The first horse set foot in Australia on 30 January 1788, one of seven aboard the First Fleet’s Lady Penrhyn, which also carried a cargo of female convicts.
From then on, horses carried explorers who opened up the country to settlement. They carried Aboriginal mounted police, trained as ruthless killers of their own people. Horses, often fine stolen animals, carried bushrangers who ruled the roads and bailed up townships: ‘gentleman’ Matthew Brady, ‘brave’ Ben Hall and the towering, controversial Ned Kelly. Horses carried men to war. Some 120,000 horses were sent to World War I battlefields: only one was brought home.
Horses helped build the nation, marshalling the great flocks and herds, helping to create its myths. As they have since the early days of the colony, they carry our bets and, like the mighty Phar Lap in the Depression days, they have the power to lift our spirits.
Cameron Forbes, author of the acclaimed Hellfire and The Korean War, uses the motif of the horse to tell the wider Australian story of settlement, exploration, dispossession and warfare. Australia on Horseback is a masterful achievement, a comprehensively researched and beautifully told history of a developing nation and a powerful tribute to the horse – bearer of men, hopes, fears and dreams.