Uncovered : Uncovered  A performace at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery

My 2015 residency begins

My name is Vic McEwan.  I am an artist based in the Riverina region of southern NSW, the inaugural Arts NSW Regional Fellow, and Artistic Director of The Cad Factory. This week, as part of my fellowship, I have started as an artist in residence at the National Museum, which will run until the end of 2015.

I began my residency this week, excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. As I walked to the entrance, I was greeted by this sight: an abandoned pink bra. And I thought, how wonderful that Continue reading

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Riding horses – it’s good for the soul, and for a long and fit life!

Olympic rider Neale Lavis, 84, sits ‘like a king on his throne’ as he rides Wattle Grove in the hills above Braidwood. I met Neale through my farrier, who told me the 1960 Rome three-day event champion was ‘one of the best blokes’ I was likely to meet. He was right.

Neale still breeds, rides and trains horses. The image of the king on the throne is one Neale used about riding his champion three-day event mount, Mirrabooka.

You can experience Neale’s great victory in Rome, his deep love of horses and their shaping of his long and successful life in our new film and web feature, A bush rider’s Olympic story, introduced by Diego Zambrano’s beautiful photo of Neale riding one of his beloved horses.

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Neale mounted on Mirrabooka prior to dressage event at Rome Olympics, 1960.

Look out in the near future for the next ‘chapter’ of my Australian bush horses and riders website, which will focus on the dashing horses, men and women of showring high jump fame. These famous people and horses dominated the showring circuits of eastern Australia in the first half of the 20th century, linking the people and towns of rural Australia with the major shows of the state capitals.

The striking Emilie Roach was one such hero. Born in Narrandera, New South Wales, in 1898, she was the generation before Lavis, but he saw her riding at many shows, and photographs and tales of her riding feats had given her a legendary status.

Woman on horse

Emilie Roach riding the champion hack, Kim, 1924.

Em’ Roach could be termed a glamour girl of her time and in the 1920s, along with other of her show-ring contemporaries, was tempted by offers to make films in Hollywood. For Neale, she provided inspiration for his own showjumping feats.

Fortunately, she stayed firmly in the saddle in Australia, and her riding career spanned nearly half a century.

During this period, she set many new records for women’s high-jump events, and rode a series of famous high jumpers and champion saddle horses, including Dungog, Lady Radium, Kim, Musician, Peter and Gray Timothy.

Roach’s biographer, and leading authority on show-ring high jumping , Alan Chittick, says in his classic book High, Wide and Handsome, that she ‘was Australia’s most accomplished lady rider’ and that she displayed both the ‘dash and courage of the jumpers riders’ and ‘the polish of the accomplished rider on the flat’.

Woman and horse jumping a fence

Emilie Roach jumping Musician at the Royal Easter Show, Sydney 1925.

Woman on a horse

Emilie Roach riding Lady Radium, 1930.

Emilie Roach’s equestrian exploits included high-jumping, hurdling, show hacking and camp drafting. You can see objects including Emilie’s show-ring clothing, ribbons, medallions and trophies in the Museum’s Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition. The National Museum  is fortunate to have the Colledge Family collection (relating to both the riding exploits of Emilie Roach and the motoring achievements of her husband Jack Burton), which was donated to the Museum in 1996 by Warren and Rhonda Colledge.

More details on this collection are also available in the Emilie Roach equestrienne collection highlight on the Museum’s website.

Look out (and up!) for the jumping bar at the conclusion of Spirited, which is set at a lofty 7 feet 1inch (216 cm), the height that Emilie Roach and Dungog sailed over for a win at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney on 1 April, 1929. Later at Coonamble Emilie cleared 7ft 5inches (226 cm) on R. Chittick’s Grey Timothy, but in the absence of the show surveyor this magnificent jump could not be officially recorded.

Woman jumping horse over large fence

Emilie Roach winning the Ladies High Jump on Dungog at the Royal Spring Fair, Sydney, 1927.

According to Chittick, himself a descendant of one of the greatest New South Wales show competition families, the Chittick’s of Kangaroo Valley, Emilie Roach was one of the ‘new stars’ of the golden age of showing jumping in the 1920s. Like Neale Lavis, Emilie  had also been inspired by riders of an earlier generation. One very important role model for her was the amazing Mrs EM Stace.

Woman jumping horse over jump using a sidesaddle

Mrs Stace jumping sidesaddle to a new Australian ladies record of 6ft 6 inches (198.1cm), riding Emu Plains at the Royal Agricultural Show, Sydney, 1915.

In a short history of her riding career  written in 1950, Roach remembers how seeing ‘Mrs Stace riding side saddle over those big fences’ at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1914 changed the direction of  her life. She was thrilled by the ‘thunder of applause from the crowds’, and says that, ‘it was then and there I decided to be a show rider, and hoped that someday I’d become a famous horsewoman too, and from that time show ring riding was all I ever dreamt of.’

Mrs Stace was 52 years of age when she established her 1915 record riding Emu Plains, and it was never challenged as the younger women riders moved to the more secure and comfortable astride position. As Alan Chittick has commented: ‘Mrs Stace was distinguished by her tremendous poise, unique balance and obviously her great courage.’

She was definitely a very  courageous woman, as I don’t imagine that many riders today (male or female) would feel comfortable to jump the heights to which Mrs Stace soared, balancing on a sidesaddle!

Alan Chittick also observed of her remarkable riding style: ‘her seat on the horse was far from precarious, and she must have possessed marvellous balance, for in every photograph she sits exactly the same.’

