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Australian Light Horse

13/06/2018

At 4600m the $300,000 Cup will be the longest flat race in Australasia and then some (the Melbourne Cup is 3200m).

A tribute to a “three mile” race that “Banjo” Paterson and other Light Horse officers staged in Palestine to boost morale. And, perhaps, to lull the enemy into a false sense of security before launching an attack. A race meeting, deliberately promoted so the Turks would hear about it, was a way to explain a massed gathering of soldiers and horses. In the “factionalised” version, Bill the Bastard wins the “three-miler” across the sand, ridden by an Aboriginal jockey. As history, that bit is up there with The Man from Snowy River and Braveheart.

The real worth of Bill the Bastard was not how fast he was, but how tough.

Descriptions suggest he was a big, rough chestnut gelding of uncertain breeding and temperament. Like thousands of others sold to the army by outback stations, he had probably run wild early in his life — then proved too hard to break in.

After being sent to the Middle East with shiploads of other “remounts”, Bill proved an incurable buckjumper — hence the nick-name. He was mostly used as a packhorse until a Queenslander, Major Michael Shanahan, managed to ride him, which was lucky for the four soldiers that Shanahan and Bill the Bastard rescued at the battle for Romani on August 4, 1916.

The story goes that Shanahan rode up and down the line under fire to rally the troops. Bill endured this for several hours longer than other officers’ chargers.

According to one account: “Shanahan and Bill found four Tasmanian soldiers stranded next to their dead horses and under gun fire. Shanahan said to them, ‘Get up on Bill, get up! One on each stirrup, two on the back, we will get out’.” The rogue horse, unrideable not long before, carried the five men (a load of maybe 380kg) to safety.

Sadly, Shanahan was shot later in the battle and would lose a leg. The amputation got him a trip to England, then home to Queensland, the DSO bravery medal, and the war story of a lifetime.

Andrew Rule, Sunday Herald Sun - January 29, 2017