Horses put on the map with our national monument and art trail
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
AUSTRALIA is a horse-loving country and we are all familiar with the names that have moved into folklore.
Our greatest racehorse Phar Lap, the army horses that carried our soldiers at the charge into Beersheeba, the “touch of Timor Pony, three parts Thoroughbred at least” mount of the man from Snowy River.
Books have been written about them but what we didn’t know is that all around Australia, magnificent statues in their memory have been created and travellers should not miss the chance to see them.
Who needs a silo tour, when these hidden beauties are there for us to find. Speaking first about Queensland, you will find R.K. Hinwood’s magnificent work at Arundel, with The Man from Snowy River taking on “that terrible descent”.
The opal mosaic covering the waterfall and statue base contains more than 20,000 individual pieces of unique Australian opal weighing a total of 125 tonnes. Each piece was carefully cut, shaped and installed by hand after having been extracted from 30 tonnes of opal bearing boulders mined in Queensland.
Also in Queensland are the racehorses Bernborough at Oakey and, of course, Gunsynd at Goondiwindi.
At Mount Isa is Claire Murphy’s campdrafting statues “Ben and Scrap”. A Brahman bullock weighing 375kg is being worked by a stock horse and rider weighing 560kg and the amazing thing is, it is, according to Ms Murphy, “made of scrap steel, old tools, old truck parts, old farming parts and whatever other junk I could find really”.
There is a statue of drover and postman Sid Biondi at Camooweal, 150km from Mt Isa. Sid sits looking back over his shoulder farewelling someone on the track. It was created as a tribute to working horsemen.
In outback Queensland, if you had the time to spend a day or two, you could follow the Lake Dunn Sculpture Trail, which has amazing statues of all description but the totally arresting one of the “returned soldier” on his horse on the peak of a hill looking down is well worth the trip.
Created by local artist, Milynda Rogers, the Lake Dunn Sculpture Trail features 40 unique sculptures to hunt out and enjoy. These incredible and diverse pieces of artwork are dotted through the countryside on the road to Lake Dunn and Rangers Valley.
In NSW, you could start with the beautiful but very grumpy mare with foal at foot in the Sydney Botanical Gardens, and then find Winx at Rosehill Gardens.
At Gunnedah, the poet who wrote My Country, Dorothea Mackellar, is sitting side saddle watering her horse and gazing out over the country she loved.
One of Australia’s most famous war horses, Bill the Bastard, can be seen at Murrumburrah with the four riders he carried to safety in a life-size sculpture by Carl Valerius.
Carrying on the war horse theme, there’s a beautiful life-size soldier standing with his horse at Tamworth and at Hay, Jim Cooper created a beautiful trooper and horse to remember the horses and men from the Hay district.
Possibly the one everyone should see is the four-horse memorial of the Boer War in Anzac Parade Canberra.
The statues were executed by renowned Melbourne sculptor Louis Laumen and represents a half section (four troopers) of mounted riflemen on patrol on the South African veldt. The one-and-half-life-sized bronze statues are displayed galloping down a ridge with the last rider on guard. In Victoria, probably the best known is the perfect image of Phar Lap standing at the scene of his greatest triumphs at Flemington racecourse and the famous race mare Black Caviar races alongside the lakes at Nagambie. At Nhill, the town pays tribe to the great draught horses that made the nation with a magnificent Clydesdale stallion.
The statue of the horse on a large boulder has a plaque that shows a brass relief of draught horses pulling a cart. On one side there is an inscription that reads “let all who stand here know that a major part of Australia`s development was due to the toil of the faithful draught horse”.
On the other side the inscription reads “erected by horse lovers of Australia, unveiled by Hon. J.D. Anthony Minister Primary Industry 17th October 1968 cast by Joseph Oscar Swift, Mitcham, Victoria for Nhill Draught Horse Memorial Committee”.
The draught horse also features at Angaston in South Australia, where “Day Off, Peter,” shows a man patting his horse, with the plough laid to one side.
