was an Early Bird. This term was used to describe the early aviators of
four children know little of his early flying life. I remember seeing a book of
newspaper clippings when I was a child about his flying experiences, but some
years later it disappeared. While my own children were growing up I was
disappointed that he had never recorded or written anything about his early
exciting life, enabling us to pass his stories on to his grandchildren.
write a book about one’s life seems very presumptuous, expecting total
strangers to be interested, but after I wrote and delivered a speech for Keane
Pilkington (my bush father) on his 80th birthday in 1998 at Sandy Point, Waratah
Bay, Gippsland, I considered the idea, as the speech was filled with humorous
anecdotes and observations about him that had been stored subconsciously in my
brain over the fifty years I had known him, and my audience was most
appreciative and interested.
sometimes proudly introduce me as ‘Tony Adam. Remember, he was the Marlboro
Man’, they add. Last time this happened the newly introduced lady turned to
her husband, ‘What does that mean, dear?’ Ruefully I smiled. We are, all of
us, just a flash in time, and soon forgotten.
raised and educated in
Australian bush became and still is my soulmate. Droughts, disappointments,
deaths and failures have been part of my life, and have shaped and moulded me,
as does life to all of us. Life’s twists are sometimes devastating, but time
and humour (being the great medicine it is) help soften the blows especially if
we are able to laugh at ourselves. Life is serious – but life is ours to
to the cypress pines, lad, opposite the sale yards. The horses are there. Get on
Shadow and ride home.’
was a man of few words then and now, unless a bottle of rum has loosened my
tongue. Some men get very aggressive with rum – I just tend to talk more. It
was 1949; I was eleven years old and with Keane Pilkington on sale day. Keane,
Johnny and Dan Pilkington were drinking rum in the Fish Creek Hotel with Bob
Boag and other cattlemen after the sale, and it was there that Keane suggested I
ride home alone. I led Shadow to the stump of a cypress tree, adjusted the
stirrups, yanked tight the girth and surcingle, then mounted.
had ridden for years up and down
soon as I had settled into the saddle she bolted, as I knew she would. The first
corner two hundred yards away had me petrified as Shadow was gathering speed at
every bound. I had good balance (riding bareback teaches you that), but I was
worried Shadow would slide on the loose gravel at the corner and fall. Around we
went, gravel and sparks flying everywhere. We made it, and my nerves quietened.
I again settled into the saddle. We galloped up the hill, past Fish Creek’s
football ground, past Gerald Buckley’s small abattoir, until we hit the next
corner where the
took this corner more sedately, then found her second wind and started to gallop
again. I had no way of slowing her down, as I had neither the strength nor the
experience to do anything except sit tight in the saddle, anticipate her moves,
and balance myself. I knew this narrow road well – knew of the sharp bends,
hills, gullies, creeks, rabbit burrows, fallen logs, timber, patches of scrub
and ti-tree, patches of loose gravel and the occasional truck or car.
down towards the bridge, spanning the creek at Fellows, I felt like a Russian
Cossack. I had lasted the first four miles. My confidence was strong, my
adrenaline was flowing and the natural courage I had in my eleven-year-old body
as bubbly as the two small pink lemonades I’d recently drunk in the Fish Creek
suddenly baulked at the bridge. My balance was tested as she shied into the bush
heading through ti-tree and scrub then jumped the creek. I nearly flew off the
back of the saddle not once but twice, the second time from a whack on my head
from a low-lying branch on the far side of the creek. Shadow settled a little
then, but it wasn’t until we reached the Walkerville turn-off that she decided
to trot down the hill and we ambled past McKinnon’s and old Bob Mathers.
had relaxed a little but was worn out from stress and anxiety. We were on the
flat coastal plains now, and Shadow must have smelt the ocean and home, and off
she bounded again. Thankfully, she then dropped into a more relaxed canter. My
biggest worry riding in this light sandy coastal soil was hitting a rabbit
warren hidden in the bracken fern. A tired horse hits the ground very easily
after a stumble, but this didn’t happen.
was Gyndanook at
a good day?’
had two standard responses in those days: ‘Yep’ and ‘Nup.’
Keane and Johnny?’
they stop off at Doonagatha?’
did you get home?’
did you see Keane last?’
the Fish Creek Hotel.’
was the longest sentence I had put together all day.
did you ride home with?’
you ride Marylegs home?’
saw the blood rising to her face. I thought she looked frightened or anxious.
Later I found out it was anger. Thirty minutes later Keane walked in. He was
dressed in moleskins, elastic-sided boots, and watch and knife pouch hanging
from a plaited kangaroo hide belt – a typical picture of the Australian
stockman. On his head a wide-brimmed hat, on his face a grin that stretched from
ear to ear. Handsome and well built, Keane had a unique accent; his father was
Irish and his mother Canadian. He was in great humour. The cattle had sold well;
rum and the beer had done the rest.
lad, you beat us home.’
as far as he got. Suzie’s angry words gushed from her mouth: ‘How could you
be so stupid, Keane, as to let a boy his age ride alone on Shadow, a horse that
has nearly killed me and bolts with anyone that gets on her …’ Suzie’s
words continued and were sharp and unflattering and I swear if she had had a
frying pan in her hand Keane would have been laid out then and there.
God, Suzie, you’re beautiful when you’re angry,’ Keane interrupted. ‘The
boy can ride, what are you worried about?’ With that he wheeled out the door
to feed and tie up his dogs.
That wild ride home was one of my great lessons, giving me a greater confidence in my riding ability and a strong faith in the sure-footedness of horses.
Click on the cart below to purchase this book:
Prices in Australian Dollars CURRENCY
(c)2006 Zeus Publications All rights reserved.