Thursday, October 15, 2015

Australia's Alwyn Torenbeek - Gone but not Forgotten

by Paul Sidio

We went to Australia for the 2013 Tom Quilty held at Kilkavin Queensland. My hosts, who provided my horse, set up camp there 4 days early. Instead of staying in town at a hotel or B & B, I camped out in a tent. The campsite next to us had been saved for a friend of theirs, Alwyn. He was staying at a friends place about 7 miles away. Every morning, he would saddle up before sun rise, and ride over to the camp. His reason for this was to brew a cup of tea over a wood fire. Alwyn later confided in me that most of his life had been in settings like this, and tea made over a gas or electric stove just wasn't as good somehow. He would arrive there, putter about, singing and getting his iron tea pot ready while the fire got hot. This would get me awake, so, I would revive the embers of the previous nights bonfire, and start to clean up around it.

When his tea was ready, Alwyn would come over, sit down, and start telling stories. He was called the Kokotunga Kid because he was a champion rodeo rider at the age of 21. But to me, he was always a kid. Most people, as the age become older acting..more solemn, grave, slower.... .Alwyn always had a smile and attitude of a lively kid. His body may have got to be 76 years old, but he still had the heart and spirit of a young person.

After he finished his tea, he would get on his horse and ride back the 7 miles to his friends house. Jane Davidson, told me to tack up my horse and ride with him. Riding through the Australian brush early in the morning on a good horse with a good companion is about as good as life gets. We would jump up Kangaroos, and Alwyn would tell more stories and occasionally burst into song. I would join in, making up lyrics as we went along . Alwyn would sing something like "It's 2 in the morning, and I'm walking with my darling" and I would respond " No you bloody fool, it's closer to 5, and everyone's still in bed" then he would sing back, " well its time for the lazy buggers to get up and work" .. It was silly stuff,but great fun.

So over the days he and I became friends. Alwyn had a fun way of riding Endurance. He would walk his horse up to the front to be ready for the start. Some of the more anxious riders would crowd past him to be in front at the start. He would just calmly sit there with his horse standing still in place. Then when they would announce that trail was open, he would call out a couee, and take off at a gallop. A Couee is the Aussie equivalent of a Rebel Yell. The cattle stations all had their own Couee so the riders could identify each other in the big herd musters. Alwyn would let out this yell, gallop out of camp, with his right arm raised cracking an imaginary whip, finishing up with a loud Hut! HUT!, Hut! . He did this while leaving camp after every vet check too. Other riders learned not to push in front of Alwyn at the start if their horse spooked at people behind them yelling. He completed the 2013 Quilty in fine fashion at the age of 76.

The Quilty had regular BC judging, and then the Pat Slater Cup, which is their version of The Haggin Cup. This is done under saddle and judged by a panel of distinguished Endurance people. I asked several people what the judges were looking for in selecting the top horse. They gave me technical answers about for and movement. Alwyn, with a twinkle in his eye said, "if you were in a spot of trouble, and needed to make a quick exit from town, and there was a string of these horses tied up to the rail, we choose the one you would grab to outrun the rest" That attitude sums up Alwyn.

After the Quilty, he came over to me and handed me his Quilty bib. His number was #76. They always gave him a number to match his age. I thanked him, but told him I already had a Quilty bib of my own. He said that he had wanted to ride Tevis, like his mate RM Williams had done. He wanted me to take his bib, and wear it in rides in America, and hopefully he would come to the USA someday and also wear it here. He told me to get some dust and mud on it, and even a tear or rip or two was ok, but that I should try to not get it too bloody. I took it and have ridden in it in several rides. In 2014, I asked Tevis ride management if I could be #76, and they let me. We completed, and I called him after the ride to tell him that his bib had completed Tevis, so now he needed to get over here too.

After the Quilty, Alwyn told me that he was going home to take care things for a couple of days, then taking fresh horses and going into the Outback for a week or so camping out. There were some caves with aboriginal art that he liked to sit in and relax. He invited me along. He said we had to be careful, as these places were off limits without a permit, and if the law caught us, we could go to prison. But he was not worried as he would pick out a slower horse for me than his, so they would catch me, while he got away. I told him that it sounded like a great trip, but it would likely cost me half my stuff. He was puzzled by this. I told him that my wife had been very supportive of my horse trip, so far, but if I took off for a week, I might wind up a single man again with only half of my stuff. He laughed and laughed about that.

That was how he was, happy, ready for adventure, and quick to laugh. I hate that he is gone, but better quick and doing what he loved , than in a hospital bed hooked up to machines. He was a legend in Australia, and I am proud to have known him and called him Mate… Gone but not forgotten.