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Two Horse Troughs


This article was first published in the  White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.247 on 13 December 2007

Bills Horse Trough

The walking tour has stopped while the guide tells them about “this lovely old building dating back to the elegant days of Melbourne”. It is actually a faked-up façade in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe Style that was whacked on in the 1950s but always proves popular with tourists. At the back of the tour group and completely unnoticed is a humble horse trough. It is made from cheap concrete and has the small inscription “Annis & George Bills”. In early Melbourne the horse was the car, motorbike, bus and truck of Melbourne while the bullock was the semi-trailer and road train. At one stage, Melbourne had over a million working horses and they helped shape Melbourne. The low bridges over the Yarra which were to eventually block any serious shipping out of the city were created to accommodate the horses pulling heavy loads that would not have been able to negotiate the steep incline of a high arched bridge.

A working horse needs over 50 litres of water per day. During winter there were plenty of watercourses and there was always Lake Cashmore in the city, but come summer the horses were often driven many hard miles between available drinks. Annis and George Bills were philanthropists who were concerned about the welfare of horses and other animals and set about providing mass produced horse troughs across Australia. The little horse trough seems to me to have a much more important story to tell than the 1950s façade but I am in the minority because another walking tour is waiting impatiently for the current one to move along so that they can learn about the “lovely old building - and judging by the narration style of the guides, if the trough is noticed by a participant, the guide is likely to be refer to it as a "horse hydration station".

Horse trough

Across town the bus has paused briefly while the tour guide explains the significance of the buildings in the distance. Nobody notices the horse trough in the foreground. It once stood in St Kilda Road but has now been shifted here. In WWI horses provided much of the ‘grunt’ for the Australian troops, hauling provisions, heavy artillery and other necessities. Particularly prized were the Australian bred Station Horses and Walers (short for New South Walers). Bred for the harsh conditions of outback stations they were well adapted for desert work. When the Australian Light Horse was instructed to take Beersheba they had to cross a tract of waterless desert. Thirsty men and horses arrived within sight of Beersheba protected by Turkish artillery. They decided the only option was to charge. The sturdy Walers were not only capable of carrying a heavy load but could move from a trot to a gallop without the intermediate canter. The speed of the Australian’s charge surprised the Turks who were not able to adjust the range of their artillery in time before the Australians were ‘under the guns’ and a combination of men and horses had taken Beersheba in one of Australia’s great military victories. Due to quarantine, none of the Walers ever returned to Australia.

The guide continues to read from her guidebook while none notice the horse trough in front of them which was erected to the memory of war horses. Its simple inscription reads:

"He gains no crosses as a soldier may,
no medals for the many risks he runs,
he only, in his puzzled, patient way,
'sticks to his guns'"

Here at White Hat we may be a little strange but we often find that it is the simple unobtrusive monuments that can give more of a feeling for Melbourne rather than the ones you find in the guide books and the official tourist guides.

 

BL

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Other articles in the series Seven Monuments of Melbourne:

Seven Monuments of Melbourne - overview

No.1 – A Monument to Sydney-Melbourne Rivalry
No.2 – Two Yarra Bookends
No.3 - An Antarctic Monument
No.4 – Troubles on the other side of the world
No.5 - A Plaque but no Statue
No.6 - Two Pillars of Melbourne
No.7 - Two Horse Troughs


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