Light Horse Hotel

New South Wales, MurrumburrahLight Horse Hotel

BGW Phone: 02 6386 2210

So anyway I’m on the deck of the pub in Murrumburrah enjoying my “end of the day’s ride” chardy when, at 14.56 a ute pulls up.

The driver’s a squat, neatly dressed 50ish bloke who looks like an ex-rugby prop who’s looked after himself. He jumps out, comes up the stairs, fixes on me and says, “you must be Colin.”

“Which means you must be Carl, and you’re 4 minutes early.”

This is Carl Valerius and he’s got the tallest family tree I’ve ever heard of: Reckons he can trace it back to Marcus Valerius Corvus, the Roman military commander around 300BC. I tell him to pull up a pew though with that pedigree he probably deserves a curule seat!

But it’s not his ancestry that caused me to give him a buzz and come down from Sydney for a chat. Carl’s a sculptor and the Light Horse monument across the road from the pub is his work.

Ten seconds into chatting it’s obvious Carl’s a man of passion. His eyes have the fire of a forge and as he talks his arms are never still. You know immediately this is a bloke with stories, with history, with tales and, no doubt, with his share of friends and not-so.

The sculpture consists of two life-sized bronzes of early members of the Light Horse, one remains nameless whilst the other is William Bradford. There’s also a light box diorama of an action scene and then down the back there’s Carl’s sculpture of old Bill the Bastard.

Bill was the army’s Phar Lap and Archer rolled into one. An equine colossus with strong body, strong heart but even stronger will, a pretty much unrideable Waler who was shipped to the Middle East with the 1st Australian Light Horse in October 1914.

One of his minders on the trip out was a horse-lover, author and poet who, having been knocked back in his efforts to be sent to Europe as a war correspondent, wangled a position as ‘honorary vet’. His name was ‘Banjo’ Paterson. The same Banjo Paterson who went to primary school 25kms east of here at Binalong.

Paterson had been a war correspondent during the Boer War and it was there that he hooked up with another journalist and aspiring politician named Winston Churchill. Paterson couldn’t quite work the Pommie out but seemed to respect him just a little more once he found out, as he later wrote, that “Churchill and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, each drank a big bottle of beer for breakfast each morning.’

“Bill the Bastard’s an interesting story,” says Carl, “and you should get hold of Roland Perry’s book about him.”

I say I will for sure.

We finish our drinks and head over to the sculptures. Carl’s not super happy with Bill; It depicts the epic carry by Bill of five injured and retreating diggers but Carl reckons that after finishing it he found a pile of info that showed him it was historically inaccurate and besides, he wishes it were life-sized!

But why here? What’re these testaments to a horse that served at Gallipoli and Palestine and to men who fought in the Boer War doing in the middle of some of the finest sheep and wheat country of rural NSW?

To find that out I leave Carl and point the Tenere a dozen kms west then onto some narrow back road bitumen and a short dirt track to the glorious station home of Wal Bradford, grandson of one of Carl’s bronze soldiers back in Murrumburrah.

Wal meets me out front of his elegant modern homestead, gets me to slip the Formas as no shoes have ever touched the gleaning blackbutt floors, asks if I’d like a brew and gets me to sit down at his dining table.

As Wal makes us a cuppa I check the table. It’s an old wool classing table, a big one, probably measuring 4 metres by two and with the rollers covered by a massive sheet of thick glass. It’s bloody amazingly beautiful.

Wal’s granddad was the local butcher. Each day he’d slaughter one cow, 2 pigs and 5 sheep, bleed them off into the local creek and then load the carcasses onto a bed of fresh green gum leaves in his horsedrawn dray. The meat’d then be covered with more green eucalyptus to keep off the flies. He’d walk beside ringing his bell and the housewives would come out, order a cut and watch as it was sliced from the carcass, weighed and slipped into a paper bag. Paddock to plate meant a journey of no more than 800 yards.

Wal’s father opened a butcher shop on the main street and the gorgeous deep blue friezes of sheep and cattle are still on the façade of the old premises a couple of doors up from Carl’s sculptures.

