him because of his bad habit of wanting to fight the other horses... [INTERRUPTION]
Ah, yes. Funny how you drift away.
Well he - he would rear. He would stand up on his hind legs, you know, and boy he'd be standing up that high you'd think he was going to tip over backwards. But he never ever did. The first time he sat down once with me and then up again. And I cured that. It was, because there was another horse with me that did so I knew what to do with him. That was turn your riding whip upside-down, so you had the heavy part at the end, and you hit the horse just back of the ears either side on the neck there. Bang, bang on the - as they stood, down they'd come and go away. And if they were up again you did that. And it was no time before that horse would give away rearing. It was - so - and that horse I took to the Olympic Games also and then on to England for his quarantine and rode him in a hurdle race in England.
Well I suppose, yeah. I suppose.
Now they very much respond to the way you treat them, and you have to think about that. Are you also dependent on them? For example, were you dependent on Our Solo, when you had that fall in Rome and got back on, to kind of know what you were wanting him to do?
Yes. Solo, a brilliant little horse, because I suppose, when you think abut it, I was non compos when I got on that horse and went on, because the first - the first fence after that was what they called an Irish bank. It had a ditch in front of it, four foot high, six foot across the top and you know that little horse should have stopped there with me, because I was just sitting on him and pointing him the right way. Well we went there and after that he jumped the whole damn thing instead of landing on top and off it. And then the giant steps and down onto that road, short stride to a post and rail fence and a big brush. Now why didn't that little horse stop there with me? Damn near fell because we were going to take that road that we went across on an angle, so we got the stride long enough. But I went straight across it apparently and the short stride put him right against the fence. Why didn't he stop there, you know? Brilliant little horse. Now the big horse with me that did stop in Munich, would have probably stopped there, you know, so there was a difference.
I suppose I was involved so much with the horse right through my life that I never thought about loving a horse. But yes, you certainly, you go and pat the horse, you know, and talk to him. Just like as if he's a friend of yours. But I wouldn't say - they were our transport and I wouldn't go as far as saying you loved the horse, you know.
... very fond of that horse of course, yeah.
[laughs] I suppose not.
So looking back too, on your time that you were involved in the whole Olympic movement, was it - how important was it for you to keep going each time? You know, people were saying to you quit while you're ahead. But you kept going back. What was it about the Olympics that made you want to keep going?
When I think back over it now, you know, I was so damn stupid. I was silly. I suppose it was something I can do reasonably well, and I possibly wasn't much good at anything else. It kept me going at something I could do reasonably well, you know. If I built a dog kennel it wasn't good enough for the dog to sleep in you know, so he slept outside. And I suppose it was something, as I say, something that I was reasonably good of and I could make a horse - you see I bought a horse from Alec Creswick. No, I was given it, I was given Stony Crossing. When Sabre broke down in Rome, ridden by Brian Crago, Alec Creswick said to me "Bill when we return to Australia, I will give you a horse to take the place of that one". He never ever did, for years. I bought horses from him. We were steeplechasing a little horse called Foaming Sea, and I'd won the three-day event on that horse and Alec Creswick wanted him for the next Olympic Games. But we wanted money, and this was a grand little horse for steeplechasing, so we steeplechased the horse, and we got a second and a third and, you know, and we were about to win our first in Melbourne and two horses fell just in front of him and as he went between them they kicked him and lamed him. And Creswick said to me - he was there - "You rotten so and so". He swore something awful. "I asked you not to race that horse. So what are you doing on Sunday?" I said "I'm always busy, what do you want?" "Be in Swan Hill". That's Swan Hill up on the Murray. "And be on my property the other side of Swan Hill Sunday, I'll give you that horse I promised you all those years ago". So I went and he rode a big mob of horses in and he said "What do you like there?" I said "That big brown horse". "Well put your saddle on him and try him". So I did. And I said "This will do, Alec. This horse will do me". "What are you going to do with him, Bill?" "I will win the novice three-day event on this horse in Sydney come five months time". "You are mad. You can't do it". And I did it, you see. And that horse was very soon - he went off to the Olympic Games. And he wasn't ridden by me. He was ridden by - I rode the big horse Eldorado, the big chestnut horse with a white face.
That's a point. It's rather funny isn't it, they haven't because - well I suppose the swimmers, take the swimmers, the swimmers have done well, nearly every Games our swimmers have done well. When you think of Dawn Fraser and a few others. And naturally enough the ones that are getting gold medals, they do well. It wasn't until after Rome - it wasn't after Rome - but then as you say, why? Now even after Rome, after we won the gold, two gold in Rome - oh well I suppose each one should have got a gold, so that would have been four gold medals in Rome, should have been, plus the silver medal - we should have, we should have had a lot of publicity. And I think the authorities in Australia were to blame over that, because they didn't make enough of it. Apart from me having that fall and getting out of hospital, there was damn little written up about what we did, was there, if you think back over it. And Australia should have made something out of that coming up to the next Games. It's something that - I suppose if you go on the Continent, and you go to England, television, television made the equestrian side of the thing, because they were televised a lot there, and if you walked down any street in England, anybody on the street could tell you what horse was jumping and what was the name of the rider. Because they were televised and people saw it on television. But not Australia. Now television here in Australia just weren't about to - it was damn hard to get television to take anything, even on the Melbourne or the Sydney show that was mixed up with the horses.
Yes, they have. Well even today, now we've won two - twice now running, we've won the three-day event at the Olympic Games. And you know, there's not a big thing about it now. And they're not getting the big money, they're not getting the big money for the 2000 Olympics, you know, the equestrians. But I see in the paper that the women water polo girls, they're getting about the top money. Now a lot of them - somewhere around the two million allotted to them. Now they haven't done anything yet. This will be their first - this will be their first run at the Olympic Games. And the Australians are getting hardly anything for it, the equestrians.
Of all the different sports that get played at the Olympics and the competitors that go, as you've pointed out the equestrians need the most complicated arrangements. Could you just describe simply for us what actually was involved in transporting and dealing with the horses during all the Olympics?
As an amateur, you know, my big cost was finding the horse, buying the horse, preparing that horse, the feed, the shoeing, and the hours I put in in getting that horse ready to compete. And we had to compete and we had to be winning or we had to be close up to winning first, second or third, to be even looked at in the equestrian sport. But for the transport, that was paid for by the AOF, that wasn't a cost to the competitor. So we can't say well it cost us a fortune to get to the damn Games, because the transport there was paid for. That wasn't a cost for us. But then after the Games - see I spent months with these damn horses quarantining. Somebody had to be with them. If I hadn't been with them they had to pay somebody to be with those horses when they went to England for their six months. And you see Mavis and I, we argue the point and you've heard us, of course, but we get on pretty well apart from our bickering and that, we're still here after 50 years. And we will still argue the point, because we don't always see what she... I suppose I think she's hard to get on with at times, and she reckons I'm a fair bugger to get on with I suppose. But there you go, see we're still here.
