Stretching across from the peaks of the Nandewar Range between Bingara and Narrabri in the east, bordered by the forests of the Pilliga in the south and onwards across the wide expanse of black-soil plains to Walgett in the west and north to Collarenebri, is the North West Branch encompassing a variety of landscapes within a large area. This is the branch that has provided the fertile breeding grounds for some of the legends
within the Australian stockhorse world, including breeders, competitors and horses.
The formative years of the North West Branch coincides very closely with the foundation of the A.S.H. Society itself. The first meetings were held at Moree and the branch was formed initially in June 1974 under the leadership of respected horsemen, Wally Monroe (Pres) and John Houlahan (Sec ), while Neville Schouten undertook the presidency for a term and Alan Jones held the position of Vice-President for a considerable period. Susie O’Neile took over the reins as secretary in 1976 alongside President Neville Schouten and Peter Knight followed as President in 1977, an office he held for some years. Anne Rae was secretary for the period 1978 to 1983 during Peter’s presidency.
During these beginning years, there were a great number of classifications taking place. Inspection Days were held at “Cleveland”(Mungindi); “Glenroy”(Gravesend; “Weebolabolla “(Moree); “Boolcarrol”( Wee Waa district); “Warrenbri”(Merah North); “Bugilbone” (1979) and “Wyalla”(between Burren Junction and Pilliga) and many other properties as well as in the surrounding towns. The first classifiers were Wally Monroe, Peter Manchee, Alan Jones and Bruce Rae. Peter Manchee and Susie O’Neile recall that the biggest days were held at Narrabri, where it was not uncommon for up sixty horses to be presented for inspection.Susie O’Neile remembers that “1.8.76 was a busy day at Moree showrground where a lot of horses were presented to the classifiers. That day saw McLennan’s Jimmy registered along with Secret, Bugs and Johnny.” Later the workload was shared by Neville Schouten, Peter Knight, Tony Montgomery, Noel Williams, and Allan Kendall. Of more recent time classifiers have included Phillip Kirkby, Sylvia Kirkby, Malcolm Field and Meredith Wales.
Reminiscences of those early days of travelling long distances to have horses classified, reveal some amusing excerpts. It is recounted that,“ Classifiers set off for a weekend of horse registrations at Walgett. There were so many horses that day they missed dinner, Neville Schouten’s ute got bogged, broke down and did the motor, the mossies ate them alive, and it took them another two days to get home with only half the job done that weekend. Classifiers even flew to Kesby’s at Brewarrina to do a “Big Day”.They were also social events, with some chatting etc. until the wee hours of the morning…….”
Initially, the N.W.Branch covered a huge expanse, stretching north-east from Mungindi to Warialda , south to Coonamble and west to Brewarrina. The logistics of representation in such a large area made it difficult to get horses classified and for members to communicate with one another. Representatives from the western area, travelled to Moree to a well-attended meeting , chaired by Alan Jones, to seek solutions. Following on from this a Sub-Branch was formed in 1977 and for a great number of years, Nial Campbell from “Wangawally”, between Walgett and Carinda held the presidency, while Judy Kesby “The Rock”, Brewarrina remained the secretary and Barbara Campbell was the sole Management Council delegate. Nial Campbell and Vern Kesby were appointed classifiers and they were later joined by Noel Allerton from Come By Chance and Robbie Johnston from Coonamble. The sub-branch were quite active and on one occasion held their own A.S.H. show and they organised a campdraft event which was open to all horses.
The decision was made to move the meetings from Moree to Narrabri as it was a more central location for members attending from outlying areas of the branch. The Branch hosted a number of activities in those early days as recorded in a 1979 Stock Horse Magazine:
The branch has always been known for involvement in big events; 1976 was the first, with the Versatile Machinery sponsored sports day. It was a big success raising $600.
September 1977 saw the first Boolcarrol Sports Day and A.S.H. weekend. Branch
Vice-President Bryan Turner of Boolcarrol with Artie Hall and others made it a great success and a future major fixture in the society calendar.
