When my oldest sister was 18 she rode her horse from Newport Beach to Carcoar over the Blue Mountains which took her three days through some petty wild weather.  This is her story:

After being released as a Prisoner of War, Dad arrived home in Sydney in 1946. Things didn’t work out between him and our Mother and he and my sister, Kay and myself moved from our Newport Beach home to a house at the top of The Avenue, Rose Bay.  

By 1948 I had just finished three years of physiotherapy.  In particular it was me who wanted to leave the city and head to the bush.  Dad was of the same mind and when I said “I want to go west”  he said “Well, hang on a bit till I get a job out there and we’ll go.”  

He wanted to know what I would do with my horse and I said “I’ll ride him up.”  There was no question that the horse would be left behind.  He was a big, eight year old chestnut gelding named Bozo and was the love of my life at the time.

Dad did get a job out at Carcoar as overseer on “Stokefield”.  The owner of the property, sent a truck down for our furniture and once that was packed up and gone, it was only a matter of us making our way up.  

Kay, who was skating well at the time, went to stay with Uncle Tom and his wife, Ramola, at Manly.  She was a great skater and wanted to stay in Sydney for the rest of the year, before she, too, came up to live at Carcoar.

I left from Rose Bay early that morning, walking down to the end of Newcastle Street where I caught a tram to Wynyard and then a bus to Newport.  It was something I did regularly on weekends while we lived there as I had to have my horse fix no matter what.

The final packing of the gear we would need for the trip was done by Dad.  Stretchers and blankets, food, cooking gear, warm clothes as well as any leftovers which didn’t make it into the truck.  He also had last minute things to tidy up, goodbyes to be said to relatives and such like so he didn’t leave until later in the day.  He said he would meet me for lunch somewhere along the route he knew I was taking.

When you think that there were no mobile phones, no way of communicating except with smoke signals and a fair bit of distance to be covered on horseback over three days, it is amazing that we met up twice a day.  He gauged how long it would take me to get to a certain spot and would be there to meet me with food prepared and a bed at night.

While I organized my gear I tried to explain to the horse about the adventure we were going on.  He was excited but more interested in the feed he was having with no idea of what lay ahead.  Neither did I for that matter.  Probably just as well.

I now have no memory of what time it was when I left Newport (time didn’t matter a lot in those days) but I headed up Pittwater Road and then along Mona Vale Road.  Mona Vale Road is long and in 1948, lonely.  There were very few houses and it was all scrub.  A great road for a gentle day’s ride.  The day was warm and I was wearing a light shirt, jodhpurs and long riding boots.  The horse was fresh and we made good time.  

Continuing on through Terrey Hills to Pymble, we turned right onto the Pacific Highway and then on through St Ives and Turramurra to Thompson’s Corner.  We then turned left and rode south along Pennant Hills Road through to Parramattta, there turning right onto the Great Western Highway and heading west for Penrith. 

I don’t know how long it took.  I do remember that Dad had met me somewhere west of Parramatta for lunch but it was a late lunch I think.  We sat in the grass on the side of the road, horse happily munching, and ate Spam sandwiches.  Why would I remember Spam sandwiches?  Perhaps it’s better to say how could I forget them?  Certainly the food on the rest of the trip was not so memorable except that it was good and I was always starving.

Moving off to find a spot for the first night’s camp Dad said  “I’ll see you up on the mountains at Springwood.”  I replied “Okay”, mounted again and kept on going.

By the time I reached Lapstone Hill it was getting dark.  Coming to the top of the mountain I was getting a bit nervous.  There were not many vehicles on the road as the War was not long over.  Cars were still scarce as was petrol.  Certainly not every family had even one car let alone two or three as they do now.  

The mountains were sparsely settled and as the night drew in it became quite scary, especially riding under the railway viaduct just before Lapstone where the horse’s hooves clip-clopping along echoed eerily in the dark. The bush seemed to close in around us with its bush night noises getting louder.  Even darker shadows in the already dark night reached out to clutch at us as we rode past.  Bozo didn’t like it either, sensing the strangeness.  His head was up, ears pricked but flicking back and forth, ready to dance this way or that but too tired at this stage to be really skittish.  We just stuck to the middle of the road and kept going while I was thinking “Oh God, where’s Dad!!!”

It is hard to imagine the Great Western Highway of 1948 when you drive on that busy, four lane Highway of today with its streams of cars snaking each way bumper to bumper and the electric passenger trains and great ore-carrying diesels thundering overhead across that same viaduct.  Another world!!!

Dad must have heard us coming as he was waiting for me, standing in the middle of the highway, so I couldn’t miss him.  

He had set up camp in the park at Springwood.  Everything was waiting for me to arrive, the two stretchers ready to roll into and dinner cooked ready to eat.  I was so looking forward to it.  It had been a long first day and I still had the taste of Spam sandwiches in my mouth.

He took the horse from me to unsaddle and gave him a good rub down and then water and feed before settling him for the night.  I was already into the food he had prepared.  It was so good just to eat and then roll into bed.  The only thing wrong with those old stretchers is that they were only hessian on the bottom and the cold rushed up through it and pushed on up through your clothes and into your bones.  We were in bed early in full marching orders as it was an absolutely freezing cold night and every bit of clothing helped.  Even fully dressed, we froze so it was almost a relief when first light came and we could get up.  After a quick bite to eat we were on our way.  It was good to get on the road and get the blood flowing. Frozen blood takes a while to start flowing.