Yes, yes. It was six months. Now when the Games finished, wherever you were, well say take Tokyo, we finished at Tokyo. So you had to find a way of getting those horses to England to quarantine, because that's where they had to go for their six months before they can return to Australia. That was our quarantine regulations. So in Tokyo we had a cargo boat going to England that accepted taking us. And on that boat we had the Australian horses and the New Zealand horses, and there was eleven horses altogether. Now so you had to have the fodder, the fodder on that boat to last - I forget exactly what time it was, because we went through Panama that time, and they unloaded cargo just after we went through Panama. So I suppose it took a month from when we left Yokohama. And then on the boats, each side, the aft hatches, they have stalls for the horses. And I said to the Japanese "I would like to take these horses out and walk them you know, instead of them standing in those boxes for all that time, I will walk them in the morning and I'll walk them in the afternoon, approximately a mile each time. Can you put something on the decks so these horses can walk on the deck without slipping?" So they did, they put those, the mats they use for the walls of their houses and that, made out of some strong bamboo stuff. I don't know whether it's bamboo or a very strong grass. But it was a thickness of about two or three inches this stuff, and they lay this all round the deck, right aft around, which gave me a good long walk for the horses. So I took them out of the boxes, and you know, it was created something for the Japanese because if you run into heavy seas, they're liable to come over the aft part of the boat and wash your boxes off. So they've got to be strapped down to the deck, they've got to be wired down to the deck so they can't move. Now the Japanese very smartly put a guy wire high up and then over the top of that and strapped their boxes down. So I could walk the horses out underneath. And this we did to England, and of course, walking your horses about like that, those horses were alright to ride them when we arrived there. Not hard, but we could ride them straightaway. Well we spent nearly nine months that time, because we competed on the horses, which you can do in England or Ireland. But if you went across to France, 22 mile, you had to return and do another six months in England. That's how it was. So we competed there pretty successfully in eventing and games. Yeah.
No, they're not. No.
I think the - they - I think they've found out, if you've got a very cold country, say they've got snow and ice in America, you could fly straight from America in a particular type of the year when there's ice and snow about, very cold, fly straight into Australia and spend about three or four weeks in Australia quarantine, it'd be okay. Now they did that, I think they did that when we had the world championships in Gawler, South Australia there a few years ago. And if you - they're flying now - they put about 80 horses or more on a jumbo and fly straight from England to here, but they spend a month under veterinary supervision in England before they fly. Then they fly and when they arrive here they got to do another three weeks here in quarantine before they come out amongst the other horses. Which they've done with their English horses that raced in the Melbourne Cup.
The acreage was 180 acres. And it had a fence around it, right around that 180 acres. Not quite, not quite, no. I was wrong in saying that. There was about 140 acres that had it around it. And that area had been leased by an old chap here named Kerr. He'd leased it for 40-odd years, just by word of mouth, no written documents, with the McKinnon people that owned Meridi Yallock, the big station. And we set to then and fenced this. But they took in a bit more of Meridi Yallock to make up the 180 acres. So that was one fence, one old fence had to be pulled down, which I pulled down, and then I had to fence the rest into the paddocks I required.
Yes, yes, we did. We did it pretty hard for a start. Although the government, the government were pretty good to us soldier settlers. They did help us for the first 12 months or more. And they did supply us with posts and that that they put on our debt, they put on our debt. But they did find those posts. Well they did for me, they did for me, because I was a bit late coming onto this property and others that were already on Meridi Yallock, the settlement, they'd gone out and found their own, they'd split their own posts in a forest not terribly far from here. And they had got them and of course that didn't go on their debt. They found their own posts.
Yes. Yes. I - things have moved on from those times, but you see living has also moved on, much more expensive now. A pound, we were still in pounds, shillings and pence then, and a pound went much further then. A pound goes - well the equivalent to a pound doesn't go anywhere much now, does it? But we had to, for a start we had to build our dairy, we had to build our dairy. They helped us, they helped us in finding the material, but we had to do it. We had to build the damn thing and get it going. It was a bit different in lots of ways in settlements. In some of Meridi Yallock, the early parts of this place, the houses were built, and the sheds or dairies, were all there before they put the settlers on the things. And then there were some 45 of us on this side of the property. We set to and built our own dairies, and they eventually put the house up. Now we were here some time living in a garage that we built ourselves before this establishment was built.
I was - a neighbour of mine just across the way, used to watch me and I suppose he thought "He's not a bad working bloke, Bill Roycroft". Never ever came and did anything for me, as far as helping to fence or do anything like that, but he must have been watching me, because he said to me one time, "Bill you're too small, you know, you're too small". I said "I know I'm too damn small. I can't even afford to wear a hat". But he said "What I want to talk about, if you see some land that would suit you, let me know and I'll look at it and if I think it's okay, I'll stand you at the bank". You know, that was really something, because I did then look about, because we could do with some more, somewhere to put our young stock and I found a place where Barry is now, and I said to this chap - he's dead now the chap that did this for me - I took him and showed it. He said, "Bill, don't miss it, this is good land. I drove over this country in the middle of winter and bought sheep. It's a great piece of country. Buy it". So I did. He stood me at the bank, and he stood me for some years, you know, just my guarantee, but once that happened that let me put my young stock out there and that was a great help. And from that we billowed on and I bought other places.
From the dairy yes.
Now what happened when you were away for so much? I mean it wasn't just going away to the Olympics, it was all the work and time that was taken up with developing the horses and doing that, having that interest. What happened to the dairy? I mean even when Mavis came with you sometimes overseas, what happened to the dairy?
That's where the Rantles came in. The people that still walk in when we go away. But...
People by the name of Rantles, they live about three mile away from here now. They - we just rang them up and say "Look, we're going for a few days. Can you look after the place?" That's ok. They're honest people, they do the - I think when I went away once and they - all the whole family came into the house, because they were moving from one establishment to - because they'd finished their contract and had nowhere to go and it suited them, it suited us and they'd come into the house.
Once, they did, yes once. But I sort of got away from...
Well, there was - I wanted to go on about how you got and what did you do. While we were building up, getting ready for the Games, we had to milk the cows. Now that was, that was five o'clock in the morning, and the boys were still going to school at this early stage, you know. So it was five o'clock in the morning, milk those cows then work the horses. And you would do that again in the afternoon, and by the time you worked your horse again in the afternoon, milked your cows, we were coming in for dinner of a night-time somewhere around the nine o'clock, you know, through summer-time. So when you think back over it, as I drove up that road yesterday, up the hill, I used to do about seven mile of a morning with the horses. And that was up and down the - it was always on the road because I used to disk it up and I had the distance, if I tried to do it in a paddock, it was a bit difficult, because the paddocks were small, you didn't get the distance. I did it on the road and through the summer I kept it disked up so it didn't affect the horses' legs. They were always on good going, it was soft on their legs. And now I think you - that was a start of what you asked me, then you went a bit further and asked me something.
Ah, yes, yes. Well, Mavis took over the first time, then she got one of the boys to look after the place while she came over for Rome. I think Henry Rantle, the bloke I was talking about, used to come in and do anything that was too much for the young fellas. And as the years went by, if one of the sons wasn't in the team, he did the job on the property, and then there was the one time that the whole family - I think that was Mexico, 19, that was 1968 - Mavis came and Wayne was with me, Clarke, the youngest one stayed with the neighbour over there, and Barry stayed here with the family of Rantles when they moved into the house. And Mavis went through the whole thing with me. Then on to England and stayed a lot of the time that we were quarantining the horses. We seemed to be able to work it out reasonably well.
