Bill the Bastard and other Fables

Fine weather forecast leading up to Easter so we set off for a 3-day, 1000km loop around the Riverina and south-western slopes of NSW before hot-footing down into the Murray River and home.


We tracked out via Wang and Corowa heading up to Urana on the Federation Way.  She was dry and flat out there, with a lot of dead ‘roos and mobs of emus running about on suicide missions.  Didn’t seem much for them to eat.

What we weren’t expecting were dust devils.  It was a pleasant 25C and I’ve always associated them with hot weather.  But there were a series of vortices across the flat landscape and they seemed to suck the air in from quite a distance, knocking us around on our bikes.  Columns of dust rose from the featureless plain as we sped through.

Urangaline Creek at Urana was mostly dried up and the caravan park empty of fishermen.


But after passing Urana, we entered the Riverina and the landscape greened up.  Our destination was Leeton.

One of my ancestors (my first cousin twice removed) moved here after WW1.  Victor “Garnet” Veness landed at Gallipoli in 1915 and fought in France, being wounded in 1916 and hospitalized in London.  In 1917, Lieut. Veness he took part in the 4th Division’s assault on the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt.  Tanks which were supposed to support the attacking Australian infantry either broke down or were quickly destroyed.  Nevertheless, the infantry managed to break into the German defenses.  Due to uncertainty as to how far they had advanced, supporting artillery fire was withheld, and eventually the Australians were hemmed in and forced to retreat.  The two brigades of the 4th Division that carried out the attack, the 4th and 12th, suffered over 3,300 casualties; 1,170 Australians were taken prisoner — the largest number captured in a single engagement during the war.

Garnet was captured and eventually repatriated to England in December, 1918.  He married Mary Ann Turner (1882-1921) the following June and brought her back to a Soldiers Settlement property at Yenda, near Griffith, NSW.  Mary died of tuberculosis in the Public Hospital, Leeton, NSW, only two years later.  She is buried at Leeton Cemetery.  TB wouldn’t be cured until Australian Howard Florey and Ernst Chain developed penicillin during WW2,


Garnet later moved to Queensland, farmed tobacco and remarried.  His diary, in which he describes a medic with a donkey at Gallipoli, is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.


Mary and Garnet in their house at Yenda (Griffith Genealogical and Historical Society).

We had booked into the Historic Hydro Motor Inn, which was very comfortable and in the centre of town.


The next morning, we headed off to Junee to visit the Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory.  A lot of renovations and additions have been done to this old flour mill since our last visit ten or so years ago; restaurant and coffee and outdoor dining.  Well worth a visit.


Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory

Off to the east for lunch at Planted Cootamundra; the three cheese toasted sandwich with ham and tomato and a coffee, and very nice it was, too.

But Murrumburrah-Harden was our aim, to see Bill the Bastard.  We were fortunate to meet Carl Valerius, the sculptor, and he gave us the gen.  The wax model of Bill was there, the bronze casting was taking place in Sydney at this time, and two troopers were left to cast.  Each trooper cost $45,000 to cast in bronze.  The total cost so far was about $800,000 but the statue had recently been awarded national significance which was helping with public donations.  It’s expected that the statue of Bill and Major Shanahan rescuing the four Tasmanian troopers will be unveiled later this year.


Bill the Bastard was rideable only by Major Michael Shanahan, hence his name.  During the Battle of Romani in August 1916, the pair rescued four stranded Tasmanian troopers who piled onto Bill as he galloped almost three miles to return them to safety; two on his back with Shanahan and one standing on each stirrup.  The Anzac Mounted Division stopped the Turkish advance and prevented them from seizing the Suez Canal.  Shanahan was wounded and had a leg amputated.  Bill the Bastard went to Gallipoli after the war to help with the cleanup of the battlefields.  He died in 1924 at the age of 21 and is buried at Walker’s Ridge in Gallipoli.  Because they weren’t wounded or killed during their rescue, the names of the four Tasmanians have never been determined.


Major Michael Shanahan with Bill the Bastard, 1915.

Perhaps the best road of the trip was between Harden and Jugiong.  A fabulous ride before stopping overnight at the Jugiong Motor Inn where we met up with the Moto Guzzi Owners Association of NSW.  About thirty of them had made the trip, some camping on the adjacent river flat.  We had a very nice dinner from the Irish chef and a few different ales from the bar, sitting outside in the warm evening.

Up with the chirps on Sunday morning for the fang back home.  Hit the freeway for a few miles and turned off for Adelong, intended having breakfast.  Pretty rough and ready road.  But cafes were closed until 10am, so we refueled and headed off to Batlow and had brekky at Coffee and More.  Then a pleasant run through the hills, valleys and forests to Tumbarumba and Corryong, stopping for a break at the Southern Cloud Memorial.  The three-engine Avro 10 airliner crashed in the mountains behind the tree in 1931 and remained undiscovered for twenty seven years.


Horrie the Wog Dog allegedly lived in Corryong after he was smuggled back to Australia by soldiers returning from the Middle East in 1942.  The evidence is, though, that he was put down by quarantine officials in 1945 – heartless bastards.  We stopped for a cuppa and to give him a pat.


Two hours more and we were back home to our boys, Paddy and Mick.  The Breva clicked over 75,000km on the trip, so time for an oil change.

1 Comment

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One response to “Bill the Bastard and other Fables

  1. Larry & Norma Blackmore

    Love your travels Mackers and your write – ups are excellent. Well done mate.

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