In 1897 John Mackay from Wallandbeen up the road, with government permission, advertised the creation of the 1st Australian Horse with the aim of sending them to the Boer War. Eighty young keen blokes turned up and 60 were accepted with William Bradford, the Murrumburrah butcher being number 15.

We know that because Wal still has the original inscribed rifle bucket presented to his grandfather.

In 1995 Wal Bradford and his late wife, Sue, along with Lorraine Brown who still runs the tourist information office out of her shop up at Harden, formed a commemorative Light Horse Regiment which has since grown from strength to strength in this area of its birth over 100 years ago.

All of which brings me back to the pub!

The reason I came down here was because a few weeks before I was over at Wallendbeen hanging with Groover and he told me that Commercial Pub back in Murrumburrah had new owners who’d changed the name of the place.

He took me over the road from his pub to the war memorial with its inscription saying it’d been donated by Donald Mackay*, the grandson of the bloke who’d founded the 1st Australian Horse.

“The 1st Australian Horse became the 1st Aussie Light Horse Brigade and it all started around here. That’s why,” Groover explained, “they’ve renamed the Commercial over there The Light Horse Hotel.”

So I thank Wal Bradford for his time and his generosity of spirit and head back to the Light Horse where it turns out it’s the first day for a management team.

Ashley and Rob, the new owners have snagged Marulan natives, Eric and his partner Cheryl to manage the place and when I get to the bar, Cheryl hands me a book.

“A bloke came in and said this was for you.”

It’s Roland Perry’s story of Bill the Bastard and’s been left by Carl who’d zipped home, found it and dropped it for me. Ah the country!

It’s not long before Cheryl heads out the back for a framed photo of her own. It’s from 1915 and shows her grand father and three grand uncles in military kit before they headed off to Egypt with the 1st Light Horse.

“We were looking for a life-change and’d checked out pubs down as far as the Victorian border but this one just seemed a perfect fit. Ashley and Rob wanted their pub to embrace the history of the town and my family were part of that history.”

Eric was tired of life as a driver of oversize long distance rigs and he (along with son, Robert) jumped at the chance to take on their first pub.

Cheryl can’t wait to apply her “feminine touch” to the rooms and the common room but what’s already there is way above average.

All 11 rooms are spacious, have electric blankets, ceiling fans and screen doors and mine had good power outlets to recharge all the rubbish gizmos you might travel with. Some rooms have TV’s which I think is needless and Cheryl reckons she’ll be streaming the rooms between one-nighters and longer stayers like fruit pickers and contractors so riders will most likely not have a telly in the room. If that’s a minus for you, you probably won’t have read this far anyway!

Turn up on your own and a room’ll cost you 45 bucks. A twin room with a mate’ll set each of you back 35 whilst a quartet of you in the room with 4 singles works out at 30 each.

My bed was super comfortable and despite it being slap on the BGW, no traffic noise disturbed my beauty sleep.

The common room is stocked with all you’re going to need for a basic cereal and brew breakfast. The full sized fridge has a freezer capable of taking half a dozen hydration bladders and the instant coffee is Moccona.

There’s no separate male/female toilets but the hot water is at good pressure and seems to be endless.

There’s two lock up sheds out back which can house up to 8 bikes and there’s ample smoking and non-smoking areas out back and on the front deck which luxuriates in the afternoon sun.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner except for lunch Monday and Tuesday.

The bar is a bit dominated by the racing commentary but Eric and Cheryl are aiming to make this a family hotel that makes families welcome so the volume is likely to be faded down a bit as they turn up the connection with the town’s connection with the Light Horse Brigade.

The Lighthorse Hotel in Murrumburrah is a pub returning to its roots and settling comfortably into its local culture and history. It’s in the hands of caring owners and committed managers. It’s good now and it’s going to get better.

When you drop by, don’t waste your time just jawing with your ride buddy. This is one very friendly and those blokes at the next table might not be descendants of a member of the 1st Aussie Horse, and they might not be famous sculptors but I bet they’ll welcome you and they have stories and tales to enrich your day. Light-horse, iron-horse at the end of the day we’re all here for the ride!

*(This is not the fella that the Mafia murdered in Griffith a coupla hundred kms west.)