There was movement in the household, for the word had passed around,
That our favourite cafe at Harden-Murrumburrah was open,
And waiting for the throng – it was worth the two hour drive to town,
So my love and I gathered to the fray.
Noted coffee aficionados – or so we liked to think –
Checked our wallets for some coinage and credit cards just in case.
For the coffee lovers love driving to where the coffee percolates,
And dreamt of coffee brewing and eating chocolate cake.
My husband and I love visiting Harden-Murrumburrah, a small country town situated on the Southwest Slopes of New South Wales (Australia). Agriculture is the main industry in the region. Redolent of history and with great coffee to boot, Harden-Murrumburrah is just about perfect in my opinion.
Your Coffee or Your Life!
There are a number of excellent cafés in town, but we have settled on the Barnes Store Emporium and Café as our favourite. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it is because I’ve never had a bad espresso there, or maybe it is because Wendy and her staff are always friendly, enthusiastic and have great team spirit. I like that a lot. Maybe I also like it because they serve the best lemon meringue pie I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (in the days before carbs and I parted company). Or maybe it is the olde-world ambiance and history of the building. The café is located in the building that housed the town’s first general store, established by John Barnes in the 1850s. In 1863, John Barnes was killed by bushranger, John O’Meally, who was in cahoots with fellow bad-bastard bushrangers, John Gilbert, Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner. Thankfully, the days of the highwaymen are long gone. (More on the bushrangers in a future post).
All That Glitters is not Gold but Honey
From the 1830s, good agricultural land brought the first settlers to the southwest slopes. Gold then seemed to bring everybody else, including a large influx of new Chinese migrants as well as the aforementioned bushrangers. It was a veritable hotspot of criminal activity and seething with racial disharmony that sparked riots at Lambing Flat (now Young). Today, if you are looking for gold, you can find it at the Harden House of Honey, which is owned and operated by Ken Tanson and his lovely wife, Arlyn. Ken is steeped in history; beekeeping is in his very DNA. Ken’s family settled in Gundaroo (about 100km east of Harden) in 1854. Ken is a 6th generation beekeeper and he is pretty darn good at it. Let me repeat that – 6th generation beekeeper. Wow! Ken and his bees travel far and wide to make honey. I’ve never seen so many different types of honey as I have in Ken and Arlyn’s shop. The red stringy bark honey is our favourite. Check out this amazing duo and the head-spinning array of honey in the photos below.
Bronzing Bill the Bastard
If that is not history enough for you, the town’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of the 1st Australian Horse, which was later expanded to become the Australian Light Horse. The latter is best known for the significant role it played in World War I (WWI) in the defence of the Suez Canal, the Battle of Romani and the Charge of Beersheba. The 1st Australian Horse was the idea of the region’s local Member of Parliament, Kenneth Mackay. The town has a small, but wonderful, memorial to the 1st Australian Horse/Light Horse and to Australia’s greatest warhorse of WWI, Bill the Bastard.
The story of Bill is epic. He was a 17-hand giant of a horse of great strength, endurance and speed, who got the name, Bill the Bastard, for bucking off all who tried to ride him. Hence, Bill became a packhorse in the Australian Light Horse. However, when Bill was injured at Gallipoli, he was nursed to recovery by Major Michael Shanahan, and with gentle guidance and liquorice allsorts, he became Major Shanahan’s trusted battle mount. During the Battle of Romani, four troopers were stranded on the battlefield, and were facing certain death. Major Shanahan rode Bill to their rescue and carried the men back to safety. Bill later took up light duties carrying machine guns in the Charge of Beersheba. He also won the 5km Jericho cup in 1918. By the end of the campaign, Bill the Bastard was considered a hero and his name was used, not as an insult, but as a term of endearment. Roland Perry wrote a book about Bill the Bastard’s exploits for those who want to know more about this remarkable horse.
To say my love and I are intrigued by the story of Bill the Bastard is an understatement, so when we saw flags flying outside a big shed/studio with Bill’s name over the door, we decided to check it out. There we met master craftsman and sculptor, Carl Valerius, working on his biggest project yet. You see there is an error in Roland Perry’s 2012 book that says there is a life-size (rather than life-like) bronze statue of Bill the Bastard and the rescued men, at Murrumburrah. This has resulted in a number of disappointed visitors to the town. So Carl has taken it upon himself to fix this problem. Carl has spent years making a beautiful fibreglass life-size statue. But not content with that, Carl – aided and abetted by his local community – is determined to take the project to a whole new level and bronze the Bastard. As it happens, the story of how the Harden-Murrumburrah community has rallied around Carl to work toward this end, is as epic as the story of Bill himself (read all about it here).
The initial work won’t go to waste as the fibreglass statue is required to build the moulds for the bronze casting. Work is well underway. Every part of the statue is being sculpted in immaculate detail and will be a faithful replica of the horse, his riders and their equipment. The cost, in terms of time and manpower to create the moulds, and the funds required to cast the bronze, is mammoth.
The Bronze Bill the Bastard Committee will soon be calling on the Australian community to dip into their pockets to support this wonderful initiative and spread the word. That’s where I come in. I got more than I bargained for from my trip to Harden-Murrumburrah when I asked Carl whether I could take some photos of him and his work for my blog. As soon as I made my request, Carl was signing me up to become an ‘Ambassador’ for Bill. If you are as intrigued as I am about Bill and the bronzing project, you too can become an Ambassador (see how to sign up here).
Or you could just go to Harden-Murrumburrah, have a chat to Carl, learn about some good and bad bastards, and spend some money in the town. I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished sculpture unveiled. I might even grab a coffee and some honey while I’m at it.
As I started with a poem, I want to finish with one too. Maureen Clifford has written a bush ballad in tribute to Bill. You can hear Maureen perform her poem here. Enjoy.
Disclosure – I have no pecuniary or material interest in advocating for any of the businesses mentioned in this post.