Most of the way I walked the horse or jogged, with a short canter here and there and then we’d walk again.  I walked on foot a good bit of the way as well to relieve the stiffness you get in the saddle all day and it gave Bozo a break.  We also could have better conversations with our heads close together.  He wasn’t much of a conversationalist but a good listener.

The road took us through Blaxland, Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath and Mt. Victoria.  Again, Dad stopped to give us some lunch before moving on to prepare our camp for the second night.

After Mt Vic we came down the Victoria Pass on the western side of the Blue Mountains and I met up with a soldier who was carrying his swag or Matilda as it was often called.  He had a rolled up blanket and I guess, everything he owned.  He told me he was walking because his doctor had warned him that if he didn’t leave the city he would die.  Putting everything he had in his swag, he rolled up his bed and started walking.  At that stage he had walked from Sydney and we trekked all the way down the Pass together with me leading the horse.  After reaching the bottom a vehicle came along and he hitched a ride. 

I continued riding down the Highway, through Hartley and on to the Cox’s River and by that time it was dark.  Dad had decided we would camp there on the side of the road above the river.  Bozo was ecstatic.  Green grass abounded and even though he was tired, he thought heaven had finally come.  He was watered and rubbed down and we left him to munch his way through half the night.  

Tea, as usual, was prepared and ready for me by the time I arrived.  We fed ourselves and settled down for the night snuggled into the table drain.  

Table drains on each side of the roads were originally made with a horse and scoop which made them lovely and round.  You could sleep in them snugly, wrapped by the curve.  How many swaggies over the years have found them a comfort?

It was probably around midnight when Dad woke me.  Rain was pouring down.  “Come on Darling, we’ve got to get into the car or else we’ll be washed into the river.”  I was tired enough for it not to have woken me even though water was running all around us.  Well, that’s actually what table drains are made for, carrying water!!!  

We sat up in the front of the Ford for the rest of the night, not such happy campers.  All our gear, wet and streaming with water was in the back of the car so there was only the front for us to sit.  Our sleep was fitful and broken.  We got up the next morning feeling as though we’d had none at all.

The car itself was a thirteen year old dark green Ford V-8 with no boot but big old comfortable leather seats.  

Our back seat was chock-a-block full with all we were carrying for that trip.  As I said, most of our gear was wet as we bundled it in on this particular night.  Scrambling into the front as best we could,  we squashed the stuff around us that wouldn’t fit in the back.  Shame about not having a boot!

In today’s world where cars are changed with your underclothes, a thirteen year old car is ready for the scrap heap but at the end of the War this wasn’t so.  We were privileged.  (Not that we felt so privileged that night, wet and cold and uncomfortable trying to sleep sitting up.) 

Just as an interest, Dad paid Two hundred pounds for the car in 1936 and sold it sometime in the early fifties for the same amount, Two hundred pounds.

Another day glad to get up at daybreak.  With an early breakfast I took off again only this time in wet clothes.  We rode down through Lithgow and then through Bathurst.  On the other side of Bathurst at the top of Fitzgerald’s Mount we had a late lunch and a little rest. We were all tired and it was numbingly cold but I  was trying to make it to Blayney that night.  My coat had been the only dry thing I had on to start with that morning but as the weather deteriorated I was soon soaked through.  There was snow and sleet, rain and a wind that nearly blew me off the horse.  It was slow going with no protection against the elements.  Eventually that night I did make it to my Aunt Jay’s house where she lived at Blayney and the promise of that warmth was the only thing that kept me going.

The reins had to be practically prised out of my stiff fingers.  Dad helped me off the horse.  Frozen in that sitting position, my limbs felt brittle enough to break if I moved.  He again took care of Bozo as I wouldn’t have been able to undo a buckle, let alone lift a saddle. 

Jay bundled me inside and ‘Oh, the pleasure of a warm house’.  Not only a warm house, she had run a big hot bath into which I slowly, gratefully sank.  I can still feel the magic of that hot bath, the delicious pain of the heat replacing the ice in my body and slowly warming through to my frozen bones.

I fell straight into bed after a hot dinner.  I could hardly stay awake long enough to eat.  The bed was nearly as good as the bath and I didn’t wake till mid morning.

Dad probably stayed up talking for a while with Jay and Vic but he too was tired so would have turned in fairly early himself.

I slept in.

Dad had driven on earlier.   

Carcoar was only ten miles further on so I didn’t leave Blayney until almost lunchtime. 

I took my time over breakfast and regaled Jay and Vic with the story of my ride.  It was pretty impressive even in those days when horses were still a fairly acceptable form of transport.  

Bozo was thankful for the morning off.  He told me if that was the adventure I could keep it.  He had had enough.

We left Blayney after lunch and riding up The Red Hill out of town who should I come across but the soldier I had met coming down Vicoria Pass. 

Pleased to see a familiar face, we discussed the filthy weather of the last couple of days and how we had each coped with it.  He was in good spirits and the walking and fresh air, even what we had experienced on the previous day, were obviously doing him the world of good. 

Not long after we met for the second time, another car came along and he again hitched a ride.  This would take him a bit further along on his journey to who knows where.  I often wondered where he ended up, what happened to him.

Moving a bit more freely by then and with the stiffness gradually leaving our tired and sore muscles we set a good walking pace and covered the short leg of the journey to the little house on the banks of the Belubula River in no time at all.