Alexander Vindex Vennard (1884-1947), collected yarns, ballads and anecdotes about bush life, which were published for about twenty-five years in a regular column ‘On the Track’ for the “North Queensland Register” and “Townsville Daily Bulletin”. He adopted the pseudonym ‘Bill Bowyang’ after the straps buckled over trousers below the knees. The following article was written by him in 1922.
On the Track – Harry “Breaker” Morant – A Bush Tale
Twelve or fourteen years back there was to be seen on a wall in the bar of the old police-camp hotel near Bowen, a few lines of verse which had been hastily scribbled in pencil. They were signed “The Breaker.” The hotel has passed into other hands since those days, and paint has removed the scrawl that was placed there in a moment of leisure by the now almost forgotten care-free adventurer and reckless horseman, Harry Morant.
Wandering around Queensland I have met many men who were acquainted with this gentleman of fortune, and only a few days back I travelled along a dusty road with an old knight of the swag and billy, who once worked with him on a station near Hughenden. I believe Morant came to North Queensland in 1884 — a new-chum Englishman looking for a job. After walking about Charters Towers for a few weeks he found work on a station as bookkeeper, but within a few days was teaching the stockmen how to ride. He was gifted with the “hands” that make the few men of his calibre in this world equestrian marvels, and soon it was known among the hardy riders of the “Outback” runs that there was a new-chum among them who could sit a buckjumper like a native-born. Morant afterwards returned to the Towers and had many adventures.
He married, but parted from his wife after a brief but stormy partnership at the end of ’84. He was next heard of at Hughenden, then Winton, and because of some cheques that were not in order at the last-named town he made his way to Bowen, where he worked on a station for a few weeks and then caught a boat for Sydney.
Thereafter the outlanding tracks of N.S.W. knew him for many years as one of their own hard-bitten wayfarers. Droving, shearing, drinking, fighting, from the Diamantina to the Murray, this scion of England’s aristocracy lived the hard and exciting life of the bushmen of those earlier days, the wildest of them all. Wherever he fared, some marvellous feat of horsemanship stamped his fame indelibly on the memory of the local bush folk. At Windsor he leaped his horse Cavalier over the five-foot iron picket fence in front of the old historic court house, and broke his shoulder in the smash, for there was not room for a cat to land. As he picked himself up he yelled to the startled spectators of the feat, to look well after the struggling animal. On the lower Murray he once blindfolded an unbroken colt, leaped on it ‘ere a bridle-bit could be snapped into its jaws, and raced it at a barbed wire fence.
Mad-brained fool-hardy feats such as these were “The Breaker’s” ordinary routine. In spare moments he wrote verse for the Sydney “Bulletin” and other papers. Much of the verse is good some of it merely passable; none of it has been collected. Just before he left for the Boer War, he wrote on the back of a cartoon of himself, done by Fred. Leist, his last rhyme written in Australia:
When the last rousing gallop is ended,
And the last post-and-rail has been jumped,
And the cracked neck that cannot be mended
Shall have under the yew-trees been “dumped.”
Just you leave him alone in God’s acre,
And drink in wine, whisky or beer;
“May the saints up above send “The Breaker,
A horse like good old Cavalier.”
Morant joined up with the second contingent of the South Australian Mounted Rifles. Once in the khaki uniform, a marvellous change was wrought in this careless ne’er-do-well. It seemed as though he were determined to rehabilitate himself, for his was a strict devotion to duty. On the field of battle he proved himself to be a brave and gallant gentleman, and hi wonderful horsemanship was noticed by Lord French, who made him his most trusted despatch rider. There is no need to dwell on his tragic end, except to state that on the morning of February 25, 1902, Morant faced a firing squad at Pretoria to answer for the murder of twelve Boers. He went to his death with a reckless laugh, and the ghostly, beckoning hands from the portals of darkness had no terrors for him.