Five men sit astride their horses in an open paddock
Samuel Horden on the ground is talking with Franz who is mounted.
“Ok Franz, everything is organised and will all be in place by the time the Team arrives.”
“Thank you Samuel , are you sure we can’t find you a horse so you can join us?”
“No thanks very much, I’ll leave you to the riding and I’ll look after the politics and the money.”
Horden watched the Team as they rode off calmly across beautiful, lush, green fields whilst ahead in the distance, lay rugged sandstone escarpments, rising like huge walls built by some ancient giant to protect something very special.
Over the next five days, Mairinger would get a better understanding of the men and who they really were. He would develop a respect for this magnificent country he now called home. It would help him to see how his Team had been shaped as men. Though this was a team-building exercise, Franz would see the strengths and weaknesses of every man and they may well see the same of him.
The glimpse Franz got of the Australian riders at the first Games had impressed him and they had come from a different world to him, it may just as well have been a different planet. He wanted some of what they had and in time, he would give them some of what he had, which they needed. He had no doubt that once the polish had been applied, the tenacity, competitiveness and the love for their horses would shine through. The incident with Crago and the horse at the first Games had left an indelible mark on the soul of this great horseman.
The men had ridden for some hours talking and joking amongst themselves, whilst revealing some of their individual histories, whilst really getting to know each other. Eventually, the magnificent Illawarra escarpment rose in front of them, the eastern face of The Great Dividing Range where it almost met the sea. From a distance, the huge vertical cliffs seemed impenetrable; the upper part of the escarpment seemed to reach the sky and was shrouded in soft white clouds. The land in front of the escarpment was lush, green dairy country – the drought proof pasture of the South Coast of New South Wales.
Mairinger viewed this wonderful environment, “Beautiful country Bill, it reminds me of parts of Austria where I grew up. It seems that Austria and Australia have some things in common. I must say though, I wouldn’t call these mountain ranges, more like foothills!”
Roycroft replied, “Beautiful country alright, this is some of the most productive dairy land in Australia. Funny, some city folk would call this the bush, but this isn’t the bush. We’ll find the bush up there.”
They all looked to the top of the escarpment where a large eagle could be seen circling and calling. The white clouds were rapidly changing and building in height and density and it was apparent a thunderstorm was building and approaching.
“Kookaburras are laughing loudly Mairinger, they seem to be laughing at us!” continued Roycroft.
Morgan, in his time-to-get-things-done voice replies, “They will be if we don’t get a move on. It’s gonna piss down, we need to get to the foot of the escarpment before dark to set up camp.”
Crago, looking to Morgan with a cheeky childish grin, said, “What do you say Laurie? Murder run?”
Morgan smiles knowingly in return, “Sounds good to me!”
Lavis and Mairinger look confused whilst Crago smiles and Roycroft agrees, “I’m in.”
Lavis asks the question, “What’s a murder run?”
Morgan explains, “Let’s call it a training exercise, we pick a point, let’s say that waterfall in the distance,” Morgan points toward the escarpment where a waterfall can be seen tumbling down the cliffs and disappearing into the rainforest directly at its base. The distance seemed relatively short, it is an illusion created by the stone walls towering skywards and the steep pasture leading up to those walls. In reality, it was a good five kilometres. Over that distance the beautiful dairy country gradually gives way to more and more dense bushland. The going becomes more rugged with creeks, gullies, washaways, and green paddocks turning to wilderness near the base of the escarpment. The clouds above were looking more and more ominous.
Morgan continued his explanation, “and we ride in a straight line as fast as possible from here to there, no deviations, no shirking. What do you think Franz – are you in?”
“For now Laurie, you are calling the shots.”
Before anyone could speak, Roycroft called, “Follow me.” and he was off at the gallop, with the others following close behind.
The group of riders race across the open dairy country, clods of lush green pasture and moist dark soil thrown up by the hooves whilst cattle scattered to make way for the racing horses. The first galloping stretch is along two kilometers of slightly rising, undulating country with rabbits running for cover as the group quickly approached. The slope of the first stretch takes the edge off the horses but they are supremely fit and do not tire. Eventually, the paddock must end and as a barbed wire fence loomed, the riders came to a screaming halt and it appeared that another route must be found.
Mairinger, out of breath asks, “What now, where is the gate?” Roycroft, without comment, rides up to the fence, removes his oilskin coat and spreads it over the barbed wire. “‘No deviations’.” He quoted as he rode away from the fence line. Crago is ahead of him and he rides towards the fence where the oilskin is draped over, giving enough substance against the treacherous barbed wire for his horse, Solo, to draw confidence and pick a takeoff point. Solo jumps the fence comfortably and the other riders follow suit. As Roycroft jumps the fence last, he whisks the coat from the fence and the Team continued on.
The men ride a crazy, dangerous game of follow the leader and huge fallen trees are no obstacles. The horses jump them with a joyous zeal, they zig zag through groves of young saplings and the bush around them becomes thicker and the terrain more treacherous, all the while the storm above threatens to break and the horses power down into deep washaways, sometimes almost sitting on their haunches on the steep banks. They then drive powerfully up the other side, with thunder booming and lighting flashing across the sky.
The horses and men are at their physical limit, but both relish the fray; this is what riding by the seat of your pants is all about. They jump narrow gullies, splash through creeks and scrub and now enter a deciduous eucalypt forest. Kangaroos scatter and a wombat retreats hastily down his hole at the sound of the thundering hooves. The men ride up the last steep rise as the roof of the forest closes to become the canopy of what is now a rainforest. Huge tree ferns have taken the place of gum trees and the first rain begins to fall in massive droplets with the canopy above protecting the men and horses. The horses gallop on and the ground is now clear of scrubby undergrowth for there in not enough sunlight to support it under the umbrella above. The sound of the waterfall thunders around them as it crashes to the rocks, they are almost there.
Finally, with the horses spent, the men exhausted yet exhilarated, they come upon a large pool at the base of the falls with the spray pushed by the ever-strengthening wind, mingled and mixed with the raindrops. The horses didn’t need to be asked twice, they happily halted. The men, glowing from the rush of the ride, dismounted, breathless, yet still the beauty of the location was not lost, particularly on Franz. He gazed up at the falling water, allowing it to cool his overheated face. There was no point talking, nothing could be heard over the crashing falls, the horses walked into the pool up to their knees and drank steadily. Once they had had their fill, the men led their horses away from the falls to a clearing more suited to set up for the night’s camp.
The murder run complete; there is no victor, no vanquished, but there is mutual respect, the bonding had begun.