The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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While seeking details regarding Breheney I have had the generous assistance of author Pat Studdy-Clift of Lismore in New South Wales; Jim McJannett of Cape York, researcher of Dargan’s Grey (the famed buckjumper); Breaker Morant aficionado Ted Robl from Victoria, and from helpful Di Moore of West Wyalong, the granddaughter of the ‘lady bushranger’, Jessie Hickman, who joined a circus while still a child and later joined and toured with Martini’s Buckjumpers.

My good friend and Irish-Australian historian Fr Brian Maher was, as usual, also of great assistance, as was author and historian Peter Smith, long-time friend and associate, and presently President of the Braidwood & District Historical Society.

Also, Tony Harmston, a descendant of the Harmston’s Circus family. Tony’s collection assisted my research with details of his family’s circus movements. Thanks also to Peter Bridge of Hesperian Press for his assistance with two photographs.

Martin Breheney’s story would have only consisted of several pages had not the National Library’s wonderful Trove been available.



About the author

Chris Woodland has had a life-long interest in Australian folklore. While his hair was still brown he worked on outback cattle and sheep stations and maintains those earlier associations.

For many years he has made field recordings (housed in the National Library of Australia) of many bush personalities, including (Aboriginal and white) drovers, shearers, isolated women, poets, songwriters singers, veteran soldiers etc. Over the years Chris has been an active member of the Sydney Bush Music Club and Monaro Folk Music Society. He has been a presenter over many years on community radio 2XX in Canberra.

He retired to a few acres near Termeil on the South Coast of NSW in 2002 and then a few kilometres away to Bawley Point in 2015. For several years he ran a course called Wallaby Stew at the Milton-Ulladulla University of the Third Age.

Chris produced a book of historic photos with text on the old gold town of Araluen for the Braidwood & District Historical Society, which has sold well. It was published in 2015, followed by another book published in the same year titled Billy the Blackfella from Bourke, relating the fascinating life of his deceased mate.

Chris now spends most of his time with grandchildren and singing and playing with friends. His group is called AusSongs.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show


© Chris Woodland

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‘Mrs Martini’

Mart’s partner, referred to as Mrs Martini, was actually born Julia Kelson in New Zealand, and was affectionately known as Jewls. As we have seen, her stage name was Jessie Devine. Jessie married M. J. Ryan within two years of Mart’s death. Despite his first initial Julia’s husband was known as James. The Ryans had only one child, Gweneth, who was 22 years of age when her mother died in October 1937 at Burwood, Sydney. Following the sale of the travelling buckjumping show, Ryan became a well know Sydney bookmaker.

Billy Waite

The remarkable life of this amazing man began in July 1880. Billy Waite was reared from an infant on Breadalbane, a sugar cane property near Proserpine, near Mackay in North Queensland. He took his surname from the owner of the property. It was said that his mother was Aboriginal and his father European. He grew into a fine specimen of a young man with an athletic build and handsome features. He was the winner of many foot races in the district.

His life changed dramatically when Martini’s Buckjumping Show came through the district where he and another Aboriginal, Billy Emmerson, were only too keen to accept the proprietor’s challenge to attempt to earn a few pounds and fame by riding the already famous outlaw Dargan’s Grey. Neither Waite or Emmerson stayed in the saddle very long, but Martini was impressed with their ability and offered them a job with his travelling show. As both men were classified as Aboriginal, therefore denied the freedom of movement, the local police would not permit them to leave the district. Journalist and writer Bill Bowyang, who was working at Proserpine at the time, sent a telegram to the local member for Bowen in the Brisbane parliament seeking permission for them.

Two days later as the two horsemen were saddling up to head back to their places of employment, having given up hope of approval, the telegram of consent came through. Though both men were joyously happy at the news, Emmerson decided that buckjumping was not for him and returned home.

The place of this famous horseman’s birth in 1880 is said to have been in either Charters Towers or Proserpine. As mentioned earlier his father was European and his mother was Aboriginal.

During World War 1 Billy Waite and his wife moved to Canada from England where Waite broke in horses for the war effort. The famous Scottish poet, and honorary Australian,was also contributing his bit for the war effort at the same place. (( Ogilvie was in Australia for 12 years from 1888 until 1900. He wrote lyrical bush poems which are some of our best and his poetry is still favoured by many people in the outback. ))

The two must have given the Canadians wonderful displays of buckjumping. (( Apparently, Waite had also broken in horses for the Boer War at Proserpine prior to his meeting up with Martini. ))

Crossing the border into the USA Waite intended to obtain a job with the renowned William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, but was taken up and toured with the Orpheum circuit. Waite and his wife were cracking whips and throwing miniature boomerangs. One of the whips was a 65 ft (19.8 m) whip.
For some years the Waites were touring the American and Canadian vaudeville circuit and Billy won many roughriding contests at rodeos.

