Honest John

Words adapted from Jim Harper’s poem, The Old Bark Hut. Music by Jim Low
The old bark pub – illustration by Jim Low

The song Honest John is an adaptation of Harper’s poem The Old Bark Pub. A photograph of the hotel titled “First Hotel and Store Angledool -1878” appears in Memories Of Angledool. It is described by Harper as “a long, rough building, the walls being of round pine timber, the roof of bark.” 1  

The old hotel was built by Henry Hatfield and was run by John Merry. Apparently his daughter was the first white female born in Angledool. When Merry left the old bark pub he only moved a mile or so up the road to New Angledool where he built another hotel. Before the first hotel was bought and demolished by the blacksmith, Harper’s family lived in this old building. It stood opposite the Commercial Hotel, which was also built by Hatfield, and was opened around 1880.

Out on the dull old Narran side
Out where the runs are wild and wide
Honest John bought the right to rule
The first pub opened in Angledool.

It wasn’t a building of city mark
With its pine slab walls and its roof of bark
It was just a pub, it was plain and rough
It suited the times and was good enough.

And what did the men in those wild days care
If the house was rough, if the grog was fair
Though the bushmen came from near and far
To cash their cheques at the old bark bar.

And those were the cheques that could raise a grin
And those were the fellows that could do them in
They stained their flannels with blood and beer
And never a policeman to interfere.

And Honest John had a game to play
A game not seen in the pubs today
And the boys that spreed in the old bark pub
Were mannered only to suit the scrub.

And to win from them when you got a start
A man had need of a head and a heart
And John had both and a tip or two
From the devil himself so he battled through.

And Time marched by with its giant stride
And changes came to the Narran side
Better houses were built and sold
The old bark pub had the call to go.

It stood at the bottom of the hill for years
A monument to departed beers
And an eyesore too to a thriving town
Till the smithy bought it and pulled it down.

And years have fallen on Honest John
But he’s just as solid as in days agone
Running a business up to date
Coining cash at a princely rate.

But it isn’t strange that when trade is slack
That his memory crowds him and takes him back
To the roaring days on the mulga scrub
And the cheques that he cashed at the old bark pub.

1 Memories Of The Angledool, edited and published by P. Cross, p.2

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Martini’s Buckjumping Show to be Sold

© Chris Woodland

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At Goulburn the great travelling Martini’s Buckjumping Show held its Farewell Season.

The Goulburn Evening Post of 3 February 1910 announced:

It is announced that this famous and well-established company is to give its farewell season in Goulburn, opening on Saturday next. The company since its appearance here last has met with the best of success throughout its Victorian tour, giving a record season in Melbourne during last Cup week. The stud consists of 40 notorious outlaws, including the champion Bobs. The pick of Australia’s best riders will be headed by Billy Jonas. The Meryl Bros. give a clever sharp-shooting performance, and Mena Val performs a pleasing trick cycling and wire-walking feat. Any local outlaw which is brought to the show will be ridden, and £5 is still to be got by any person riding Bobs for one minute on condition that the horse is ridden the same way as all the local horses and the horses belonging to the show are ridden by the showmen. The box plan is now open at William’s. The show is to be given in a paddock, opposite the railway station.


Martini’s Buckjumping Show to be Sold

The shock announcement came on Wednesday 4 May. The Referee advertised that Martini’s Buckjumping Show was for sale as a going concern and applications were to be made by letter to the Referee office. The great Australian travelling show had reached the end of the road.

Performers now had to find other employment as noted in August of that same year when the press stated that:

Miss Mena Val, trick cyclist, is noted as: a performer for Barton’s Circus … late of Martini’s buckjumping show.

It was not until 6 February 1911 that the Newsletter of Sydney reported:

The ‘whole stud’ of Martini’s celebrated buckjumpers have been purchased by a syndicate, and are now in charge of Mr Fred Harvey, of St Marys. They are shortly to be shipped to England, where the syndicate intends giving an exhibition at the Coronation of King George V.

Saltbush Mills was already performing in England and was now astonishing the English in the old country with his whip cracking abilities, such as putting out a candle and playing God Save the King. Whether he had exchanged his long whip for one of shorter length or not is questionable because he was said to be using a ’40-ft stock whip’. His 54 or 55ft stockwhip must have either shrunk or been replaced by a shorter one. A whip of that length would normally be referred to as a bullock whip, such a whip requiring two hands to operate, whereas the stockwhip only requires one hand and is usually used from horseback.

The contingent set sail for England on 13 March complete with 24 horses, including the invincible Bobs. The former Martini’s show was to meet up in England with Phillip Lytton’s Australian Buckjumping Show, in India. The combined show consisted of riders Jack Morrissey (also a whip cracker), Jonas, Lee, Thorpe McConville (NSW), Hawkins (Qld), E Lloyd (Vic) and Pascoe (NZ). Their star rider was the capable and popular Billy Waite. They now had 56 horses, mules and ponies, along with associated gear.



Waite and the Dempseys Go into Business
End of the Road for Martini

© Chris Woodland

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Waite and the Dempseys go into Business

There is no doubt that Martini and Waite were very close, but Waite decided to try and make it on his own along with Harry Dempsey and his two sons. Unfortunately, this new buckjumping show was short of suitable horses, which held them back at the beginning. Their first performance was behind Hankinson’s Stores in Narrandera in the first week in May 1907 and it was a noted success, though the lack and variety of horses and mules, compared to that Martini possessed, was noted.