Branch members have recalled that the Versatile Horse Event was held at Pallamallawa’s new arena offering eleven events for Mares, Geldings and Stallions and finishing with a horse race on the second day. It is remembered that the winners were David Schouten’s mare “Fried Eggs”; Alan Doolan’s gelding “Sonny”; and David Schouten’s stallion “Mr Gulliver”. Other events also included a campdraft school at “Boolcarrol”conducted by volunteers Bruce Rae and Artie Hall and schools with master farrier , Keith Swan. The branch sponsored Beth Tufrey in the Miss ASHLA quest in 1977. She went on to be a N. S. W. representative at the Southport convention. A major social event was the first North West Branch Stock Horse Dinner in early 1978 at Moree Golf Club. Anne Rae has recorded that for several years the A.G.M. was held at Moree and followed by a dinner dance accompanied by ASHLA awards.
Under the stewardship of Peter Knight, with Anne Rae assisting as secretary-treasurer, the first of three of the State Performance Championships were held at Narrabri on the 25th to 27th September 1981. The very successful Championships hosted a number of events from dressage through to campdrafting and included polocrosse teams as well.Anne Rae recalls that “the Championships received two thousand entries with 767 individual horses competing. This was the biggest horse spectacular, Australia had seen. Strangely enough it wasn’t profitable.” A succession of Secretaries followed after Anne Rae , being Penny Bailey (Wardell)1984 –86, Beth Tickle (Tufrey )was secretary during the second Performance Championships in 1986 and Linda Cutler followed. During that time Narrabri hosted another Performance Championships co-inciding with Malcolm Field’s presidency. Another feature was the annual Branch shows, which during this early period often included a sale to follow the show. A Stock Horse Magazine article on the North West Branch Show held on 10th March 1979 reported the following:-
……Bidding however was lively and a total of sixteen horses were sold by A.M.L. & F’s auctioneer. The average price overall was a little over $1,600
Top price was paid for Peter Knight’s “Warrenbri Wakeful”, a 14 hands high,chestnut filly foaled in December 1976. She is a full sister to champion polocrossemare “Rebecca”, from the same family as “Roulette”and “Romeo”. “Wakeful”isonly recently broken in and will continue her education with her new owner, Alan Jones from Moree.
Some of the Publicity Officers over the years have included Sylvia Kirkby, Anne Rae, Sabina Knight and Linda Cutler. . During the 1980’s Peter Knight also became President of the N.S.W. Management Council. Peter’s failing health saw the Vice-President, Malcolm Field succeed him as President of the North West Branch and Malcolm also followed Peter as President of the N.S.W. Management Council in June 1988.
A lean period followed, with escalating costs and waning interest by members,so endeavouring to counter costs and follow availability of cattle, branch shows were held at Cubbaroo ( January, 1993), with further Spring shows held at Wee Waa, often co-inciding with local campdrafts. During this time, Belinda Radford assisted as show secretary followed by Alana Galagher (Palmer) as general secretary in the mid 1990’s. One of the branch’s most stalwart supporters was lost to the Branch during this period with the death of Peter Knight. Malcolm Field remained as President for a twelve year period . When urged to resign by his wife Judy, because of the workload his role in State Management offered, he steadfastly declined to do so, because he wanted the branch to continue to be active out of loyalty to his colleague, the late Peter Knight.
The late 1990’s saw a revival of interest amongst younger members, and with Malcolm Field again elected to the Presidency of State Management Council, in 1998, he handed over the reins to Rob Aitken from Edgeroi with Alana Galagher continuing as secretary until her motherhood duties saw Meredith Wales (publicity officer) take on the role of general secretary and Alana remain as show secretary. This young and enthusiastic team has produced four very successful branch shows at the Narrabri venue, motivating attendance through the attainment of good sponsorship providing excellent prizemoney for all events.
