Martini’s New Outstanding Bucker

© Chris Woodland

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Cloncurry – Richmond – Charters Towers – Winton – Muttaburra

It is in Cloncurry in late April that we first hear of a horse that will be as famous as Dargan’s Grey. No name is given for this buckjumper at this stage, but it is mentioned in this line from The Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers):

An outlaw from Bryamine (( Bryamine station. )) threw Waite. No local man tried Dargan’s Grey.

Playing to a large audience on 3 May a W. Allen, in attempting to ride a horse called Kruger, was thrown and trampled on, causing injuries. Dargan’s Grey threw a man by the name of Campbell twice and another, a H. Parker, once.

In early June the North Queensland Register (Townsville) reported that the buckjumping show would open in Richmond where there would be ample opportunity:

… for the local riders to show their adhesive powers in the pigskin.

A few days later the same paper showed a photo of a Martini tandem mule team harnessed to a small miniature trap with a driver aboard.

Martini’s mules harnessed to a miniature trap. Note Martini’s name printed on the side of the trap.

While displaying a photo of the crowd-drawing Dargan’s Grey in the advertisement below, a sketch of a rough rider astride a wild buckjumper was also included. From now on many of the press articles were mere copies of the text from these advertisements.

An advertisement showing the famous buckjumper Dargan’s Grey, looking in poor condition, but still very capable of emptying the saddle.

The entrepreneurial showman had also discovered the telegraph wire, to be known as the telegram, and he notified the Charters Towers’ press to inform them of the buckjumping show to open in their town at the Cremorne Gardens on Wednesday 22 June. Readers were assured that the old grey is still unconquered and:

… there is still the £100 challenge to anyone who can sit him.

The show had also picked up a small Spanish horse known as a jennet, which is a notorious bucker.

At one of the exhibitions in the Cremorne Gardens, Dargan’s Grey threw an Aboriginal by the name of Jack Collins in 18 seconds and also threw Waite very heavily. The ad shows, that there were several other attractions for the audiences. There was also SPECIAL SEATING ACCOMMODATION FOR LADIES.

In Richmond Frank Armstrong from St George was on Dargan’s Gray for only one-and-a-half seconds and was in the local hospital for ten days. The bucker Bryamine had still not been dubbed the name he will be known for until this day. The show played in Richmond for most of July and provided the only entertainment for the otherwise miserably dull town. The township of Richmond soon emptied when the shearing began and all the men left for the stations for the mustering and shearing.

Early August in Winton saw Martini’s Rough Riders playing to good houses after which they moved on to the Muttaburra races. They were there at Longreach when the races took place there on the 23 and 24 August. Travelling shows always attempted to attend the various functions such as annual shows, exhibitions and horse-races as the usually quiet townships would become heavily populated with the men, women and children streaming in from the stations, mines and missions to join in and contribute to the infrequent entertaining diversions. Waite rode all the rough horses in Longreach, and the local reporter penned:

Waite is a magnificent horseman. Good as he is Dargan is his master.


Barcaldine – Blackall – Tambo – Charleville

Martini and his entourage arrived at Barcaldine for the races. Dargan was as successful as ever and the Western Champion (Barcaldine) had this to say:

Martini, who was with Fillis’ and other big circuses, gave splendid exhibitions on the horizontal bars; he is a champion in his line-indeed, he does his work remark ably well, and performs several blood-curdling act[s].

They next performed at Blackall, then Tambo and Charleville, working southward. It was at Charleville that Aboriginal Black Alick from Boonah said after being thrown from Dargan’s Grey: Dat feller, him budgeree Yarraman. (( Good horse. Budgeree meaning good and Yarraman horse. )) It is now mid September 1904.

Roma – Toowoomba – Dargan’s Grey Injury

From Charleville they head due east and performed at Roma on 4 September. Almost everywhere, they were received with moving accolades in which the various performances were often detailed, Martini’s remarkable feats on the bars, Miss Mena Val’s tight-wire walking and other talents of hers, Billy Waite’s spectacular horsemanship, the members of the group who may be singing, playing musical instruments, dancing or stunt riding and, of course, the youngsters that continually provide much amusement in their attempts to ride the mule and donkeys, and the serious buckjumpers, particularly the old grey.