The reason I was asking that question about how you managed financially, is that you tend to associate horses and owning horses with the very rich grazier types, and I was just really wondering whether the dairy industry was so good at that time that you really did have plenty of spare money, or whether it was always a struggle?
Oh, it was. You see, I was a good enough horseman to buy these horses off the racetrack, wayward horses that bucked a bit, or they wouldn't, couldn't get them to go to the barriers. And you know, some of those were damn good horses, but they were a bit wayward.
Yes, that's how I was able to get these horses. I told you about this horse that eventually went to Canada. But he was a dog of a horse when I first got on him, but finished up - he was eventually sold to a girl for dressage, that horse, you know.
Yes, we did. Yes. Not a great lot, we didn't a great lot. But mainly steeplechase. We did race Stanaswa. Stanaswa won 24 races. But I bought that horse as - he was a yearling, bought in - Wright Stevens was where they used to sell them in Melbourne, all these yearlings. And I bought him on his breeding and waited 'til he was two year old, broke him in and got him ready for racing. And he was called Stanaswa this horse, because as a two year old I'd broken him in and I was riding him down the road, the road down below there that's called Roycroft's Road, and I met one of the settlers on the road, and I said, he said to me "What are you going to do with this horse?" And I said "He's a two year old, I'll wait a while". "Oh", he said "Wait a while, stanaswa". So I called him Stanaswa. And you know this fellow said, "Stanaswa, that's Egyptian". He was a returned soldier from the Middle East, and wait a while is stanaswa in Egyptian. So the horse was called Stanaswa. And Stanaswa's up on the wall there in the photo, and he was a brilliant horse. Stanaswa.
No, I don't suppose, no. No, I haven't made any. I was, I suppose I could have you know, because I think Wayne my son has probably made quite a bit of money. I had the ability, I had the ability to make them, I had one called The Liberator. He was by Stanaswa, beautiful moving horse, and I got him right up to practically doing top dressage. You know, he'd canter a pirouette on the spot. He would do passage and piaffe. And I sold him off, well Mavis sold him off while I was away in England. And we got 15,000 for that horse you know, because 15,000 was a lot of money for us. But the chap that bought him from us for 15,000 sold him for 100,000, that same horse. And if I'd have kept that horse and ridden him, I probably could have gone to another two or three Olympic Games. Because an old man can ride dressage at a big age, you know. Now I don't know whether that was - whether I answered that question correctly.
No, no, The Liberator would be the only horse that we did make a bit of money out of. But 15,000, I don't even know where that 15,000 went. I suppose it went on machinery or some damn thing, you know. Because to buy equipment to run the farm is pretty damn expensive. And of course we had a truck to cart horses in, or cattle in, so 15,000 didn't go very far. So you couldn't say I made big money out of horses.
No, not particularly, not particularly. You couldn't say dairy farming's hard. It isn't hard. I suppose as we did it, it was a pretty good exercise, because in the old bales we milked in, you know, you bobbed up and down under a cow, down to put the machines on, up, you know, to get up. You did a lot of getting up and down. Today the cows are in these bales, I call them rotarians, because a lot of them have got these rotary bales, the cow goes around and around and they're elevated above you. You don't have to stoop down to put the things on them. But I didn't like it, I didn't like it because you had to be there, you know, you had to be there night and morning or you get somebody else to do it. See I was managing, before I came here I was managing a sheep property. And on that sheep property, it didn't matter if you went away for a couple of days, you didn't have to be there to milk them night and morning, but you were a bit tied down once you were a dairy farmer. But it wasn't hard work. You couldn't say dairying is really hard work.
No, no. You know, I spent a few months in Melbourne as a schoolboy and I don't think I learnt anything, I don't think I learnt anything in Melbourne at school. With a big lot of kiddies as you were in Melbourne, I don't think I learnt a damn thing. I probably learnt to fight a bit, because God there was a lot of fights amongst those kids on the playground. But you see, I went to school mostly in a little state school three mile away from home, and I think that individually, mostly you only had one teacher, but she could go right through the whole school, right up to eighth grade. And you were taught straightaway to read and write and spell and arithmetic, all those things, straightaway from very young. And you picked it up because you were young and your brain was active. But they tell me today there's some - and I know, because I was over at Mrs Kelly's on a big property not far from here and during a cup of tea in the afternoon, a young girl brought the things in on the tray, and I said to Mrs Kelly, "That's a nice young girl, Mrs Kelly". And she said "Yes, she is a nice girl you know, but she can't read or write". And I said, you know, "Is that - much of that going on?" She said "You'll find there is a fair bit of it today". They push them through. Now I'm getting away from...
No, I would not.
I think they're a different class of people. I think they're - they live a different life, you know, to us. I suppose - well if I could recite a Banjo Paterson it'd probably tell you more about it, but I dont know, I've got a brother that's lived all his life in the city, you know. And he's different to me. He's different to me. Well it's the only one that I can say that I know in the city. But if the city people come up to the country, everything sort of astounds them. They don't really know what's going on amongst animals. But the brother, you know, he's a different person. I go talk to him and he's different.
Yeah my dogs are my friends there. I suppose I'm a bit like a Pommy, you know. If you run over a dog in England they just about kill you, you know, but you could run over a person and that's an accident. We run over a dog in England, Neale Lavis and I, and I said "God Neale, look they'll kill us. Let's get the hell out of it". The dog was - it wasn't our fault you know, the dog run out as we were going by, run out under the flaming car.
Well, I like those dogs. I wouldn't say I loved the dog, but you know - I like them to like me the dogs. I'm not cruel to the dogs. I give them a damn good shaking if they do something wrong, but I don't go kicking the dog or...
No, there isn't. There is a bit of difference I'd say. They're - I think - well you know, I suppose a dog knows heat and cold, he knows whether he's hungry or thirsty. So to be nice to a dog you see that he's fed and he's got water, all those things, and I do. I think that's being kind to a dog and you see that he gets exercise, and he's not hooked on that chain most of his life. I let them go. Before you came to talk to me, I took them on the motorbike and gave them a damn good run before I put them back on the chain.
Let's take you now right back to the beginning, and could you just describe for me the life at Flowerdale where you were born, just in a little story tell me about those early days, about your mother and father and the household you grew up in and the school you went to and so on. I'll ask you a question to kick that off. Bill, what part of the country were you born in?
Well I was born in Melbourne in the city, but it was just born there, because I suppose there was probably no hospitals around our area. And then back to Flowerdale where I grew up until I was 14. So that was my young day, spent in Flowerdale, and I suppose it's the greatest part of your life, I suppose you, growing up until you leave school, and then go away and make a living for yourself.
