06 July, 2011

Horses for courses

On a recent search to uncover one of those pesky little geocaches (located as it happened somewhere in the vicinity of a horse trough), it occurred to me that since Europeans arrived, the Barwon River has had a continuous association with horses.
Rider beside the Barwon in Newtown
Today, horse-riding along or over the Barwon is generally a leisure activity, whether riding along the banks or going for a beach-front ride at the river mouth in Barwon Heads.
In the early days of settlement however, when horses were the only real mode of transport, and bridges were scarce, crossing the river could be a difficult and expensive process. Private individuals operated punts which crossed the river at a number of points, charging a shilling for a man and horse to cross whilst for a horse and dray or cart, the charge was as much as 1 shilling and sixpence. A horse and pair cost an extra shilling.
Central to entertainment in any 19th century Australian town was horse racing and of course, Geelong was no exception. In the earliest days, race meetings were held at various places. The first was at Corio and another very early meet in 1843 was held at the Fyansford Inn (aka The Swan Inn) on the high ground above Fyansford, overlooking the Moorabool and Barwon Rivers.
From this time on, races were held in a variety of places right across the region including a 727 acre site on the Barwon at Marshall Town. Not surprisingly however, this course was subject to flooding and as a result winter events were regularly cancelled. In 1907, the current course in Breakwater became the permanent home for the Geelong Racing Club.
In addition to the race course, there have been and are currently a number of horse studs and training facilities located along the banks of the river. One such is Rosemont Stud at Ceres outside Geelong. Currently owned by media identity Anthony Mithen, Rosemont extends for 2.5km along the banks of the Barwon and runs back up into the Barrabool Hills behind, providing excellent facilities for breeding and training thoroughbreds.
Over the years, Rosemont was also home to the Barwon Valley Pony Club whose tenancy lasted from the early 1960s until 1989 when they moved to Moriac. Throughout this period, the pony club also had associations with another historic property located on the banks of the Barwon - Frogmore at Fyansford.
More renowned for its famous 19th century nursery than its equestrian connections, Frogmore has in recent years, been host not only to pony club competitions but also to polo contests which continue to the present day.
Of course, another renowned stud located on the banks of the Barwon was St. Albans. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was located in the Geelong suburb which now bears its name and in its day played host to many Melbourne Cup runners including briefly, the legendary PharLap.
St Albans homestead was built in 1873 for the trainer and breeder James Wilson whose horses also had success in the VRC Oaks and Victoria Derby. The area whilst now a suburban development, traces of the stud still remain, including the homestead itself and traces of the race track and trees which were grown as a wind break on the property.
Water trough donated by Annis and George Bills
Naturally, with so many horses, it was necessary to keep them watered and fed. One couple who were particularly concerned for the well being of horses and other animals, were George and Annis Bills who were responsible for many bequests and philanthropic acts during the course of their lives which benefited both man and beast. Both born in England, they met and married in Brisbane in the 1880s then spent time in Echuca and Sydney before retiring to Hawthorn in Melbourne. Annis died in 1910 whilst on a trip to England and then upon the death of George in 1927 a trust fund was set up whose purpose was to:
"..construct and erect and pay for horse troughs wherever they may be of the opinion that such horse troughs are desirable for the relief of horses and other dumb animals either in Australasia, in the British Islands or in any other part of the world subject to the consent of the proper authorities being obtained."
Under this scheme, some 700 odd troughs were installed around the country during the 1930s and up to 50 in other countries. Amazingly enough, quite a number of these lovely old troughs have survived and are still in their original locations. The trough I was hunting today, sits on Fitzroy Street, Geelong in the short section between Sydney Parade and Ryrie Street. It is one of two in Geelong, the other being located at the Geelong Showground in Breakwater.
Each trough was supplied with a backing plate which carried the inscription "Donated by Annis and George Bills Australia". Unfortunately the trough in Fitzroy Street is currently missing its backing plate and does not appear to be in great condition as the concrete is beginning to show signs of erosion.
To continue the connection between horses, the Bills and the Barwon, two other towns located on the river are fortunate enough to have Bills Troughs. One is at Birregurra, in Beal Street. The other is in Winchelsea, located - appropriately enough - outside the Barwon Hotel. With any luck I will remember to snap a photo or two next time I'm passing through.

No comments:

Post a Comment