Dolly Will Get Me Home
… of course most people, the young ones of today, know next to nothing about horses. But my family, the old ones, on both sides, were involved with horses for all sorts for reasons. In fact some of the Leyland men were horse-mad.
Old Phil Leyland, my grandfather, he had a prize photo of a horse pinned on the wall in the hallway, with its name in big letters. MARY ELLEN. My memory of it was that it was white, but I saw the photo again the other day, and it was a dark horse. Raced in Brisbane, according to the words, so that links it to Old Phil’s son, my Uncle Digby. Uncle Dig was a horse trainer over there. I thought Old Phil might have owned it at some time, or had a stake in it. It was important to him, but he never explained why.
Some of those Leylands were silly-mad because they gambled away their money on horses. Earlier on, when I was about 20 — before I was married — just a kid really — I remember one occasion when I heard Florrie complaining. That would be after her mother died. Florrie was getting on a bit, and everyone leaned on her through all those days. She looked after her father right through to the end.
Anyway, this day I found her to be all distressed — upset — and why? It was because she’s had a row with her dad, with Old Phil. This was very unusual. Usually those two were pretty quiet. But there was a problem. She told me how her father loved a gamble. He was a gambler, no two ways about it. And it turned out she was quite cross about it, and she told me that Old Phil had told her his dreams and stories about what he’d have done ‘if only I had a bit of money’.
‘My father explained to me,’ she said, ‘about the missed opportunities he’d had. ‘If only I had a bit of money.’ … if only … if only … if only.’
And Florrie had said to him, ‘You — you’re an old fool! If you had a pound note you’d waste it on a horse. You’re a silly old man. If you’d have got your hands on any extra money you’d have bought another useless racehorse!’
Then there was my dad. At one stage, after he quit the railways, he ran horse stables in Fitzherbert Avenue. He did contract cartage, with his wagon and draft horses, and had a shop of sorts. The stables were like a car-park for horses. The farmers would come into town and leave their horse at the stables while they attended to business. We also used horses later on for dragging logs.
And horses featured in the lives of my mother’s family too. There was one story about those Wischnowskys from Halcombe. Most of their farms had at least one working horse, and some horse-drawn conveyance like a cart or dray. It didn’t come cheap, as there was feed and grass to supply.
In those days the older people would ride into town on Fridays, into Feilding that is, to the sales, the market day. Friday mornings. They’d have an auction for the stock, that kind of thing. Part of the day’s business was to go in-between-times to the local pubs, and many of them finished up the day more or less drunk.
Now my grandfather — on my mother’s side that is, not Old Phil — his name was Carl. Carl Ferdinand Wischnowsky. But the important character in this story is not Carl, but his horse, Dolly.
You see, Carl would get to imbibing heavily, until he’d get blind drunk. Eventually his friends would bundle him up into his cart, and lead Dolly out onto the road, and face her towards Halcombe, and slap her bottom, and off she’d go. Carl maintained no matter how drunk he was, ‘Dolly will get me home’.
I think Carl used to buy a bottle of gin. ‘Square Gin’ it was called, because the bottle was square. It would see you right for the day.
But Old Phil wasn’t a drunk. He was too much of a hard-headed Yorshireman. To him, getting drunk wasn’t part of it. But he was into horses. He worked with Dad in the cartage business. It was said to be the last of the horse-drawn carriers in Palmerston. Old Phil ran the business after my father left town and remarried in 1931. Old Phil retired about 1938, when he was 82 years old. Loved horses.