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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Farm accident has done nothing to slow down "Mull"

ABOVE: John Mullenger - or "Mull" - in his workshop at Woodend.

JOHN Mullenger is, at 76, one of Australia’s best known carriage builders and one of the horse world’s favourite characters.

His work shed at Woodend is currently home to a magnificent vehicle, waiting for the finishing touches to the body and wheels.

Despite losing the ends of three fingers in a recent farming accident – “it was a bugger that it was my left hand, as I am left-handed” – he continues to produce the intricate linework and curlicues that decorate the shafts and wheels of the vehicles.

John grew up on a farm with no electricity and his father would take horses to Laverton North to farm. Once a month, his mother would take a horse-drawn sulky 14 miles down to the local store to get groceries.

He began making jog carts for people and progressed to racing sulkies and show vehicles for top-class racing trainers and harness competitors such as Mary Willsallen and Vince Corvi.

As part of his Dominion Park Equine he has worked with animals on The Man from Snowy River movie and, most recently, with 60 horses on the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film.

As well as running his business, John is president of the Victorian Tradesman’s and Delivery Horse Group.

“We’re very passionate and dedicated to preserving all the vehicles, carts and history,” he said.

John – or “Mull” as he is widely known – has exhibited at Royal Melbourne Show in the heavy horse section since 1972. Like many people, he is unhappy that that group is not being presented to the general public as it used to be when Melbourne’s Clydesdales were one of the biggest showings of the great horses in the world.

He says the public at Royal Melbourne need to see the highlights and memories from this bygone era, when horses were a continuous and ubiquitous presence on the streets.

“The clip clops and harnesses jingling heralded the arrival of the day’s deliveries,” he said. “The presence of the delivery horse was an intrinsic part of the structure of the retailing sector, during this period. People of all ages were drawn to the delivery horse.

“Each business had traditional styles and colours, which were seen on their vehicles and enabled instant recognition. To win a first prize ribbon was – and still is – a great achievement. Well cared for vehicles and harness could be shown for many years, even by the next generations. The best way of passing down the heritage and traditions from this period in time is to be seen, and there is less ability for this to happen.”

John is well recognised as a judge of all types of horses and has officiated at royal and agricultural shows around the country, showing horses himself since 1968.

As well as working on vehicles, he has also specialised in making shoes for Clydesdales and harness horses and with wife Pat has bred good Clydesdale horses and crosses, a passion they share with daughter Courtney.

Retirement is the last thing on his mind.

“I can’t stop working, what would I do with myself, I can’t retire,” he said.

Lovers of old times and beautiful vehicles will be happy to hear that.

ABOVE: Some of John Mullenger's restoration work.

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