Still marching on

The 100th anniversary of the Kangaroo March from Wagga Wagga to Stdney: Pictured are Graham Brown (left) and Neil Hughes on horseback. They are approaching the township of Illabo in the Riverena past fields of Canola. Photo by Graham Tidy.Soft greycloudsthrow shadows over a sea of green and yellow crops along the Kangaroo March route, where Des and Bubba carrytwomounted men across a soddenditch.
Nanjing Night Net

Five days into the re-enactment of the 1915 recruitment march from Wagga Wagga to Sydney, canola andwheat crops fill the farms that were stripped bare of their young men and besthorses for the war effort. Records say 136,000 horses, known as walers because they were originallysold through NSW, went to war.

Des, a 12 year-old Australian stockhorsebelongs to Graham Brown, andBubba, a 7-year-old ex-pacer, is Neil Hughes horse wholeftthe track a year ago. Thetwo Australian Light Horse Association members willride them for 90 per cent of the 500 kilometre journey.

“People are coming out to their farm gates with water, orAnzac biscuits or apples ormandarins, even carrots for the horses,” Mr Brownsaid. Unlike the original march in December, this one is in spring, to avoid the heat and harvest trucks that rumble through the Riverina.

A1915 photograph of the marchhanging in a hall in theSouthern Highlands village ofExeterinspired residentsRhonddaVanzellaandMr Brown and his wife Jan to re-enact it.”My vision, of riding it almost on my own has blossomed into somethingfar, farbiggerthan I ever considered,” Mr Brown, the organisers president,said.

Twenty five light horsemenwill join them further along the Olympic Highwayat Wallendbeen on Sunday, part of a large welcoming paradeforthe Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, like1915’s welcoming party, when Governor General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson met the volunteers.

Sir Ronald was a friend of Wallendbeen soldier Kenneth Mackay, who had previously recruited light horse volunteers,according to a descendant andWallenbeenfarmer, David Jacobs.

“When the referendums failed for conscription in World War I, and they needed to rally the troops, go out to country areas and bring people in to go to war, he was an obvious choice because he had already done that to raise a light horse in the first place back in 1895.

“Mackay had been an exceptional soldier in theBoar War, he had raised a light horse army himself and thereforewas afittingchoice to raise a recruiting marchto generate interest, to create the fever, to make it all happen, that there was always food, people, always somethingineverytown so people would enlist,” Mr Jacobs said.

Mr Jacobs saysthe Governor General’s visit acknowledgessmall country towns significance inAustralian history and their deep connections to the past.

Rural familiespaid dearlyfor the war effort, whileothers like Major LesWillsallenstationed in Cairowithhis wife, Pearl, made the most of it. Taking his favourite horseSnoogles, heplayedpolo and huntedfoxes among the pyramids, andwon the Order of the Nile afterhe and a handful of Australian cavalry charged and captured several hundred of the enemy. He also won the Distinguished Service Order.

From Gunnedah,Willsallenre-settledatWidgengullynear Jugiong after the war. His descendants have loaned organisers a windfall of memorabilia, including his saddle.

Among walkers on the re-enactment,KenHallidayof Goulburn said: “This is a one in 100 yearopportunity, if we don’t doit,it will be forgotten.”

Michael Jones of Wagga Wagga is driving a four-wheel-carriage behindSam, 14, and Annie, 4. Unlike Des and Bubba, the two clydesdalespulled like war horses when they struck thatditch. Withan admiring eye overtheir powerful hindquarters, Mr Jones said: “I’ve got high and low gear infour-wheel drive.”

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