Martini’s Buckjumping Show now headed through Moree (Kirby’s paddock in Boston Street); Inverell (Federal Hotel in Evans Street), and onto Warialda, returning again to Inverell where they enjoyed good attendances, but poor weather. From Inverell they made their way across to Glen Innes for 5 June. Rain was to upset the show’s schedule delaying the opening at Glen Innes until 22 June, though somehow fitting in a night at Tingha where a Cecil McArdle was thrown from the pony Bulls Wool and injured an arm. The opening night at Glen Innes was disappointing as the ground was very slippery and the show did not come up to the audience’s expectations because management would not permit the main attraction, the outlaw Bobs, to perform his whirlwind act.

Their timetable, like the weather, was a mess. It is possible that they missed their programmed visit to Guyra to get to the larger town of Armidale where they were already overdue. From there they were to visit Hillgrove, Uralla and Tamworth. However, problems more serious than the weather were to intervene with catastrophic results.

Mr Ramsay’s Paddock, near the Royal Hotel in Armidale on 29 June was to be the venue for the anxiously awaited opening of the famed Martin’s Buckjumping Show. The Armidale Chronicle displayed an advertisement claiming that the champion Bobs and the original Dargin’s Grey would be there, as would eight buckjump riders, Fun in a Stockyard, and just about anything else that could be ridden, or perhaps not.

Alas, the opening did not occur.

End of the Road for Martini

During the day Martini drove a wagonette out to a local sawmill to get a load of sawdust to cover the ground at the arena for the night’s performance, as was the usual practice. While Martini was negotiating the two horses, a train blew its whistle and the horses took fright and bolted. Martini was thrown to the ground and his legs became entangled in the reins. His leg was seriously injured and he received other injuries, apparently internal ones. He received 17 stitches in his leg (later it was said that there were 27 stitches and another paper stated there were 23.) The papers stated that it was thought that Martini was recovering, however he died about 6 o’clock the following Tuesday morning, 3 July. He was 39 years of age. His remains were trained to Sydney on the same day. On the Friday following his death the Armidale Express published the following account of his death:

The End of Martini. — We reported in our last issue the unfortunate and serious accident that befell Mr. Martini, the proprietor of the famous buckjumping show, at Mr. Nott’s sawmills on Saturday last, when, by the horses he was driving suddenly plunging forward, he was precipitated from his high seat on to the shafts of the vehicle, where a hook gashed his thigh in a horrible manner, necessitating the insertion of 23 stitches. On Monday Mr. Martini was progressing most favourably and hopes of his early recovery were entertained. At 5 o’clock next morning, however, he appeared to be very much worse, and, before assistance could be summoned, the popular and respected showman had peacefully passed away. Internal injuries are believed to have been the real cause of his death. Mrs. Martini was with her husband to the end, and was naturally completely overcome by the shocking suddenness of his demise. Mr. H. Ramsay, licensee of the Royal Hotel, where the death occurred, closed his premises on Tuesday out of respect to the deceased showman. Genuine sympathy was expressed in this city for Mrs. Martini when the sad news became known. Mr. Martini, or Martin Brehney [sic] as his real name was, was a native of Araluen, N.S.W., and had had 25 years’ experience in show business in Australia. His first experience in the buck-jumping line was in 1890, when he toured Australia with an American show, but coming to the conclusion that Americans were no class with Australians as buckjump riders, he eventually commenced on his own account, the genuineness of his show from its initiation being responsible for its great success throughout, Mr. Martini has died a wealthy man. The remains were taken to Sydney by Tuesday evening’s mail [train], where the interment took place in Waverley cemetery on Wednesday. The company will not perform at Armidale now, but on the return of Mrs. Martini, who will carry on the show, will proceed farther down the line.

Martini’s funeral was held in Sydney on Thursday, just two days following his death. The funeral left his parents’ residence in Windsor Street, Paddington at 2.30 pm for the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Waverley. Later, Martini’s ‘wife’ was to place a bronze relief of Martini’s favourite horse on this impressive grave and one has to wonder whether it was Bobs or Dargan’s Grey that was the featured horse.

Many people were heartbroken, as Martini was not only very popular but his death came as such a shock as he was still so young. Billy Waite was heartbroken.

Newspapers carried the sad news of Martini’s unexpected and tragic death across the country. Sydney’s Evening News added that a younger Martini had appeared at the old Alhambra at Sydney’s Haymarket and at the Sydney Tivoli. Another paper reiterated that the deceased had been the Australian champion triple bar performer.

The premature death of Martin Breheney, known to most by his show business name as James, or J Martini, was slowly, but eventually to fade from the collective social memory. He was to be remembered by the few who knew him as the proprietor of the outlaw buckjumper Bobs, who was successfully ridden by one of Australia’s most famous roughriders, Lance Skuthorpe.

Born on the goldfields of the picturesque Araluen Valley – to where he most likely never returned – to be trained in gymnastics as a child, to travel as a showman over most of Australia, to develop successful entrepreneurial and business skills, and to be respected by most who knew him, particularly his staff, made him a very extraordinary person. He was also known for his colourful turn of phrase. One can only wonder at the possible future he was denied. The final achievements as the owner of a travelling show and his possibilities as a parent were never to be tested when he died in his fortieth year. It is said that the show must go on, as did Martini’s Buckjumping Show, but without Martini it was never to be the same.