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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Books make way for saddles at state library launch of Wild Ride

Updated: May 29, 2023

ABOVE: Emiliqua East put on a cracking display inside the State Library. Picture: NED MELDRUM

WHEN you are in a room with people like John Lordan, Tony Gifford, Bernie Brady, Cliff Killeen, Mal Byrne, Annalee Surinow and Jennifer Cross, you are surrounded by artists.

People who can take simple chunks of leather and shape them in to beautiful pieces of useful saddlery worth thousands of dollars.

They are all masters of an age-old craft and came together last week at the State Library Victoria to pay tribute to the wonderful work done by author Fiona Carruthers and researcher Janice Gifford in creating the book Wild Ride, a History of the Australian Stock Saddle.

The heart of Melbourne may seem an unusual choice for the launch but there were once 17 saddleries in Bourke St. I can remember three from my teen years in the city – Alec Morrison, the Myer Boots and Saddles shop and Rankine and Dobbie in Flinders Lane – and they are now all a part of history that’s been beautifully documented in Wild Ride.

There were some stunning saddles on display, owned by Michael Drapac, an Australian stock saddle connoisseur who commissioned the book and wrote its foreword.

Wild Ride features photographs of many saddles in Michael’s own collection but it is much more than just a picture book – it is a deep dive into the history of how things changed when Australia developed its own character, and of necessity, how the saddle changed with it.

If history was taught as it should be in schools this book would be on the reading list.

ABOVE: Author Fiona Carruthers shares the story behind writing Wild Ride. Picture: NED MELDRUM

Five years of research went into putting the story together, with Carruthers saying that once she started it was impossible to stop because of many pieces of Australian history that needed to be included.

Helping to launch Wild Ride was high country cattleman Charlie Lovick, who praised all involved for their work in saving the history of Australia’s own saddles. He also teased Michael mercilessly because at a lunch he’d failed to recognise his idol Tom Burlinson, who had starred in the film The Man from Snowy River.

Tom has paid his own tribute to the book, describing it as “a comprehensive, illuminating history of one of the true icons of Australian rural life”.

The saddlers all talked, the rest of us listened and watched Emiliqua East show us why she is the world champion whipcracker.

We also admired some of the most beautiful and useful equestrian art in Australia, made by people who never realised what they were doing would become so important.

They just wanted to make, as Charlie Lovick said, “something comfortable to put my arse in”.

Wild Ride - The Story of the Australian Stock Saddle by Fiona Carruthers is now available in hardback for $59.99 from Black Ink Books




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