Australia on Horseback
The story of the horse and the making of a nation
By Cameron Forbes
Published by Macmillan http://www.panmacmillan.com.au
RRP $44.99 in hardback
When I first saw this book, I immediately recognised one of the cover images – Bailed Up by Tom Roberts, the original of which hangs proudly and permanently in the Art Gallery of NSW. The second painting I did not know but I could identify the subject – the Australian Light Horse of World War I.
I thought immediately: well, there you have it: two very well known uses for the horse in Australian history – as a facilitator of bushrangers and as a means of mobility in war.
The first horse set foot in Australia in 1788, one of seven aboard the First Fleet’s Lady Penrhyn. From then on, horses carried explorers who opened up the country to settlement; they carried Aboriginal mounted police; they carried men to war and they made pastoral expansion possible. Some 120,000 horses were sent to World War I battlefields: only one was brought home.
Cameron Forbes, author of the acclaimed Hellfire and The Korean War, uses the motif of the horse to tell the wider Australian story of settlement, exploration, dispossession and warfare. He also includes some interesting little snippets like the preference of King George V for Australian walers. He rode Rupert, a magnificent black, as he led the funeral procession of his father Edward VII.