As you might know, I love delving deep into the old newspapers online and have found some fascinating snippets and stories along the way. That includes this fabulous story about Pete the retired racehorse reflecting on his glory days. We could’ve had a wonderful chat if only he could talk and wasn’t fiction.
Indeed, I enjoyed this story so much, I decided to share it with you. There are a few bits of text I couldn’t make out and as it as written in the 1940s, the language is a bit dated but it’s still a fabulous, fast-paced tale. I hope you enjoy it!
OLD PETE By FRED GARDINER
OLD PETE was a vegetarian by Nature’s laws ordained.
And the monotony of it, the— yes, the humility of it, even, never once roused complaint in his patient soul.
But what did cause resentment was the indubitable fact that his diet was restricted to the unfermented type of vegetation.
Chaff, for instance; chaff, chaff, chaff. Crunch, crunch, crunch. No snap, crackle, and pop; just plain, crunch, crunch, crunch.
There was an element in the daily life of Pete that disturbed the old warrior muchly.
An element? Hardly. Almost it was an aura.
Everywhere he went, he smelt it, that aura; for actually, though he did not know it, yeast was the very essence of his daily life for Pete. He smelt it at his work, at rest, in his dreams—for old horses do dream.
And yeast has engendered a thirst in many a good man, an unquenchable thirst for—yeast. An irritating, insinuating, invigorating, inspiriting—ah, that, was it, an inspiriting desire.
For Pete in his young days had been SOMETHING.
And in those halcyon days he had quaffed the nut-brown ale, gallons of it.
As Prince – Peter, the topweight, he had gracefully cavorted to the cheers of the multitude and scornfully ignored the scowls of vengeful “barvons.” Then the smell of the tan was his aura, and beer was the nectar of Mammon, a reward for services rendered.
Later, much later, forgotten by his many spouses of the seasons that had flown by, forgotten, almost, by those for whom he had won small fortunes, his memorial merely a hyphenated allusion in sundry race-books, he had yet held his own with the others on the bakery rounds.
But nowadays the fellows at the brewery over the road from the bakehouse had taken to casting aspersions and crusts of their lunch in his direction, and referred to him as “Old Pete, the Hat Rack.”
How were they to know that, as Prince Peter, he had helped to make their industry? He had trained on barrels of beer. It had been his inspiration.
But who would buy a bucket of beer for the old chap now? He was but a pan-handler among his kind!
At the thought, resentment welled in his vast gullet to quench his thirst.
But-his cup of bitterness was replete when he saw those mudgudgeon brewers’ horses served their eight buckets of beer each day at noon. Eight buckets each. Placed in a line; and the lazy, sleek, slobbery sloths would – swab six, stamp a hoof in the middle of the seventh, bury their muzzles in the eighth, and blow it to the sky in bubbles.
Disgusting! Not the manners, but the waste.
Eight buckets of beer; and he would win the Cunnamulla Cup—had won it, in fact.
But, who remembered? He neighed in disgust, and blew the chaff out of his nosebag. So the driver, taking this as a sign that Pete had had enough, removed the nosebag before he had half finished his meal.
“Just a plug; how would he know?” thought Pete. “Never mind, it was dry tack, anyhow!”
But Pete was wrong in one particular. Bill, the driver, was not “just a plug.” He had a heart for the old horse, and never hastened to put the bit of servitude back into his mouth.
Which was indiscreet, indeed, in view of the fact that, the stables being at the bakehouse, there was always that aura, that haunting, yeasty, aura.
Came the day when the brewer’s man was late on his run and Old Pete finished early.
The ostler had placed sixteen buckets of beer, in two rows of eight, on the footpath, awaiting the return of the waggon. On the other side of the street Bill had buried Old Pete’s head in -his nosebag, and left him to crunch, crunch, crunch! Which, he did.
The brewery waggon did not arrive. The beer was going flat in the buckets – over the way. , .
Old Pete flicked a fly from his haunches, merely a matter of habit, for he had no mind for the fly; his thoughts were elsewhere…over the road.
Sixteen buckets of beer and him munching chaff! No; he must; dispel the thought. Gone were the days.
It was about the time when Bill helped the baker draw the batch. As the ovens opened, the smell rushed forth like a spirit new-released from Hades.
That aura! What tunes it played in the memory box of Old Pete as it assailed his sensitive, quivering nostrils.
The old horse staggered in the face of temptation, actually staggered at the knees; his head fell mutely, the nosebag touched, the ground and slowly fell off. Then, he was over the road in a jiffy, the bit- jangling uselessly from his jaws. Over the road and into those buckets…one, two, three,., sharp-firing; four, five, six, quick time; seven, eight, nine, ten—not out and six to go. Eleven, he was slowing up. Then, deliberately, twelve; thirteen for bakers’ luck and fourteen, fif-t-e-e-n.’ Smack went his hoof through the bottom of the sixteenth bucket to show his independence.