There was an ad in the Darling Downs Gazette in December that was the first of its kind. Martini now includes in his ads:

Two years and six months Touring Queensland, and now Returning from the Gulf.

Of course the ‘Two years and six months,’ would have to be adjusted as time passes.

They reached Toowoomba by late December and enjoyed a large audience on the 24th but held no performance on the evening of the 28th so as to give the horses a rest. Martini also donated 5/- (five shillings) to the local ambulance brigade.

It was in Toowoomba that Dargan’s Grey, the famous buckjumper that drew large crowds wherever he travelled, received a serious injury. The papers said Dargan’s Grey could not perform as he had wrenched his fetlock in a contest in Toowoomba. They added:

the 20 years old Dargan’s Grey has thrown all riders who mounted him, except for three exceptions. One of his masters was the ill-feted Harry Morant (the Breaker).

The age of the famous buckjumper varies from time to time.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Enter Billy Waite, the Great Horseman
This image of Billy Waite  was taken was taken shortly after he defeated Lance Skuthorpe at Brisbane in 1907.

This night we hear for the first time of a man who was to gain legendary status in the world of rough riding. An Aboriginal man from the Longreach area, Billy Waite, with Martini’s assistance, was to become one of the most popular buckjump riders in his time. A well-built and handsome man, with marvellous riding ability and showmanship, he was to become a favourite with the thousands who would see him performing around the country and overseas.
On Martin’s Roughriders (( Roughriders were sometimes referred to as ‘sticking plasters’. )) last night in Cairns, or so the advertisement stated, Dargan’s Grey proved to be a ‘rough un’, throwing Waite and a local man. The Morning Post said that: the little pony outlaw is wonderfully fast at disposing of his mounts.

The show did other performances around Cairns, but probably at another venue rather than where the annual show was held. At one event a Mr E. C. Earl attempted to ride Dargan’s Grey for a wager and actually remained in the saddle for one circuit of the ring before the inevitable occurred.

Cairns to Port Douglas and Mossman by Ship and Return.
Mareeba – Charters Towers – Croydon – Normanton
Thursday Island

The press announced that Martini’s show would be leaving for Port Douglas and Mossman on Wednesday 17 June 1903. Several days before their northward journey Martini’s group joined a group of about 600 people and attend an unveiling ceremony for a Dr Koch, a late resident of Cairns. Martini and his troupe would often attend such social functions. No doubt it would help his good name and, of course, his business.

The paddle steamship Lass o’ Gowrie sailed out from Cairns on the 17th with Martini’s Rough Riders aboard. Press reports are now less frequent until an advertisement in the Cairns Morning Post of 3 July says that Martin’s Rough Riders will open in Mareeba:

Go and see the great Outlaw, Dargan’s Grey, and other amusement – on 7th July.

It appears their venture to Port Douglas and environs was a limited one and they returned to the vicinity of Cairns and visited the Atherton Tableland.

The entertainers travelled through Charters Towers – where they amused the locals with their various talents – then worked their way to Croydon, a gold town in the savannah country 529 km west of Cairns. Croydon was the name of a 5,000 square km pastoral holding which was settled in the 1880s. Gold was discovered in 1885 and the new mining town took the name of the pastoral station. One can assume that the group had a successful season there with the large population of miners and associated businesses supporting their endeavours. It was late September 1903 and four months were to pass before they again received mention in the press.

This was the occasion when they make their way to the Gulf Country town of Normanton, which takes its name from William Norman who manned a ship in the search for the ill-feted explorers Burke and Wills some forty years earlier. In the 1890s a trainline was built between Croydon and Normanton. From here ships freighted gold from the mines of Croydon, and delivered heavy steam driven machinery, goods and supplies to those residing in this isolated mining area and to the immense cattle stations. There was also a large population of First Australians in the earlier days before they were removed to reserves such as Doomagee and Mornington Island. However, the Aboriginals were still around in good numbers when Martini passed through. The Indigenous people have always been passionate rough riding participants and audiences, so we can assume that Martini would have done well in Normanton and similar areas. The Aboriginals were always enthusiastic to try their luck in riding the buckjumpers.

It is doubtful if Martini’s Rough Riders and their circus cavalcade would have fitted on the Gulflander train which ran from Croydon to Normanton as the train only ever had four, then three, carriages. With temperatures in the mid 30s and very dry conditions there would have been minimum feed for the animals as they made their way through the colourful, dusty and sundrenched landscape.