Well I suppose what shaped the horse world I lived in was the fact that you rode horses to school, and for a start of course you had to be dinked behind your brother, your sister did, somebody a little bit older than yourself. Because soon there was seven of us, six of us still going to school when I started school. It was pretty hard to have a horse each, so if there was one or two horses, and they were capable of carrying more than one person, you were dinked behind and it was always bareback, there was no saddles. So if you were - if you didn't get a ride, you walked the three mile to school. But at times, at times, we worked it out pretty well I think as a young family. They'd ride a horse half the way, tie the horse up, so you would walk half the way and then have a horse to ride the rest of the way. And so it was done coming home. There was times when I can remember three of us on the one horse. No worry, you know, one would get on, that was the eldest and they'd help you on behind and you'd pull each other up. Or you'd pull the horse up against the fence, so you could climb on. Oh it was a great age I think. And I loved riding - running without boots. I'd pull my boots off soon as I got out of school, I loved running barefooted. I don't know what it was, but that went on for years, and I know they reckon I had pretty tough feet.
It was, it was, yes it was roughish when you think of the terrain. There was big old trees on the sides of the road, and a lot of those big old trees were either pushed over to make a track through, or fallen, cut down and fallen and cleared away to make a track. In those days there were mostly jinkers and buggies or drays or something pulled by horses in those early times. And until they started to get cars through there, no cars of any sort at those early ages could get through there, because it was just more or less a track through it. But for riding wise to school, you know, there was logs to jump, there was the gutters and we had a big hill, a lumpy sort of a hill on the way they called the Devil's Punchbowl. It was a place they reckon that people didn't like passing through there of a night-time, because the Flowerdale Hotel - they'd drink at the Flowerdale pub, and then to ride over this punchbowl of a night-time, they reckon there was a devil there or some damn thing. There was a silly story about the place.
Well my father was Irish and he was from Ireland. He came to Australia at 16. And you know he died at 72 and he still spoke very brogue Irish, even to those days did it. And he was, he was a very gentle sort of a fella. I think he should have belted me lots of times, but never ever did. My mother was a kind person, very good-looking woman my mother. And I can remember the days when long skirts, when they wore the long skirts. And then all of a sudden the skirts become shorter and they were, for a start very tight skirts. They were about half length. They weren't really short as we know the very short ones today. But they were, they shortened up from the long skirt and they were tight ones. I can remember them sort of hobbling around in these things.
Well I can remember my father didn't drink. Not that I know, unless he used to drink before I can remember, but I don't remember him ever. He wasn't a man that, you know, spent his life at the pub or went to the pub. I think he'd have a social drink at home, but that was about it. He was a hell of a good worker. And things were very hard those days. When I got to remembering, you know, we were coming into the Depression. Well I suppose my early times, born in '15, born 1915, and then through the years up to 1928 things were still pretty tough those days, before the Depression set in, because butterfat, butterfat was not a big price, and they sent the cream. There was no such thing as sending your milk to the factory those days. You separated the milk, and the cream was in cans, and a truck picked these up and took to the factory to make into butter. So I can't remember what butterfat was those times, but you didn't milk a lot of cows and they were milked by hand, because horses was your transport. We were a big family, they had to be transported and you fed a lot of horses. So you grew a crop to feed a lot of horses, instead of having push-bikes or something like that, and be able to milk a lot of cows. I suppose our early place that we leased would be around the 350 acres, or might have been a bit bigger. But there was no super put out those days. Your grass was a kangaroo grass, and it was pretty hard to run a lot of stock without feeding, and you kept a team of draughthorses, to plough the ground, to grow the oats, to make the chaff, and looking back over those years, if one had only thought you walk, or you ride a push-bike and cut out all this horses for transport, things could have been different.
No I suppose I didn't, I suppose I didn't as a youngster going to school. Yes, we did, we did help milk the cows, but then there wasn't a hell of a lot of cows and there was quite a few of us. We did lease other places at the time. And put cows on there. So we milked the cows and we travelled to school on horseback from those. That was when I was I suppose around the ten or eleven. We did lease another place alongside this, some seven mile away and we approached the school from a different angle. It was on another road that we approached the school. Yes, I can't say that I was hard worked though. Because I had to milk before I went to school, that wasn't hard work. And I didn't do much on the farm until I was about 14 and left school. Then, yes I did, I broke in horses and I helped with the fence if there was fencing to be repaired or built, you know, I did help, yes.
I think that my time at Flowerdale ended, I think I was in - I think I probably was 15, 15 or I may have been 16 when the family broke up. Yes, I would have been 16 I think.
Well there was my mother and my father broke up and that broke up the family.
I think that she got interested in somebody else.
And that brought the family to an end. Now you went to Leeton with your mother, didn't you? Could you tell me - and you've told us all about that - could you tell me the story of the ride that you did from Leeton back home later, could you tell me how that came to happen?
Yes, as the years went by, I'd been back down to Flowerdale and I returned to Leeton because I knew that horse was there, and when I wanted to return back to Flowerdale, I rode that horse back. And I travelled my 50 mile, or close to 50 mile, a day. And I rode as an old stockman would ride, in what they call a jig-jog. It's out of a walk that, it's out of a walk with the horse, and the horse becomes to a shuffling, what we call a jig-jog, but it is a trot, a trot just out of a walk. And it's comfortable to sit on and it's easy on the horse. And they can travel all day like that, without doing any, upsetting their legs or their wind. And that's how I travelled. I would travel around my 50, 25 mile, and I carried a bit of oats with me and fed the horse when I thought it was about lunchtime, that's midday, and then I'd travel on the other - through the afternoon. And I had my places to stay. Out in Narrandera, there was a place between Narrandera and Urana, it was an old pub there, and I stayed in that and I had a few shillings in my pocket, so I stayed in that old pub, and it didn't cost much for the bed, but the trouble is I had to sleep on the floor eventually because that damn bed was full of bugs. You know, I don't know whether you know anything about bugs, but they attack you. I don't think it happens probably today. You probably don't find any old places where you stay that's got bugs in it. But I wasn't long in that bed before the bugs started. So I finished sleeping on the floor.
Well the next - see that was - the next night I stayed in Urana and I knew people in Urana. And I stayed there. They didn't have any room these people, so I stayed in a shed there near where I had my horse. I had my - I had my camp with me, a few blankets tied on the back of the saddle and that was no worry to me, as long as I was out of the rain or out of the - shelter.
No, I don't think so, I don't think so. You see, all I was doing was riding along at an old jig-jog, and if I'd have cantered along or gone any quicker, that horse would probably have busted up in the legs or gone lame. But it wasn't doing him any harm at that pace I travelled. And I'd left Urana and I think my next stop was, could have been Rutherglen or maybe...
I think it took me 8 days, thinking back over it. And...
All I got out of it was I wanted to get from Leeton to Flowerdale, and I was going to do it on a horse's back. You know, there was no great thing that I'd ridden that distance, because you know, in those days, probably a lot of people have ridden distances like that.
Yes there is.
Well you know which direction - if there's any sun about at all you can always get directions from your sun. But when I rode that time from Corryong home where we were in Callaghan's Creek, there was, through the forest there was all these tracks. People wanting to go from, say Lucyvale where I went into the bush, over into the Tallangatta Valley, people wanted to go there. Now they weren't going to go to Tallangatta, which was miles and miles around to get just across the range into the other valley. So they went, they had these bridle tracks, where people went through on the horse through these, and of course it made a track. The only problem you had to watch there, it was a single track, and leading a horse you had to be damn careful that the horse you were leading didn't go one side of a tree and you the other and him get away, because he was unbroken and you would lose your horse. So I got to the Tallangatta Valley and stayed with people I knew there. Then from there I had to get across to the next valley, Mitta Mitta, all bridle track. Now today, today that's car tracks through there, the Forestry Commission have put roads through those hills, you know. So today you can drive through there with a car. Different age.