Woman jumping horse using sidesaddle

Mrs Stace jumping the legendary grey, Desmond, at the Royal Agricultural Show, Sydney, 1912.

In the picture above, Mrs Stace is 50 years old, and Desmond an incredible 26 years, and once again Chittick’s words say it perfectly: ‘They might be both getting on in years but they were still the greatest’.

I look forward to recounting more tales of the exploits of the horse high jumpers on my Bush horses and riders website. I will be revealing stories about the  Chittick family’s famous riders and horses, as well as acknowledging and exploring the star status of some of the well -known Indigenous high jump riders.

I hope this post has made you reflect on the excitement and joy of riding horses as a lifetime pursuit. One of Australia’s more infamous bush poets, The Breaker (Harry Morant), has summed up my feelings in his evocative poem, ‘Who’s Riding Old Harlequin Now?':

I am wondering today if the brown horse yet live,
For the fellow who broke him, I trow,
A long lease of soul – ease would willingly give
To be riding brown Harlequin now!

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions about the Bush horses and riders site and if you have any stories that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.

Man sitting in chair looking at photograph

Alan Chittick looking at an historical photograph of the Sydney Royal Agricultural Showground, at his home in Moss Vale. Photo: George Serras, 2014.

The National Museum of Australia would like to thank Alan and Ruth Chittick for hospitality and allowing us to copy images from Alan’s personal albums and book, High, Wide and Handsome.


AJ Chittick, 1989, High, Wide and Handsome, A Pictorial History of Australian Show-Ring Jumping 1900-1950, Robert Burton Printers Pty Ltd.

E Roach, 1950,  ‘My memories of horseback riding…’ Photocopy of an 11-page manuscript by Emilie Roach on file at the National Museum of Australia.

RM Williams, 2001, The RM Williams Collection of Australian Bush Classics, Outback Publishing Company.

Essendon milk cart

A milkman’s Christmas memories

Christmas Day – before the daylight saving – it would be daylight at half past four in the morning and there’d be kids out on bikes and scooters and they’d all come to show the milkman what they’d got for Christmas …

Conway Tighe, owner of the Lincoln Park Dairy until 1987, remembers the excitement of the children early on Christmas morning, as he went about his daily business of delivering milk to homes in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon. The milkman and his horse and cart were a familiar sight in the suburb, at one stage delivering milk to over a thousand households. Continue reading

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Machinery for Ecological Thinking

How might the particular features of a piece of agricultural machinery record profound ecological ideas? At the National Landcare Awards in September, former prime minister Bob Hawke presented farmer Colin Seis with the prestigious 2014 Bob Hawke Landcare Award. The award celebrates Colin’s revisioning of agriculture as an ecological activity, and recognises the significance of ‘pasture cropping’, a revolutionary new method of grain and pasture production developed by Colin on ‘Winona’, his farm on the central tablelands of New South Wales. Continue reading

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“An outbreak of civility”: Freewheeling exhibition opens in Brisbane

Last week, while we were installing the NMA’s Freewheeling cycling exhibition at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, a massive hailstorm struck the city. Hitting just before 5pm, the city stopped moving. The roads became car parks, the train stations flooded and the buses were caught in traffic gridlock. The only people who made it home on time that day were those on two wheels, or two legs. Although they did have to jump a few fallen trees! Continue reading

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Riverina Rabbits: volunteers digging the dirt

Today, December 5, is International Volunteer Day. At the National Museum of Australia, curators collaborate with a wide range of people, including many volunteers, to research and develop collections and exhibitions. In People and the Environment team, we recently came across a wonderful example of the contribution volunteers made to a previous project at the National Museum, and we thought that effort deserved sharing. Continue reading

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The scandalous Mr Wakefield

Imagine yourself, for a minute, as a 15-year-old girl at boarding school in England in 1826. An urgent message arrives to inform you that your mother has taken ill and you must come to her at once.  The concern for your mother’s condition weighs heavily on your mind as you rush off in an awaiting carriage. When your carriage stops to change horses, you are informed by a charming gentleman that your mother is not actually ill at all, but you are to travel with him to meet your father in Kendal. You agree to travel with this man, who you had never met prior to this evening, and on arrival in Kendal there
is no sign of your father. The charming gentleman explains to you that your father is
on the verge of financial ruin and convinces you to marry him in order to save your family’s fortune. What choice do you have? It is a proposal you cannot refuse. Your journey continues to Gretna Green, Scotland where you are married by the blacksmith and become the wife of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Continue reading

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Freewheelin’ through Australia’s cycling history

Cadel Evans, Anna Meares, Simon Gerrans, Nathan Hass, Caroline Buchanan, Kathy Watt, Sue Powell and Michael Milton are just a few of the cycling stars you will encounter in a new National Museum of Australia travelling  exhibition due to open at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane this weekend.

Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia explores the story of Australian cycling, from our elite champions through to the role bikes have played in all our lives.

Read more below about what’s on display and how the show came about.

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Working on Winnie

Chloe Bussenschutt works as an objects conservator at the National Museum of Australia. One of her recent tasks has been the stabilisation and revitalisation of a horse mannequin from a saddlery business in Cooma, a town on the high, windswept Monaro plains of southern New South Wales. The mannequin features in Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story, the Museum’s latest exhibition. In her writings below, Chloe reveals the artful, philosophical and technical dimensions of this particular conservation project, and her personal fascination in the object now called Winnie.

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