An Australian part-time resident of the USA was the renowned Snowy Baker. Baker’s life has filled books telling of his many sporting achievements, boxing, teaching movie stars how to ride and performing on horseback. He is also remembered for his vitriolic attacks on Australia’s young battling hero Les Darcy. While in Chicago the famous cowboy actor Tom Mix told Baker that he had seen Waite ride in an English saddle on the worst bucker they could find. He rode the horse while continually cracking a stockwhip. The Waites were living in Chicago at the time and Billy had given up riding rough uns entirely.

Performer Violet Skuthorpe, the daughter of Lance, while visiting the USA caught up with the Waites in Chicago and brought their best wishes back to their friends in Australia.


The English Experience

Things did not succeed as they had hoped in England for the Australian buckjumpers. Bill Bowyang had the following to say of that tour and of the latter life of Billy Waite and his wife:

Disaster came to the “Wild Australia” show in England. Owing probably to changed climatic conditions the horses would not buck, then someone accused Waite and other riders of using cruel devices to make the animals do their part. The show closed down. Finding himself out of work, Billy Waite went to America, …
We remember him as a fine fellow, a good sport, and one of Australia’s greatest buckjump riders.
(Bill Bowyang, the Daily Mercury, Mackay, Qld, Sat 11 Feb 1938.)

The same author had noted in August 1931 that Billy Waite had joined the famous Scottish poet, Will Ogilvie, in breaking horses for the war effort in Canada.


Bobs the Bryamine Outlaw

Bobs, 1911

It is unknown how or where this legendary buckjumper died. It can be sadly assumed that the horse was treated similarly to the whalers that left Australian shores for the battles of WW 1, that is, because of Australia’s strict quarantine laws, they were not allowed to return to Australia. When the short-lived English performances wound up the show horses would have been sold off to other performing shows or to carriers who would have used them as harness horses for deliveries. Bobs passing would certainly have been a vastly different end to that which Dargan’s Grey experienced. The grey was with the show until his end, was respected and would have been kindly treated. Unluckily, the once famous Bryamine Outlaw was in a different environment all together. Different owner(s), who possibly had little or no knowledge of his colourful past. A different, colder climate and unfamiliar sounds, including voices, would have been exceedingly confusing for the old champion. It is not surprising that the news of his death might not have been received in his country of birth and fame, as the war to end all wars was probably in its brutal throes at the time. Fortunately, he will always be remembered, if only for his conquest by Lance Skuthorpe at what is today Eddy Avenue in Sydney in March 1906.


Jack Dempsey, Rider and Runner

This second youngest son of Harry Dempsey, as we have seen, was a well-known horseman and also a champion runner. While in Egypt during WW 1 he won an athletic championship:

… beating a field comprising English, Scots, Irish, New Zealanders, West Indians, French, in fact all nations under the sun.

He rose to the position of squadron sergeant major in the Second Remount Unit, his superior being Banjo Paterson, with whom he remained a lifelong friend. He received an official written thanks from General Sir Charles Chauvel and a commendation from King George the V.

Interestingly, Jack Dempsey had been born on the Upper Murray at a place that was known at the time as ‘No Place’. He died at the age of 65 at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney in May 1950.


Arthur Dempsey

Arthur Dempsey, like his brother Jack, was born at No Place, near Jingellic. He spent a lifetime association with horses. Other than his time with Martini and brother Jack and Billy Waite in their buckjumping venture, he retained his connection with racehorses and trotters. For many years he was an exhibitor of the horse section at the Narrandera Show. He retired and returned to Narrandera a year before he died. His obituary stated he became a resident of Narrandera in 1906 but lived at Leeton for 15 years where he was the poundkeeper. The day he died he had ridden a horse from a Mr Moloney’s place to his son’s home and on returning collapsed in Moloney’s yard. He almost died in the saddle, which would have been an appropriate ending for the old horseman. Arthur Dempsey died in May 1946 aged 63.


Jack Pendergast

Jack Pendergast’s name was associated with Martini’s buckjumping show.
He was a native of the Hawkesbury district from the town of Richmond and retained that address until he followed his parents after they had moved to Forrest Lodge in Sydney. This location was ideal for its proximity to the Christ Church centre where Martini held so many performances.