Yes, yes, it was - I was shearing then, I was shearing when he knew him, so I sent the letter to him. It was, I think it - I'm not terribly proud about what I'm going to tell you about this, because the old chap that was cook, Old Bluey we called him, but he was a bit of a dirty old coot, and shouldn't I suppose have been cooking for us. But he had a wagonette, he had a wagonette on the road, and there was the shearing shed and where we, where we were billeted while we were there was on the other side of the road. And he camped in his wagonette on the road and he had a blue Queensland heeler dog that used to sleep on the wagon with him. And he swore that nobody would touch that wagon while he was in that wagon. So after shearing one night, we dined and then we always had a bit of drink in the establishment, and I suppose I had a bit of drink. Not too much.
And there was a young fella shearing there with us - I suppose we were about 18 then - him and I decided we'd give this old fella a wash. And there was a big dam, big dam below the shearing shed. So we decided we'd grab the wagon and down through the gateway into this dam. Back him into this dam. You know, and we thought it was damn funny when we did it. We grabbed the wagon and off with this damn wagon, back-to-front into the dam. And to our horror that dam was deeper than what we thought it was. So the wagon went right down with the damn roof just sticking out. And we got him out of the wagon, but unfortunately he took his teeth out of a night-time, and those damn teeth disappeared down through the bottom of the wagon. We pulled that wagon out. We got all the other blokes that was there to help and we got the wagon out. But his teeth were still in the dam, you know. And it was - it was cold frosty weather you know. Next day, lunchtime, we decided, this boy and I, we decided we'd try and find those teeth. Now you can imagine very cold frosty, and God it was cold. So we stripped off, we stripped off. There was no running about, we just went in naked. And we dived in, dived looking for these bloody teeth, you know. And it was a muddy bottomed old dam. And I was about to give up, I said "Look Bun" - Bun was the name of this boy - "I'm nearly frozen to death you know". "I'll give it one more go", he said. So he dived down and luckily he found the damn things, you know, we got them. But when we pulled him out, when we pulled him out, we had to take him and give him all dry clothes. So you know, we had to give him our damn clothes, because he didn't have any other clothes to get into. And we had to give him our blankets and all that damn stuff. So next day we found the teeth, but the boss, the boss heard about this, and oh, did he roast us. And we had to give him, we had to give him £5 each I think it was. And that was quite a bit of shearing for us, you know, to give him £5 each. And all these clothes we'd given him, we couldn't get them back. And see he was an old soldier of the First World War, and shearing with us was two ex-soldiers. And they were very hostile on us for doing what we did, just two damn young blokes. We thought it was damn funny. But looking back on it now, you know, it wasn't terribly funny, was it?
It was, yeah. But that damn dam, we just thought that was a shallow bit of a dam. We didn't expect that wagon to disappear down this, and then have to go and look for his flaming teeth.
Yes. Rome. Well, I suppose it's all been told lots of times I suppose, but - we arrived, we arrived with our horses about 12 o'clock at night. Praterni del la Vado [the venue was actually Pratoni del Vivaro]. It had been hewn and cleaned up by the army because it was just raw country, bushy type of country, undulating, ideal for eventing, because it had the up and down and creeks to jump. Now when they decided the teams' times to go and who would go first, I was first of the four riders - chosen to go first. And your first rider's to find out how the course is going to ride, and any trouble or that comes back to your next riders. One, two, three. So mistakes made by that first rider can be sorted out by the rest of them. I think I - winning at Badminton, I was first of all of that team to go at Badminton of everybody, I was first. So I don't know whether that made them decide to send me first, on the small horse. And leading down to do our first roads and tracks, I met people that I'd been living with in - I hadn't been living with - but I knew them well in England with their two little girls. I'm leading the horse down to start at the start of the roads and tracks and they met me. They'd arrived to watch what was going on. And I said to one of these little girls, "Would you like to ride Solo?" Oh, they'd love to ride Solo. So I threw her up on the saddle and led my horse on down to the start. And where you start at the roads and tracks, you've got to weigh in and you've got to have 11 stone, 11 pound. You've got to step on the scales with that weight. You and your saddle, or perhaps if you don't need the saddle, you just step on those scales, to make sure the horse is going to carry 11 stone, 11 pound, or in metric, 75 - 75 kilos. So I set off on the roads and tracks, and that was supposed to be about 6 mile. And on the way - I didn't want to go the whole way if there was a short-cut, and I knew they hadn't flagged it, because we'd been around that course to be shown where we had to go and they hadn't put flags there to make us go the distance. And if they've got a red and white flag, that's compulsory. You've got to go through that red and white flag, because normally they have a person there to see you go through it. But they did have a chap standing on the gateway before we had to go far along this six mile trip. So I just brushed past him, he said something to me. I suppose he was trying to stop me, but I just brushed past him anyhow, and finished up nice and early at the start of my steeplechase. Because that's your next phase, your steeple, which is two and a half mile, done at steeplechase pace, which is 600 a minute. I won't go in thoroughly about how the pace is, but it's very fast pace to do it without being penalised. And I did it in the time required, and then set off sail from there for our next roads and tracks, which I think was approximately 8 mile. But we had been around this two days before, driven around to know where our next roads and tracks were to go. And we had found short-cuts through timber, and I took this, which brought me to the start of my steeple - start of my cross-country, which was approximately 5 mile. And when I arrived there, the chaps waiting for the riders from Canada said "Did you see Tommy?" Now that must have been the name of the boy that was to be - he was to be in front of me. But having cut through these short-cuts that we took, happened to be ahead of him, see. And I said "No, I didn't see Tommy". And they said "God damn it, he's got lost". And I said "No, I don't think he would be lost. He will arrive eventually". So see, we are now at the ten minute compulsory stop before you do your cross-country. This is so the vets can inspect your horse to make sure that he is alright and fit to do the next five mile.
