Salute for bridge boy who rode into his­tory

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - PETER LALOR Peter Lalor wrote about Len­nie’s jour­ney in his book The Bridge, pub­lished by Allen & Un­win, 2005

Cap­tain Fran­cis de Groot, with his bor­rowed horse and crazy sword, stole the show, but it is a nine-year-old boy and his beloved pony’s pres­ence at the open­ing of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge 85 years ago that is be­ing cel­e­brated in the tiny town of Leon­gatha to­day.

Len­nie Gwyther, a qui­etly de­ter­mined sol­dier’s son, rode his horse Ginger Mick from the fam­ily’s mod­est farm, Flers in Leon­gatha, to Syd­ney to be at the event.

The school­boy rode all 930km alone and bare-legged, spooked by ho­bos and chased by the flames of a dev­as­tat­ing bush­fire, a sou’wester atop his combed hair.

He left town on Wed­nes­day, Fe­bru­ary 3, show day, his anx­ious mother and sib­lings waving him off. He packed lightly, car­ry­ing a swag and a pack of sweets pushed into his hands by his younger sis­ter Beryl as he set off.

Len­nie’s jour­ney along the back­roads and through the high coun­try be­gan qui­etly enough, but as word of his feat spread so did his fame and by the time he reached Syd­ney in early March thou­sands turned out to greet him at Martin Place.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing him off,” Beryl told The Week­end Aus­tralian. “I also re­mem­ber the civic re­cep­tion when he got home but it was never a big deal. I think the statue they have built is per­fect, it’s not a for­mal statue and that suits my brother and our fam­ily per­fectly.”

Asked by the lo­cal news­men, Len­nie con­ceded Syd­ney was “bonzer” but deemed the at­ten­tion “most pes­tif­er­ous”. Sou­venir hunters pluck­ing hairs from Ginger Mick’s tail did not im­press the wide-eyed visi­tor.

In Leon­gatha to­day the lo­cals and mem­bers of Len­nie’s fam­ily will at­tend a small cer­e­mony to un­veil a statue for the boy, his horse and his in­cred­i­ble feat.

Alerted to Len­nie’s feat, com­mu­nity mem­bers formed a com­mit­tee to raise funds for the project. The lo­cal school put on a mu­si­cal about his jour­ney and ticket tak­ings were do­nated.

Beryl Fer­rier, now 92, will be at the cer­e­mony along with Len­nie’s daugh­ter, Mary, who says her self-ef­fac­ing fa­ther would “be quite amazed — he wouldn’t un­der­stand the fuss of it”.

Mary grew up aware of the ride and in­her­ited the cricket bat au­to­graphed by Don Brad­man and given to Len­nie when he passed through Can­berra but says he never spoke much about it.

“He wasn’t a brag­ger re­ally, he never made a big thing of it,” Ms Gwyther said. “I asked him once if he ever wanted to turn back and he said that one night a hobo jumped out and scraped him a bit but that was the only time.”

The road in 1932 was full of itin­er­ants in search of work, flushed from their homes by the Great De­pres­sion. Many of them worked on the bridge.

Len­nie’s fa­ther, Cap­tain Leo Gwyther, was a war hero, dec­o­rated with Mil­i­tary Cross and Bar. In the win­ter of 1931 he broke his leg in an ac­ci­dent and the boy shoul­dered the bulk of the farm work, milk­ing the cows and har­ness­ing a four-horse team to plough and har­row the fields.

On re­turn his fa­ther asked him what re­ward he wanted in re­turn. Len­nie, who was ob­sessed by ma­chin­ery and en­gi­neer­ing, said he wanted to make the jour­ney.

Beryl re­calls Len­nie be­ing some­thing of an in­ven­tor. He built a hand-pump wash­ing ma­chine for his mother to which he later added a mo­tor, a land yacht for his sib­lings to ride on the farm and a boat to sail on the dam.

Later he built a home for his mother and was well into the construction of a yacht in the back­yard of his Mel­bourne home when he died.

Ginger Mick, who was born the same year as Len­nie and given to the boy when he was a tod­dler, won a rib­bon at the Moss Vale show on the way to the bridge for best pony and boy rider un­der 10. The red horse lived to be 27 and was buried at Flers.

A song writ­ten by Bernard Wheat­ley about the jour­ney will be per­formed at to­day’s cer­e­mony in Leon­gatha.

Len­nie was sup­posed to catch a boat home from Syd­ney but con­vinced his fa­ther that he should be al­lowed to ride back — through Mel­bourne this time.

‘I also re­mem­ber the civic re­cep­tion when he got home but it was never a big deal’ BERYL FER­RIER ON LEN­NIE’S RIDE

Len­nie Gwyther on Ginger Mick dur­ing his 930km ride from Leon­gatha to Syd­ney 85 years ago

AARON FRAN­CIS

Beryl Fer­rier with a statue of her brother Len­nie Gwyther

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