Pendergast is supposed to have ridden the outlaw Dargan’s Grey on a day at the Hawkesbury when the Grey was not performing as he usually did.

He was a popular horse breaker and broke in many recalcitrant racehorses. A notable horse by the name of Highborn had thrown many jockeys before it was given to Pendergast to tame, which he did. Highborn was to come in second to Martin Henry in 1881 when he won the Melbourne Cup. Coincidentally, it was the year that Mart Breheney became known as Martini.

The only serious accident that this great horseman received was when a mare in Queensland:

… bucked clean over the top of me, and broke four of my ribs. They are racing her in Sydney now.

Like Martini, Jack Pendergast died young. He died of consumption (Tuberculosis) at about the age of 40 in 1908, the year after Martini died.


Texas Jack

From 1891 Texas Jack toured with Harmstons and eventually travelled the country with his own show. He married fellow sharpshooter and horse rider Lily Dunbar at Bundaberg in March 1897.

At the outbreak of the Boer War in late 1899 he tried to join the military contingent to fight in South Africa, but failed because of his poor shooting ability! These sharpshooters did not use actual bullets in their acts, but fine pellets which gave them a wider area of shot.

Photo taken in the studios of Nettleton & Arnest of Melbourne. (Wikipedia)

It also prevented the likes of relatively large .44 calibre lead bullets perforating the canvas coverings of the arenas. On his second attempt Texas Jack was accepted as he applied as a horse breaker for the contingent in South Africa. Following the war he spent time in England where he divorced his wife on the grounds of her adultery. He then returned to South Africa with his Texas Jack’s Wild West Show & Circus where he gave the then unknown performer Will Rogers (1879-1935) a job as a cowboy rope performer. It gave this native American Cherokee the start to his wonderful career as a folksy humourist, rope performer and horseman.

Texas Jack died in Kroonstad, South Australia in 1905. His estate was left to his daughter Hazel Jack of Prahan, Melbourne.


Death of Dargan’s Grey

© Chris Woodland

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The death of the famous Dargan’s Gray shocked the buckjumping show. The sad event took place as they approached Summerdale Station near Nyngan. The Referee reported that Dargan’s Grey died on 11 January aged 29 years. They added that his hide was to be preserved and stuffed, and that his four hoofs were to be mounted in gold. Perhaps this became a reality and the remains of the much-loved grey are today lying in someone’s forgotten collection somewhere.

The new year of 1909 sees them leaving the outback and continuing down the road, across the Blue Mountains, performing at all the major towns until they reached Parramatta, where they arrived in early March.

At Parramatta, the show took a spell after 7 years of hard work. The horses, except Bobs and Trouble, were turned out in a paddock near Sydney. The two champions were to go to Brisbane. This break in their travels could have been associated with the fact of ‘Mrs Martini’ recently becoming Mrs M J Ryan.

Following a five-month spell until August, the horses were in ‘the pink of condition’ when Martin’s Buckjumping Show resumed activities in August, beginning in the inner-city area of Newtown with a season of ten nights. Before they open it is announced that Martini’s father, William Breheney, had died in his residence, Araluen, 121 Windsor Street, Paddington. An announcement in the papers said that he was 78 years of age and was well known in the Araluen district. Like so many who had worked the Araluen goldfields the memory of that picturesque landscape remained with them throughout their lives.

As William Breheney had done, numerous others had named their homes, farms, stations and blocks of flats, as did councils name streets, after that southern valley in NSW. One wonders how many carried that name because it is where they had won their pot of gold. (( It is thought that the name Araluen came from the Aboriginal term for the water lilies that were common in the valley. ))

In Newtown the audience saw that the well-honed show had not altered that much. Fun in the Stockyard, the outlaws Bobs and Trouble, still accompanied the bucking ponies – Midget and Bulls Wool – with donkeys, mules and jennets still drawcards, as were performers such as ‘Miss Mena Val, queen of the invisible thread and trick cyclist’.

The show was advertising that they were now travelling around the country by special train and that Mr Ryan was now manager of the show and that a Barry Sullivan had replaced Harry Kennedy as Advance Manager.

They appeared at Liverpool, then Robertson and onto Goulburn, enjoying the ‘special train’, which relieved them of the slow and tedious rigours of the road. The rattler took them through the countryside at a rate they would have had to adjust to, as it passed through much faster that their horse drawn vehicles had. It seemed a very short time before they had done their performances at Yass, Cootamundra, Gundagai and Albury and it was only the end of September. At that Murray River town the Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times made a typo in which they spelt Buck Jumpers as Duckjumpers!