So I set sail on the cross-country and I'm going well until pipes. Big pipes that face you, the open part of the pipe faces you. And although I thought my horse was right to jump the thing at the right place to take off and jump it, he just galloped straight through the thing, as if it wasn't there, you know. And thinking maybe he'd recover, I stayed on top of the horse. I don't suppose I was really where I should be, but I was still on top of the horse, I was going to stay there. And the horse didn't, he didn't recover, he turned over on top of me and left me - he up and away, because it didn't hurt him, didn't lame him. Left a bit - took a bit of skin off his leg, but didn't lame the pony. So eventually I came to and said, "Where's my bloody horse?" and he's standing alongside me, you know. So I suppose they helped me back in the saddle. I suppose they did, you know, and I don't know, but they probably did. And away I went again. And it must have been just by memory, because I did jump the fences, because the next fence after that was downhill to an Irish bank, ditch in front of it, six foot across the top of it, which I was supposed to jump on and off. And down from that was giant steps, up on top and five foot on down on to a road, a very short stride to a post and rail fence with a big brush behind it. And that we had planned to jump down off the bank, angle our horse on that road, because it was very short to there, and get enough room to put a stride in there. Well, Mavis tells me I nearly fell there, because I didn't take that angle. I must have jumped straight down and straight to the fence, and nearly tipped over there. Then the last fence - and she said I looked like going the wrong way. Perhaps the horse knew the way, I don't know. But anyhow I had to get to the last fence and jump it. And those days, those days you had a mile run in after you did your five mile cross-country. And that wasn't supposed to be done at the normal pace we go cross-country. That was done about half-pace. And that was up a long gully there in Rome, tea-tree at the side, and there was a red and white flag there with a chap there to see that you went through it. And people say, that were there, that I did stop talking to this fellow. So obviously he pointed - I probably said, "Where the hell am I?" because Clive Cochrane who was at the last fence, said I said to him as I jumped that fence, "Where do I go?" Just like that. And he said I was galloping on, so whatever he said to me I wouldn't have caught what he said. But apparently this chap up at the end, up the top, pointed where I had to go. And I finished up in the yard where the scales were that you had to weigh in. And you had to be carrying that 11 11, or the 75 metric, when you got off your horse. And you didn't get off the horse until they told you to get off the horse, in case you got somebody passing you some weights or something to make your weight. And from there - you see there it was the Americans waiting for their horses, the Canadians, and the other people. And the Americans had whisky and the Canadians had oxygen in case their horses were exhausted. And the Americans are giving me whisky to drink and the Canadians are poking oxygen, because they could see I'd had a fall. Then I was taken - oh, they weighed my saddle - and a girl Judith Ritchie was there at the finish, and she carried my saddle across to the weighbridge. I don't think I even stepped on that damn thing, I think she put her foot on it and pushed the thing down.
And you know, they gave all clear that I had the weight, and they took me to the casualty room, stripped off my pants and could see I had a big cut on - and the stirrup leather had rubbed skin of my shin, and of course they looked at that, and then they found that I'd had trouble with my shoulder. So I'm onto a stretcher and across to the helicopter. And this damn helicopter - I rode past that helicopter, you know, out in the morning back into the stable, out again in the afternoon and back in. I used to think, you know, some poor bugger will probably get a ride in this thing. And that poor bugger happened to be me. And they flew me down to Rome, because we were some 30 mile out of Rome at Praterni del la Vado [the venue was actually Pratoni del Vivaro]. And they took me off that stretcher back onto their stretcher into the hospital stretcher and they got their stretcher back. Had I been seriously hurt I think, you know, I would have died being one bloody stretcher to the other. Anyhow, they put me in there for the night with ice on my head and - oh before, Mavis came down, she came down with an Italian, because she had a car up there that she used to drive backwards and forwards every day to the event, from Rome. She booked into a hotel in Rome. And they sent a soldier down with her, to show her where the hospital was. And she said that was rather difficult, because he wouldn't tell her where to go until she got right to the spot and then say left or right. So before she left there, I said I want to be out next day, I want to see what's going on. And she didn't know whether I was going to get out anyhow. She didn't think I probably would. I asked them during the night would they give me something for the pain, and they wouldn't. They said oh no, they kept my head - I suppose they were worrying about blood on the brain or something, and the ice was to stop the bleeding. It was pretty damn uncomfortable, you got your head packed in ice overnight. I'm afraid I didn't sleep much.
Well I don't know whether they ever said - I suppose they did you know, I can't remember exactly now what the...
Ah, I see. Well my collar-bone was dislocated. You see, if you look at my shoulder, the collar-bone's still sticking up on top here, but I don't wear a strapless frock, so what the hell, you know, doesn't matter. And their worry was my head, I think, the concussion. And you know by morning I was okay, I was thinking alright, don't worry about that. And I think after I'd - when I was knocked out by the horse and I was lying there, I remember back that I sat up when the horse got off me, and thought, Christ if I've ever been close to being killed, I have been this time. And that's when I flaked out. I then did go unconscious then. Now, I've upset my story now...
I'm sorry, telling my damn stories I do get a bit mixed up...
I had to go back and say about that... So I was determined to get out of that place, and the doctor saw me in the morning and he did - he could speak a little bit of English. I don't think he understood it, but he could speak a bit. And I think he understood that I wanted to get out, when I said "I want to get out of here". And he said to me, "You will not ride. You should be here for three or four days. But you will not ride". And I did say to him - I don't know whether it was to him or one of them - "I will ride. You watch television this afternoon". But then you see, a priest come in. I think it was a priest, it was a minister anyhow, and said, spoke, and I spoke back "Good morning". And he said "You are English". And I said "No, I am an Australian". And he said "But you do speak English". Now they probably thought that the Australians spoke some other language, I don't know, but that's what he said to me, this minister. So I said "I want my clothes back". I'd already told them that I would walk out, so they took my clothes. And I said "Well I will walk out in my underpants". So they went and got a form and filled in - to be signed by me - that I left the hospital at my own risk. You know, I didn't - no liability to the hospital for letting me go. So I signed that thing, and Mavis and the secretary I've told you about, arrived to pick me up. They brought my clothes back when I signed that document and I dressed as well as I could and away we went. We went back to the - to the hotel where Mavis was booked in. And there the doctor gave me an injection in the shoulder, which I didn't really want anyway, because I hate needles. I would rather put up with a bit of pain than rahter have needles stuck in me. I think it was done a bit early, you know, because that had worn off by the time I got on the horse.
They - well I put my foot in the stirrup and they bunked me up. I don't know whether they - they possibly had worked the horse and got the horse a bit - you know, because the horse, after what he'd done the day before, would be a bit stiff. And by the time I got in, you know, there were a lot - so many had fallen by the way in the cross-country, a lot of the teams didn't even have a team to compete over the show jumping, the final phase. So I probably was pretty close to first going in that show jumping. But I had walked the course before I got on the horse with Neale Lavis. And he was terribly worried about whether I'd remember where to go, because you walk your course and you've got to remember which fence as you go round. And make sure you jump from one up to the amount of fences. They're all numbered, the fences. But on that particular course they went past fences to get to a fence to make up the distance we had to do. See if they had 400 yards or 500 yards the distance was needed. On that particular spot they had to bypass two fences to make the distance. And Neale, as we walked that course, kept saying "Bill, do you know where you're going?" I said "Yes, Neale I know where I'm going". And it was okay. I did jump a clean round on that course. And two, two of the people there did jump the wrong fence and were eliminated, Harry Freeman-Jackson. He was captain of the Irish team, and one other from one other country were eliminated there.
Now being a realist, no I don't think so you know. No. If I was a romantic, I would say yes. Well I'd like to be a bit of a romantic. But no, no. He was a beautiful little horse that did what I - but how the hell - you know, when I tell you about doing those last fences after being knocked unconscious there at that fence, that little horse, you know, without being steered or helped, would gallop anywhere. So you'd have to be a real romantic to think this bloody horse took me home, yes. I think so. It would be nice to think that, but no.