They called him Old Pete! Him! His mane bristled with indignation, his withers itched, his sides quivered as though at the spur. Well, he’d show them, if burst he would!
As he whirled round the corner, hanged if he didn’t hear the old cry again: “Runaway, runaway!”
That’s what they used to shout out there at. Cunnamulla—”He’s run away with the field. Good old Prince Peter! Oh, you bonzer!”
Well, he’d give ’em a go for it.
Into Parramatta-road he swung, heading west, and a motor horn tooted. Motors? Sacrilege! “Get my dust!” he snorted, tossing his old head in contempt.
Peter left the body of the baker’s cart at Lawson, and the shafts fall away at Wentworth Falls.
With one ear well back and the other forward, he crammed oh. the heat; not hard, you – know,. but just hard enough to give that motor socks.
And the crowds along the great thoroughfare roared: “Runaway, runaway!” ‘
Encouragement.That was the spice of life to an old trouper like Pete.
At Burwood a bluebird shot out from a side street and joined in the chase. Vainly the cops tried to head him off. Pete threw his head high and snorted a frothy snort of sheer contempt. Then he clapped the heat full on.
“Gosh, that old cripple’s’ doing, fifty!” gasped Constable Boot in the bluebird.
“Shut up, or you’ll have me crash!” snapped the copper at the wheel.
They flashed through Granville…first the turnout, with Pete in full command: next the bluebird, x with two grim-faced, cops wondering whether they would see their wives or the hospital that night; and. after, them an assortment of vehicles that took up the chase for awhile, and fell out as their engines ran hot.
By sheer luck Pete took the turnoff to the Mountains at Parramatta—or it may have been instinct. The traffic cop there took the rest of the day off.
On the straight to Penrith the pace became too hot for the bluebird. When the needle wavered around seventy going through St. Marys the bluebird drew out and phoned to have the runaway headed off at Penrith.
At Kingswood the first wheel came off, and at Emu Plains the second.
The message to head Pete off at Penrith reached there as he was sailing past Lapstone. (He is heading up the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney)
Pete left the body of the baker’s cart at Lawson, and the shafts fell away at Wentworth Falls. He slipped the harness at Leura.
Hasty messages had been flashed to Katoomba, where Pete’s arrival was anticipated.
Both railway gates were shut and a goods train had been drawn up on the level crossing.
Pete saw this as he came round the turn near the hospital—so clapped on speed.
“Just a brush hurdle!” he snickered. Sparks flew from his shoes as he landed in front of the Carrington and stream of Are rose: from the tar as he skidded to the foot of Katoomba-street.
Both sides of the thoroughfare were lined with people, who roared their encouragement…”Runaway, runaway !”
The old fellow, tossed the foanr to left and right of his: gallant head in sheer enjoyment; What a race! And he had oceans to .spare.
But as he turned off around the falls and headed for Narrow Neck he began to fancy another drink. Fifteen buckets more he reckoned, and he would tackle Govett’s Leap, yes.Upwards!
What Pete did not know was that it was pay day at the mine.
So when he saw Paddy O’Flynn staggering along the bush track with the boys dye-gallon on his shoulders, who was Pete to recognise the ethics that imposed upon Pat a sacred trust to deliver the goods or be damned.
And who was Paddy to know that he stood in the path of a noble soul seeking sanctuary!
“Howly Mercy!” Paddy howled as the shock-maned; wall-eyed, foam-flecked apparition pounded after him. “Glory be, if it ain’t the Bull of Bashan his very self, the craytur!”
Paddy went off at a gallop, with old Pete hard behind.
When it looked as if he were to be crushed beneath the flailing hoofs, Pat
dropped the barrel to bless himself which .was his salvation. He scooted into the bush as Pete propped hard at the obstacle in his path.
Suspiciously he eyed it; then sniffed. That aura! For a fleeting second, a crushing homesickness seized him and he thought—what matter his thoughts?
So Pete spurned the thing – that was like to soften him, stamped on it in his anger— and ‘stove in the end: Glorious, sparkling amber ale, fresh from the wood. And Govett’s Leap was ahead.
The old fellow buried his muzzle right up to – his eyebrows, and drank, drank, drank until he licked the bottom. ”
What was that about Govett’s Leap? Well, maybe—tomorrow!
The sun was setting and his sight grew dim, so he sought a sheltered spot, there, to rest until…
The bakehouse whistle, blew, and Bill, the driver sauntered out to put the bit of’ servitude into the old prad’s mouth. He found Pete, dead in the shafts.
World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), Saturday 7 March 1942, page 16