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Authors: Mary Durack

To Ride a Fine Horse

BOOK: To Ride a Fine Horse
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Mary Durack was born in Adelaide in 1913 but grew up on the remote Argyle Downs and Ivanhoe cattle stations in the Kimberley in Western Australia. Her family were among the first Europeans in the area; in her best-known work,
Kings in Grass Castles
, Durack tells the story of their migration from Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century and their new life in the outback. She was the author of the classic Australian novel,
Keep Him My Country
, and also wrote children's books, often in collaboration with her sister, the illustrator and artist Elizabeth Durack. One of Australia's literary greats, Mary Durack was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to literature and a Companion of the Order of Australia.

HOUSE
of
BOOKS

MARY DURACK

To Ride a Fine Horse

 

 

This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012

First published by Macmillan and Co Limited, Melbourne, in 1963

Copyright © Mary Durack 1963

Illustrations © Elizabeth Durack 1963

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

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Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia
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ISBN 978 1 74331 211 7 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 74269 943 1 (ebook)

Foreword

T
HE
story of Patsy Durack has already been told for older readers, and with more length and detail, in a book called
Kings in Grass Castles
. Now I have been asked to condense it for young people who enjoy reading the true life stories of people who have played an important part in history. I suspect nothing would have surprised my grandfather more than to find himself in such great company, for he was a homely and simple-hearted man and not one to think his life interesting or important, except perhaps to his own family. It might, in fact, quite soon have been forgotten had not so many of his letters, notebooks and documents been found a few years ago in an old tin trunk. This was only after the death of his eldest son, my father, in 1950, when Patsy had been dead over fifty years. These papers brought him to life for my generation and we began to realize why all who remembered him had spoken of him with such affection and respect.

This book deals only with his lifetime and leaves untold the later history of his family and the Kimberley properties that are the background of my earliest and many of my later memories. It was here I came to know and love the outback and the Aboriginal people who played such a big part in my grandfather's life. I feel he would have wanted his native friends remembered, and because he himself so loved a good
tale he would not have minded my telling of a poor Irish boy who came to Australia to ride a fine horse, and rode it so fast and so far. . . .

M
ARY
D
URACK

 

Perth,

Western Australia

1962

Contents

1.   The Magic Coin

2.   The Strange New Land

3.   Patsy's Pot of Gold

4.   ‘A Block and Four Legs'

5.   Romance Steps In

6.   North of the Border

7.   Into the Unknown

8.   Thylungra

9.   The White Man's Curse

10.   Life and Death in the Lonely Land

11.   Distant Horizons

12.   The Big Trek Begins

13.   Into the Promised Land

14.   The Golden Land

15.   An End and a Beginning

16.   The Last Horizon

1
The Magic Coin

‘M
Y
life,' Patsy Durack told his children, ‘began like a fairy tale with a boy who made a wish.'

He had never actually seen the Leprechauns, as they call fairies in the Irish countryside where he was born. His grandmother, however, had often shown him the place where they danced and so it was to her he confided how he had gone there one frosty night and spoken his wish aloud under the full moon.

‘I wished,' he said, ‘that I might some day ride a fine horse of my very own.'

The old woman had stopped her spinning and looked at the eager, curly-haired lad with tears in her eyes. Those were hard days for the Irish people and she knew how little chance he had of owning the horse of his dreams, or in fact of ever having anything to call his own. It was almost impossible, with the heavy taxes they had to pay, for the poor people to keep out of debt and often hard enough even to keep themselves alive.

‘Sure, and you must not be dreaming so much, Patsy boy,' she said, ‘or you will have the grass grow under your feet.'

Later Patsy was to smile as he remembered her words, for although he always loved to dream he was never in one place long enough for the grass to grow under his feet, much as he sometimes wished that it would in a country where grass was often more precious than gold.

By that time he knew he had been right in believing that a wish could become a horse, but he also knew that just wishing was not enough. One had to work as well, and this, as the eldest son of a poor farming family, he had done for as long as he could remember. At first he had had to feed and tend the animals, milk the cows, shepherd the sheep and cut the wet turf into slabs to dry for fuel. Later he had ploughed the fields, sown and dug the potato crops, learned to build and thatch houses, shoe horses, drive the donkey cart to town and bargain in the market-place.

But sometimes on high days and holidays he had gone fishing at the salmon leap or had caught trout
in the quieter reaches of the River Shannon. He had danced and sung and played his fiddle and flute with other young people in the village square, and sometimes he had slipped away on his own to the top of the mountain behind his father's farm where he could look down over the countryside, across the quiet loch and the silver river winding to the sea.

There he would dream of the old days when his people had owned the land, as far as the eye could see, and his forebears had ridden horses like those on which the rich, red-coated hunting squires flashed across patchwork fields and over the walls and hedges of Galway and Clare. To give the Irish back their lands again seemed beyond even the power of the Leprechauns, but a splendid horse—surely that was not impossible?

When he was twelve years old he was given a precious penny for his birthday, and was wondering what he would spend it on when he met a poor tinker woman begging for food for her sick children.

‘Tell my fortune then,' Patsy said, ‘and you shall have my penny,' for almost all the Irish tinkers or gypsy people told fortunes to make a little money from the simple people who believed in such things.

The woman called down blessings on his head as he shuffled the tattered cards. ‘Praised be God,' she cried, spreading them on the ground, ‘but it is a fine fortune ye have here.'

‘What do you see?' Patsy asked anxiously.

‘I see,' she said, probably wracking her brains for what to say that might please him, ‘why, yes, I see ye will be finding a pot of gold at the rainbow's end.'

Patsy's family laughed at his foolishness, but though he pretended not to believe the tinker's nonsense, he never forgot what she had said. Sometimes he would dig secretly where he thought he had seen a rainbow end.

Then, as he grew older, he began to think of the end of the rainbow as maybe America or South Africa, to which more and more Irish families were migrating every year. It was little wonder, for with the terrible famine of 1845 a people already so poor were bowed under a further weight of sorrow and suffering. Nobody had enough to eat, while thousands, homeless and destitute, were dying on the roads and in the frozen ditches; but even if Patsy's family had had enough money to migrate, the younger children were then too weak and sick to have survived the shortest journey.

In 1849, however, Patsy's Uncle Darby and Aunt Margaret, newly married, managed somehow to scrape up the passage money to Australia, where it was said that land was being almost given away and that a rich wool industry was flourishing. The young couple set off with high hopes, but soon wrote to say that although Australia was a land of plenty compared to Ireland fortunes were not so quickly and easily come by as some had said. It did not sound to young Patsy like his long dreamed of rainbow's end until suddenly, in 1851, the newspapers announced that gold had been struck in New South Wales.

From that time on Patsy could think of little else. He had learned that some ships would carry entire migrant families for the sum of £8, though after they arrived in Australia they were supposed to pay the
rest of the passage money within a certain time. In poverty stricken Ireland £8 seemed a fortune, but Patsy began hopefully to put away every hard-earned penny that came his way.

One day when returning from market he had an adventure that was to alter the whole course of his life and that of his family. Along the road he came upon a carriage that had become stuck in the mud. The coachman was old and feeble and the richly dressed owner of the vehicle was helping him heave and push without effect. Patsy, then nearly seventeen, although thin and not very tall for his age, had always been strong and practical. He stopped his donkey cart, went to the back of the carriage and put his shoulder under the hub of the wheel. In no time he had it free and, touching his cap, was about to go on his way when the traveller called him back.

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