Yes. I'd been there, I'd been there and walked the damn thing and I was just following the track that I'd walked, yes. I think that mile run in, that mile run in, I think that chap on that red and white flag, I think he - you know, when I said to Clive Cochrane at that last fence, "Where do I go?", when I jumped that last fence I was heading up that valley. I was heading up that gully. Now the horse would be galloping straight ahead and he'd arrive at that chap at that red and white flag, because up there you run into bush, it was the finish and we turned down another gully. Now that fellow I stopped talking there obviously pointed me, you go that ways here. So if they could have found out that I got unauthorised assistance, they could have eliminated me. But anyhow they tell me I galloped into the yard, then they had to stop the horse, otherwise I would have gone, galloped straight through the damn thing, you know.
Well I suppose dressage - what I think about it is damn boring stuff to watch, you know, unless you see one or two then you don't want to see any more. It's not exciting, because it's something done nice and smoothly and quietly. See we like the excitement of going fast and jumping these things quick. But I think it's great, I think dressage - perhaps I'm answering your question in the wrong way. What do I think about dressage? Bloody boring. But yes, to see the movements done perfectly, yes, a few times, marvellous the way they can get a horse to do these movements. I think it's brilliant how they get a horse to do, and it's brilliant of the horse to do those movements. They say it's a horse running free. You'll see them in the paddock. Something upsets them and you'll see all these movements. But that's not quite true, you know, those movements where they dance and do that, it's not what they - you're doing passage and piaffe and all those things, and cantering pirouettes. That is, it's rather brilliant you know. And I don't blame people for thinking it's marvellous and watch a hell of a lot of it. But to me, you know, watch two and think yeah, that's great what they're doing. But that's it, you know. I can't sit there all day and watch the damn thing like thousands of them do. I think it's bloody boring. And I didn't, I couldn't - I could have - one horse - with one horse probably gone on and done a couple more, because this, The Liberator was the horse with all the movements for it. And my old trainer that I'd trained with for a while in the early days, said "Bill, take it up, because you could do it". And I thought perhaps I could too. But after a bloke saying "Bill, Christ you look like a woolly woofter" I thought I'd better give it away.
Yes, I didn't get into trouble, but I heard... Wayne and Jimmy Scanlon were two youths. They turned 21, both of them turned 21 at Montreal - at Mexico, Mexico. They were two youngsters, you know. And these yobbos saw them with their dress hats on, you know, the top hats, and they started saying a few things that I didn't particularly like. So I just walked into the bar and clouted a few of them. And Wayne and Scanlon came in and said "Why didn't you leave it to us?" I didn't bother, you know I thought I'd just - and they nearly broke their hips getting out of the place, those fellas. They were only young blokes, but they shouldn't have been yahooing. And I said to the hotel-keeper, "I'm sorry I buggered your trade for the night". All he said to me was "Bill, you should have used that right hand a bit more, you know, you would have hit them harder". [laughs]
No, no, they didn't know. They would have been in trouble for - they went away to another hotel and I heard the story, they said "God, there's a cranky old bugger up in that pub up there". [laughs] You see, what was that before Mexico? I was 48 then I think. No, I was 52, I was 52 then, and I had a bit of grey hair then. That's what made them say cranky old bugger, I suppose.
Can I ask you what you think has been the secret of your success? There are all these stories of you performing in difficulty, in pain, with the odds against you. What do you think has been the secret of the way in which you've been able to deal with these challenges?
I don't know, I don't know about that. You know, yeah, I suppose I do know about that. Going back years ago, the brother and I, the oldest brother and I, I think somewhere along I told you how we milked cows and share farmed, milked 50 cows by hand. And I was keen on riding and riding something rough. And we'd got in some young cattle, steers, and somehow, I don't know, we must have roped these. So I was riding these steers and I got a bad fall off one and broke some ribs. I broke - because I'd landed on my elbow, against my side and broke two ribs. Now, they were badly broken those ribs, but we were milking 50 cows and we were some fifty mile - the nearest place we could have gone to a doctor, and the only place, way we could have got to that doctor was on a horse. So I just put up with those ribs. Now, we milked cows and we separated. We had to separate the milk into cream, which was then into cans and then it was carted away to Eskdale to a factory. Now I was in quite a bit of pain with those damn ribs, because whatever you did - I don't know whether you've ever had broken ribs, but you move, you breath, and these damn things, they're a bit awkward. And I had a bad cold and I'd cough, you know. If you ever cough with broken ribs, and those broken ribs were underneath this arm. So you go through that pain you know, and there's nothing else you do about it, and there was other falls that I got off a horse. We didn't go rushing off to the doctor. And it still happens today. The horse nearly tore my ear off. It would have been fine for me to patch it up, just stick it up with plaster or something. I wouldn't have bothered going to the doctor unless there's something else going on at the moment, and Mavis said "Well, why the hell don't you go to the doctor?" "Bugger the doctor, I'm okay". Now most - a lot of people they spend their damn life at a doctor. But if the doctor was - oh well they may do a bit better now, I think it's $27 each time you see a doctor. I don't believe in that. There's - one of the Rantle family, they're a bit inclined to - off to the doctor, off to the doctor. I had a rotten cold, I come back with that rotten cold from Italy. And Mavis said "You should go to the doctor, get that fixed up that cold". But no damn way was I going to the doctor. Because I knew it was time, you know, a fortnight or three weeks I'll be rid of this cold.
So is there any virtue that you value above endurance? Is endurance the most important thing to you? Do you think that the capacity to endure things and see them through to the end without help, alone and unassisted, is important?
[laughs] Alone and unassisted he brought them back. No, no no that's - I don't think I do it, I don't do it to be brave or anything like that. No, I don't think so. I don't think so.
I suppose I do. I suppose I do. You know I think a lot of our footballers, playing Australian Rules football, God, you see, a lot of those fellas they must go through a lot of damn pain, because they come up next Saturday and play football. Or if they get hurt in the first quarter of playing football, the ones that say oh to hell, that's only a - in a few minutes time I'm back into it again. I think they're pretty good. But then you get the bloke limps off. Oh, if you watch soccer...
[laughs] Yes, yes, yes I am. I'm looking forward to the - yes of course of I am. I look forward to all sport. I like sport of all sorts, you know. Not only equestrian, I like it all. And you see, I don't particularly like cricket, because I find cricket's rather boring, particularly when - but when we're playing England, yes I watch it and I enjoy watching it, yeah.
It's rather difficult. What the hell can you look forward to much, only staying healthy and staying healthy and just living on. There's nothing particular that I could do. You know, I'd love to go back on a horse and do the things that I - and possibly could do, but with the balance that I've got now, I can't do it. You know, I'm fit enough, I'm fit enough to do it, but unless they can fix my balance, and I don't know whether they can or not. They say it's the inner ear or the outer ear. Ear. You got to be careful how you say this, haven't you? [laughs] I can't do it, you know, and I would like to play golf, too, I'd like to play golf. But damn it, you get to 83, and I don't walk terribly well, because you know, my balance, I wobble all over the damn place, although I can get about no worries.
I don't know whether - I've suggested to doctors perhaps it's my brain, that I've so many concussions that it could be something to do with my brain... Perhaps it's my eyesight, I don't know.
