RIDING HIGH - The story of an Australian ‘Marlboro Man’; His country and his friends

This wonderful memoir by Tony Adam better known as The Marlboro Man is written with a heart-felt intimacy of the country and its inhabitants and a passionate love of horses. From the dusty bush to the bright lights of Melbourne , and New Zealand ’s high - country, fame and its trappings never change this honest humble man.  

It recounts the truth about Australia ’s pastoral cultural traditions and the way Tony becomes one of its central iconic images, representing sixteen years of Marlboro country commercials on cinema, television, billboards and point of sale material.  

Written in a simple style with some great laconic larrikin humour and fabulous characters this story captures the real essence of the Australian bush and outback from the mid 1950s onwards. 

In Store Price: $AU26.95 
Online Price:   $AU25.95

ISBN:  1 921118 64 4
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 252
Genre: Non Fiction

 Includes illustrations


Author: Tony Adam 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2006
Language: English





My father was an Early Bird. This term was used to describe the early aviators of Australia , men like Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and other pilots who were flying in the first quarter of last century. The Early Bird Club was formed in Sydney , and a badge struck in their honour. Dad was born in 1905. By the age of twenty he was a flying instructor, and later owned and flew his own aircraft. One of nature’s gentlemen, he had a dashing and adventurous life until the great Depression of the 1930s.

His 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.

To 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.

Friends 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.

Born, raised and educated in Melbourne until the age of sixteen, I was comfortable in the city, but from the age of nine, after Keane married our next-door neighbour, I spent every school holiday with him at Sandy Point . I was not only comfortable in the bush, but loved it. I grew up enjoying two environments and under the influence of two men. My natural father gave me his love and his genes, while Keane gave me his love and his environment and over the years I lived out my childhood dream to be a stockman and cowboy.

The 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 enjoy.



JULY 2006

Chapter 1




‘Go down to the cypress pines, lad, opposite the sale yards. The horses are there. Get on Shadow and ride home.’

‘OK,’ I said.

I 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.

I had ridden for years up and down Waratah Bay through the hummocks and sand dunes on a small pony with no saddle, so falling off was normal and not a problem, but this was different. Shadow was sixteen hands of power and muscle, a black mare with a hard mouth, a black heart, and a bolter. She looked at me sideways. I imagined what she was thinking and felt worried.

As 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 Sandy Point Road branches off the road to Wilson ’s Promontory.

Shadow 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.

Galloping 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 Hotel.

Shadow 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.

I 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.

Home was Gyndanook at Sandy Point , twelve miles from Fish Creek, nestled into the manuka and ti-tree hummocks of Waratah Bay . Fred and Dan Pilkington from Ireland pioneered this country, starting in 1898. I opened the front gate, still mounted on Shadow, but didn’t close it. I knew Keane would have loaded the rest of the horses onto his truck and wouldn’t be far behind me. I rode the last few hundred yards to the horse paddock and dropped to the ground on rubbery legs, unsaddled and walked over to the house. I entered the kitchen where Keane’s wife, Suzie, was cooking over the wood stove.

‘Had a good day?’


I had two standard responses in those days: ‘Yep’ and ‘Nup.’

‘A big sale?’


‘Where’s Keane and Johnny?’


‘Did they stop off at Doonagatha?’


‘Is Keane home?’


‘How did you get home?’


‘Where did you see Keane last?’

‘In the Fish Creek Hotel.’

This was the longest sentence I had put together all day.

‘Who did you ride home with?’

‘No one.’

‘Did you ride Marylegs home?’


‘Who then?’


I 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.

‘Well, lad, you beat us home.’

That’s 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.

‘My 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.

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