The special train transports them to Gundagai – where it takes a rider:

… fully ten minutes to saddle ‘Bobs,’ and he only stayed a few seconds on the animal’s back.

They then steamed onto Wagga Wagga where they performed for three nights and donated £4/10/6 to the hospital, then returned to Albury.

It was now October and the Referee reported:

Now touring by special train.
Southern Line, En Route To Melbourne etc
The Two Absolute Champions
Bobs and Trouble.

At Rutherglen Ryan notified the Referee that Bobs was injured at Junee when trucking the horses. The supreme buckjumper had put his leg down a hole while going up the race. The champion did not panic, but just relaxed until Ryan got him in the correct position to extricate him from the awkward position. Fortunately the horse did not receive a serious injury and readers were assured that he would only have to rest for a fortnight. Ryan concluded that they were on their way to Melbourne, performing at all the principal towns along the way.

Martini’s Buckjumping Show opened on Melbourne Cup night and continued on at the Melbourne Cyclorama for the next three nights. The usual £5 was offered to anyone who could sit on Bobs for a minute with no successful takers. The show’s head rider, Billy Jonas, succeeded in riding the famous outlaw Kruger.

The ground was too small for the show to set up at Ballarat, so they went on to Castlemaine, Bendigo, Echuca and across the Murray to Moama, where they organised a band to play before opening that night. They then steamed up the Murray to Cobram, then north to Jerilderie and Narrandera.


‘Mrs Martini’ Reclaims the Show

© Chris Woodland

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Sometime in late 1908 Jessie somehow obtained the necessary finances and, to the relief of all in the show – probably including Patrick – bought Patrick out to become the sole proprietor of Martini’s Buckjumping Show.

From the time of Martini’s death the show had performed at previously mentioned Hillgrove, Uralla, Walcha and Tamworth in the New England. From there they continued on through Manilla, Muralla, Gunnedah, Werris Creek snaking all the way down to Parramatta where they arrived in October.


NSW South Coast – Southern Tablelands
Goulburn through to the Hunter District

At Wollongong an advertisement declared that:

Mrs Martini reserves the right to refuse admission to objectionable persons.

They arrived at Nowra in December having performed at all the prominent towns along the coast.

Heading up the range they play at Bowral, Moss Vale and other towns along the way. The audience at Goulburn was very disappointed because a rider, who attempted to stay on Bobs’ back for £10 for one minute, did not remain on for one second. ‘Mrs Martin’ would not allow Bobs more than one performance a night, hence the crowd’s disappointment. From Goulburn they worked the towns between Yass and Boorowa in January 1908, then onto Young, Lithgow in February. In March the Mudgee Guardian declared their presence as the ‘Night of the Pig-skin’. By the end of the month they had included towns through to Denman and Singleton.

The Referee was now running an advertisement stating that Mrs J Martini’s private address was care of the elder Breheney in Paddington. Very soon all correspondence addressed to ‘Mrs Martin’ and other Martini performers and staff would be sent via the Referee.

Martini had been well known for controlling unruly persons in the audience with his quick one-line quips and it appears ‘Mrs Martini’, had been a good pupil in that regard. The Gundagai Independent commented:

A boy from the bush was chiacking Mrs Martini (now running Martini’s buckjumping show) in a town up north the other night, when she invited him to come into the ring and take his place with the other mules. That retort shut him up.


Gloucester through to Toowoomba

In April the show performed at Gloucester, Dungog, Wingham and Kempsey and continued on through Bellingen, Kempsey again, Grafton, Harwood and Ulmarra in May. June saw the show moving through Byron Bay and Mullumbimby. As the winter developed they continued north towards warmer climes, playing for a full house in Brisbane in August, where they enjoyed a season of three weeks, before receiving further acclamation at Ipswich and Toowoomba before heading south again.


Moree to Bourke

Moree, Barraba and Collarenebri were played by the travelling troupe, though the show suffered a serious loss just as the show was to begin in Collarenebri when as sudden windstorm blew the tent down. Also during September it was reported that Billy Waite was thrown by Skuthorpe’s Snips at Warwick.

It was now November and the show performed at Brewarrina but made very slow time in getting to Bourke because of rain. There was a clash of performance dates at Bourke between Martini’s Buckjumping Show and the local Convent Open Air Concert, so:

Mrs Martini will close her show that night and attend the concert with all her company. It is now well into December and the show conducts a buckjumping tournament as a benefit for the local hospital, before heading south.