At Port Lincoln, Makybe Diva’s owner, Tony Santic, paid tribute to his wonderful three-times Melbourne Cup winner by having her life-size image placed near the sea in his home town. You can’t leave South Australia without mentioning it’s most famous of all horse, the legendary buckjumper Curio.
The one-and-half-life-sized statue of Curio being successfully ridden by Alan Wood during his 10 second ride in 1953 is a tribute from the Marrabel Rodeo committee. The statue was commissioned in 1991 and created by sculptor Ben Van Zetten.
It was only in 1953, eight years after she first entered the rodeo ring, when Curio finally met her match against Alan Woods.
It was an epic battle and was unforgettable to those who flocked to see it. Woods won but not before he was nearly thrown off. People who saw it said when Woods listed to one side, Curio thought she had him and relaxed, and so the rider recovered. It’s still talked about today.
In West Australia, once again tribute is paid to the horses that worked tirelessly alongside the farmers with a man, his dog and draught horse on show at Great Eastern Highway, Pioneer Park, Merredin. At Moora, the dog also stands near the horse in a museum display which also features wall paintings or working horses.
Perhaps the most interesting story of all the Australian big horse statues is that of Norseman, who has a town named after him.
The sculpture commemorates a horse called Norseman who allegedly kicked a gold nugget, which started the gold rush to the district. It is also dedicated to the pioneers.
The story goes that in 1894 when prospector Laurie Sinclair stopped off to visit his brother on his way to Esperance, he tethered his horse Hardy Norseman overnight and in the morning was amazed to discover that it had pawed up a gold nugget. A rich gold reef was discovered on the already proclaimed Dundas Field and thousands flocked to make their fortune.
In Tasmania, a beautiful state of the Melbourne Cup winner Malua stands in Deloraine and horses also feature in the Wall in the Wilderness at Derwent Bridge.
The Wall in the Wilderness is situated at Derwent Bridge in Tasmania's Central Highlands. It is Australia's most ambitious art project undertaken in recent years. Creator/designer Greg Duncan has carved the history of the highlands in 100 metres of timber, most of which is rare Huon Pine.
Each metre of the panels, including horses, thylacines and foresters represents a month's work.
Katherine in the Northern Territory has one of the most perfect depictions of the Australian Stock Horse, with rider and gear.
This Katherine icon recognises the vital role in the history of the Northern Territory.
The horse is not named but Sabu Peter Sing was the role model. Sabu’s outstanding skills as bushman, horseman, stockman and cattleman were widely recognised and acclaimed.
Sabu epitomised different races and cultures. He was born at Delamere station in 1940, the son of a Chinese father and Wardaman Aboriginal mother. By seven he was already breaking in horses. He was fostered out to Tom Fisher the manager of Wave Hill Station part of the then Vestey`s pastoral empire. His aboriginality was always an essential part of who he was. Sabu was tragically killed in a car accident in 1993.
A lovely statue of a boy on a pony in Leongatha, Victoria, remembers the story of a 1000km journey by a nine-year-old who rode a pony solo to Sydney in 1932 for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Riding his pony Ginger Mick, Lennie Gwyther left the South Gippsland town of Leongatha on February 3, 1932, carrying a letter from the Woorayl Shire president addressed to the Lord Mayor of Sydney.
He travelled via Orbost, Cann River, Bombala and Canberra and when he finally arrived in Sydney in March, his story had captured the imagination of the Australian public and had generated a sizeable press following, including in the London Times.
Lennie met the Lord Mayor at the Sydney Town Hall and was invited to take part in the opening of the bridge ceremony.
He visited Circular Quay, Bondi Beach, Taronga Zoo and was gifted a cricket bat signed by his cricketing hero Don Bradman.
He returned to Leongatha on Ginger Mick inland via the Hume highway track. It was a four-month round trip that culminated in a reception at the Leongatha Town Hall.
Lennie never made a big deal about the whole story. He just got home to Leongatha and went on with life, going to war and then becoming an engineer with Holden. He died from cancer in 1970.
ABOVE: Click on the flags to reveal an image and information box about each site.
* Thanks to Monument Australia for their great help in collating this story.