Well, I had that bit torn off, but that was just the lobe, that was just the lobe, yeah.
What - you were in some ways a victim or what they call now ageism, that there was a view that there was a problem about you doing things because of your age. Could you tell me about that and about your reaction to it?
Well, I don't think I reacted much to it, only to them, by saying "What the hell do you want?" you know. "If I'm winning, what do you want? What the hell does it matter how old. I'm still doing it and doing it all right. What do you want?" And well, they didn't have any answer to that, you know. But it did still coming up. And I suppose it does with cricketers, footballers, you know, your age.
Well I suppose in their mind would be, he can't be as good, he cannot be as good at his age. And we're sending a team to the Olympic Games, you know. Oh, it's got to be in their mind I guess. I can't tell you why they think, but they're not the only ones thinking that, are they? All sports think it. And I suppose if you look back they are right. Your reflexes, as you grow older, your reflexes slow down. And they get very slow, although you throw a ball to me, there's not much wrong with my reflexes as far as catching that ball. But in normal life, I go along a bit better I suppose and a bit luckier than most men have. But I can't do much about my balance anymore, because I walk through a doorway, I got to be damn careful that I don't bump into either side as I go. And that's not good for sitting on a horse swaying all over the damn place, because your balance is not good.
Back then, when you were being selected and there was a question about your age, and they were saying that you're too old at 45, then you're too old in your fifties, and then you're too old at 60, and you were still winning, did that make you very angry? Did you get annoyed at the time?
No, I didn't. No, I didn't. Because I suppose I thought possibly they are right, you know. But I'm lucky to be doing it, but they possibly were damn right, you know.
Yeah, well that was pretty important, yes. The knowledge and how it had to be done and be done. Yes, yes. Yes, you can look at it that way.
Well, I suppose there was some advantages, but more disadvantages.
I was wanting you to tell me that experience gives you some advantage, instead of me telling you that. So I'm going to ask you that again, and get you to talk about the value of experience. Okay. What were the advantages of being older, do you think?
Well the advantage in me being older was that I'd had a hell of a lot of experience in that time. Getting up to the age that I was when I was competing, and you know, I knew where a fence had to be jumped, and I knew if there was better parts of that fence to be jumped, and I knew about speed. I knew about speed. Today - in my day I used to do it without a watch, a stop-watch on my wrist, watching as I went my speed. And I never had the course all marked out to tell me where I was and where I had to be at a certain speed. My age and my time doing it told me in steeplechasing you had to do it in a certain time. And my roads and tracks was all done at a certain time. I never had those things written down. It was all in my head, and that's where I worked from, my head and through my experience with my age, I had learnt all those damn things and didn't need a stop-watch to tell me.
Am I what?
No, I suppose I'm not. My religion, my religion is how I treat people, how people treat me. I love to do things for people, I like people to like me, and I know the things that I've done wrong. I think I live by the way I think people should live. And I think religion - mind you religion for some people must be a marvellous thing. It gives them something you know. But religion had gone too far in my opinion, they were taken over people, priests had taken over, they were thinking for the people, instead of the people thinking for themselves. And that's not only priests, that's ministers and anybody else you like. I think a person - if you go back in the outbacks of Queensland where they never see a priest, they never see a minister, they're marvellous people you know. They'll travel hundreds of miles to help somebody, and religion's not telling them yes or no. I went through the war, I went through the war and I saw all those bodies lying out there as skeletons, you know, for God's sake... [INTERRUPTION] And a lot of them would have been religious people. Those boys lying out there. God didn't help them for God's sake while those blokes were bayoneting them there... [INTERRUPTION]
No, I don't. No, I don't believe in God. I think I've told you quite a bit, and I think going back my war days, New Guinea, New Britain, Tol Plantation, New Britain, where we found the 2nd 22nd Infantry boys' skeletons lying out in the jungle there, all cleaned up, only their bones left. Eaten up by green ants. You know, my thoughts then were where was God when the Japanese were bayoneting these boys? You know, probably a lot of those boys were probably very religious boys. Probably good Catholics that went to church, and Protestants, you name it they were there being killed by the Japanese. And you know, it wasn't - if you go through the days when the Japanese made them dig their graves, and lean over that grave and then chop their head off with a sword, just to make them a man, the Japanese. Make him a man because he beheaded that bloke. But he made him dig his grave to fall into. For God's sake, let's think about it, where was God when these fellas were being done, you know. That's me. I believe in the way you live, the way you treat your - I know a very religious boy that was very cruel to his animals, rings in bull's nose. Now that didn't worry him about piercing, or being cruel to an animal. For God's sake, and he was in church every Sunday. Now that worries me. But apart from that, okay, you know, I was married in a church, okay, and I've been to the Catholic Church to some of my good friends that have died, and they've had a service, yes. I've gone and sat through their service. But it doesn't make me believe. I'm just a believer in doing good and being, trying to be good, and bugger it all, I don't suppose - see I told you about putting that old fella in the dam. Well that wasn't a very damn godly thing to do, was it? When I think back over that, as a boy I should have been given a damn good kick in the arse for putting that bloke in the dam, okay. [laughs]
Yes. Yes, I would have. I would change where I made the mistakes in Munich, for God's sake, sitting on a champion horse and I was capable, all the big fences I jumped no worries. And leaving those boys down, and leaving my gold medal behind, just through being blasé and poor riding. Yes, those things will worry me until I die.
I suppose there is a few things I was proud of doing. Mavis is not about, I suppose I was proud about marrying her, and she's been terribly damn good for me, although we still argue, as you know. And if I say it's going to rain, she'll say it's not. And I think she loves doing that to me. Yes, there is some great things I've done, I suppose. But I don't think that's very important. I suppose it was, but I don't think it was. I think it's just try and be a good bloke rather than do things that are not right, you know. Bit hard to do at times. [laughs] Yes, on some of those things that, you know, I suppose I should be able to answer them better but...
Well I was given an OBE by the Queen. I suppose that was really something. And I suppose I'm a - you'd call me a royalist, I suppose because I've met them and I've dined with them. I think they're a nice family. Just the family, but I think they're too big. I think, I think they make too much of too many. And I think it's probably a good thing for the country and probably the world, they, the English you know, most of them, do think she's marvellous. Because if you go to Badminton and she's there, she brings the crowd, she brings the damn people there. And they probably think about her. I don't think anybody you can - well I suppose if you go religion you've got the Pope and he takes the place with the Pope. A lot of the people say oh well we should have the Queen in Italy and the Pope in England, you know. So what the hell. I don't know.
Well, you know, if you travel around the world - or you do the bits that I did - then it makes you feel proud to be an Australian, you know. And it's such a marvellous country. Well it was. I must say, it was a marvellous country until we have had so many restrictions. Because I believe, I believe that we, I, well me alone, spent some five years of my best part of my life fighting Japanese to keep this country free. Free, a free country. But you know it's not a free country any more. It's a police - it's a police state. [VISION ENDS] You get in your car, you don't put that damn seat belt on... you are fined. You ride a push bike, you don't have a helmet on, you're fined. Lots of things today, if you give in a motor and you're over a certain speed you're bloody well fined. And you tell me this is a free country any more, you are a damn liar.