A feature of every show is secretary, Alana with her trusty lap-top computer producing almost instant reports and results for even time-consuming calculations, like challenges and high point scores. The first two shows also included an A.S.H. sale, however with declining seasonal conditions affecting entries, the sale was abandoned in 2001and 2002. One of the innovative ideas, organised by the executive has been the production of a North West Branch Calendar, featuring stallion ads and trades and services ads and providing dates for all A.S.H. events, campdrafts, equestrian events and agricultural shows through to field days. Due to the amount of work involved in compiling the calendar, Meredith Wales decided to take on the responsibility for this committee in 2002 as Public Relations Officer and Verna McKay from Moree has now taken on the position of general secretary. Sue Kirkby has been Branch Treasurer since 2001.
The North West Branch has been invigorated by the enthusiasm of younger members. Over the last three years, the Branch has inaugurated Points Score Awards for the various sections of A.S.H. events with a presentation night. This year the Branch show saw the commencement of a progressive futurity event, starting with a yearling section and featuring a saddle at the end of the three year period. Plans are under way for the organisation of a Stockman’s Challenge, hoping for similar outcomes to the famous Cloncurry Challenge. It is envisaged that proceeds from the 2003 Calendar can be used to fund lucrative prize money for this event. A feature of the Branch is the strong interest that is being maintained in the management of the A.S.H. Society with the Branch consistently contributing ideas for discussion to Management Council and maintaining delegates to attend meetings while North West members continue to be involved in the executive of Management Council, with Judy Field currently being Senior Vice-President.
Leadership has been a consistent feature of this branch, with members keen to take on active roles within the society. This branch has produced a number of Directors to the Board. Phillip Kirkby is a long-term Director, who had the honour of being elected as Chairman of the A.S.H.S. Board. Lindsay Knight served as a Director from 1998 to 2001, and he was succeeded by Malcolm Field in that year, who also had the honour of being Chairman for a period and was re-elected for another succeeding term in 2010. Another Director, the late Geoff Seccombe , who resided in the Ebor district, spent the early years of his life in the Rowena area of the North West Branch.
North West Branch members are also in demand for judging commitments at Branch, State, National and Royal Shows. It has been considered an honour when Phillip Kirkby was appointed as A.S.H. judge at Brisbane Royal (2009) , Malcolm Field at Sydney Royal Show(1979), Melbourne Royal (2010)and Shirley Lang at Melbourne Royal Show . A new resident to this Branch, coming from the Warren area, Michael Wilson has also judged at Melbourne Royal and Sydney Royal.
We have also had a number of our junior judges represented at the Feature Youth A.S.H. Judging at Sydney and it was a great achievement when in 1994 our two N.W. Branch representatives, Alana Palmer (Pilliga) and Vanessa Hartge (Walgett) were awarded first and second place winners respectively.
The breeding of notable horses has long been within the domain of this branch. Prior to the establishment of the Australian Stock Horse Society, such famous horses as Bruce once stood at Moree in the 1920’s for a syndicate including Will Kirkby, while Radium was brought to Wee Waa for a period in the 1930’s. The renown foundation sire, Dimray twice came to this area during the 1950’s , where he sired many great horses including Reality and Paleroo Peter, prior to his death at Edgeroi in 1959 when owned by Frank Dickie. Bignalls Radiant was purchased by the Kirkby family and he has left his influence on many of the horses of the area. Reality who was initially owned by Mel Bates at Gunnedah, spent the last years of his life at Artie Hall’s “Barnone” property. From here his legacy has been to sire some of the most renown campdrafters of the time such as Tex, Terrys Rex, High Regard, Seventy Seven Revenge, Hazelwood Texaco and Halls Repeat,.but surely his greatest accomplishment was producing the great Warrenbri Romeo, a legend in his lifetime as a sire of campdrafters and performance horses. Peter Knight’s prophecy that this horse would make it “our turn” certainly eventuated. Romeo bred horses have consistently been at the top in campdrafting and working classes and this has been reflected in the escalating prices paid for the progeny, with a record price$49,000 paid for a filly belonging to Lindsay and Jan Knight at the 2001 Dalby sale. He passed his ability on to his progeny one of the foremost being Lindsay Knight’s great sire Warrenbri Omega, as among his exploits was Supreme Working horse at Sydney Royal and he won a Warwick Gold Cup. Now the sire for the Kirkby – Knight syndicate, Omega horses are strongly sought after and this is made very evident in the sale ring. Charlie Quelch’s stallion Paleroo Peter , whose dam was the brilliant campdrafter “Why Not” produced another great and influential sire in “Rivoli Ray” and he was also the sire of Simon Knight’s well-performed polocrosse mare “Warrenbri Rebecca” and “Nandeye Silver Ray”, a state representative in Junior polocrosse and State Championships award winner for Mark Field. Other performance sires in the area, to mention a small selection, were Bruce Rae’s ” Gigolo” (Sage King – Chiquita), the Cadet sire “Brigadier”and Abbey sire “Kirkby’s Cobalt”belonging to Phillip Kirkby, Bill Cuell and Paul Wales “Superior Bruce” ( X Cecil Bruce), Tim Knight’s “Roulette”( X Reality), Noel William’s “Cwmteg Willis”(X Romeo) ,John Scholes’ “Al-Burack”(X Abbey), Dennis Key’s “Opportunity”(X Master Luke) Nial & Barbara Campbell’s “Gold Dust”(X Yandoora Sovereign), Peter Cookson’s “Award”, Alan Jones’s “Cannon”, Peter Manchee’s “Ahwahnee Condor (X Romeo)and Malcolm Field’s “Nandeye Fernando” (a grandson of Charlie Tufrey’s sire,Chans Son) plus Mark & Joanne Field’s “Ocean Wave” (X Romeo which met an untimely death).
In the past, many top performance mares have come out of this North West area, excelling in many areas, including campdrafting, hacking, led , working and polocrosse. They are too numerous to mention but some that come to mind are Clive Kirkby’s “ Chickasha Penny”, Peter Manchee’s” Pivot”, Alan Jones’s ”Miss Royal”, Chris & Terry Hall’s Romance, “Kidgar Bewitched”), campaigned by Toni Bull and bred by Nial and Barbara Campbell, Phillip Kirkby’s Saphire(XAbbey), the Rae Family’s Glenalvon Evita, Allan Kendall’s “Patsy”, Sue Kirkby’s “Tonic”(X Brigadier) and Field Family’s Strathmua Saphire (X E.C. Cadet) and Nandeye Reflect (a Nat. Maturity and Prince of Wales winner campaigned by Michael Wilson).
Along with the horses, have come many great competitors that are famous Australia- wide for their success in training and competing with their horses , such as the Hall family with both Terry and Ben being winners of the Warwick Gold Cup, another honour shared with Lindsay Knight , a member of the well-known Knight family and another winner being Chris Clarke. .Then there is the Rae family, , the Kirkby family and Craig Ervine from Narrabri,, the Jones family (originally from Moree), the Manchees also from Moree, the Williams family from Garah, the Keys family from Boggabri , the Cooksons from Coonamble, the Langs from Collarenebri , and so the list goes on.
The people of this North West area, typify the image of that true-blue Aussie as they go through the usual cycle of floods and droughts with a stoic acceptance of the challenges wrought by nature in the Outback. At the moment they are battling one of the most severe droughts in living memory , with the grim determination that they have to preserve their precious breeding stock of Australian Stock Horses , as whatever the cost , those beloved horses must take pride of place.
We thank all those people who have provided input to the historical aspects of this article. We are especially grateful to Susie O’Neile, Anne Rae, Peter Manchee and Barbara Campbell. As some earlier records have been lost, it has been partly compiled on recalled memory and if there are any errors or missing information then it is unintentional and we apologise for same. We also acknowledge quotes and articles from the A.S.H.S. magazine.