From the Port of Normanton we can safely assume that Martini and retinue accompanied their animals and wagons on a ship to Thursday Island. The next time we hear of them is at the lower Gulf Country town of Cloncurry where they opened 16 April 1904. It is obvious the travellers returned from Thursday Island to Normanton, which is about 380 km north of Cloncurry.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Dargan’s Grey – Queensland again

A little over three months after the Lithgow performance the Queensland newspapers reported that Martini Brothers and their buckjumpers were said to be performing at the National Association’s Show in Brisbane in August. Here again we see that Martini is performing with a possible brother.

The month prior to the National Association’s Show in Brisbane Martini’s Band of Rough Riders pitched their tent adjacent to the Criterion Hotel near the Court House in Ipswich. They performed on Friday 19 July 1902 and to everyone’s surprise the main attraction displayed a very disappointing exhibition of bucking. Dargan’s Grey was ridden by a Thomas O’Brien and was not thrown. Some members of the audience complained that the rider had held onto the pommel of the saddle. O’Brien also wore spurs, which could have compromised the usual violent behaviour of the Grey.

In late August, Following the National Association’s Show, Dargan’s Grey was back to normal at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground and throws the two contestants who attempted to ride him. These buckjumping events of Martini’s were now widely covered in the country’s press and this show at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground received a special mention in the NSW paper the Hawkesbury Herald, the area having a long association with the famous Grey. The paper claimed that:

… the grey demon was to be ridden in the electric light, at the Gabba and that: One of the only men who rode Dargin was the late lieutenant Morant (The Breaker). This was at the Hawkesbury Show. Dargin had already unseated 16 would-be conquerors and was knocked up when Morant rode him.

This feat of the Breaker’s was to become well know over the next few years, though the number of riders preceding him on that occasion was not usually mentioned. Having thrown 16 men in succession would leave the grey wonder horse little hope of throwing a horseman of Morant’s ability.(( Morant had been executed by the British in South Africa earlier in the year on 27 February. )) The mention of the electric light shows that this new invention was slowly snaking its way across the country and was obviously advertised as a great benefit to evening performances of all kinds.

In the third week of October 1902 Martin’s Rough Riders performed at Maryborough where the proprietor:

… on the horizontal bar gave an exceedingly clever performance, which was alone worth the price of admittance. Also, Dargan was very fit … The marvellous performance of Dargan’s grey [sic] will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

Records of Martini’s Buckjumping Show are difficult to find over the next few months, but they had been slowly moving northwards performing at places along the way, finally passing through the large gates into Parramatta Park at the Cairns showgrounds. Throughout their travels Martini’s Buckjumpers would perform for one evening, or more as they passed through towns and small settlements, should the patronage be there, providing there was no deadline for approaching commitments.

They had arrived for Cairns’ annual show festivities and here they were joined by a small family group of show people consisting of Harry and Ada Seymour and their children. The Seymours had a great passion to eventually own a large circus, but after many miles and colourful and demanding experiences it was not to be. (( Fred Lord in his book Little Big Top tells of the Seymour’s journey and exploits as told by Ada. ))

Martini asked the Seymours to join their group at the Cairns show, which they did. Apparently they retained their individuality while performing with Martini’s Buckjumping Show and were to stay with the group for many miles to the top of Queensland and back again to Cairns. Ada said that Mart, as she called Martini, was doing very well and making good money and could pay well. Like most others, the Seymours spoke highly of Martini.

It was now mid 1903. Between 700 and 800 people attended the opening at Cairns of Martini’s show which received an astonishing reception. The Morning Post claimed that Martini’s performance on the bars:

gave an exceedingly clever performance which was alone worth the price of admission.’

The only other familiar name mentioned is that of Miss Mena Val who gave a clever slack wire walking act and a trick cycling performance. It appears some Aboriginal roughriders turned up to try and master Martini’s buckjumpers. A native tracker, coincidently named Seymour, was unsuccessful in his first endeavour, but succeeded in riding a Mr Black’s horse and was awarded 10 shillings by Martini for his performances. Another Indigenous ringer by the name of Jasper had difficulty in attempting to get on an outlaw and created much amusement for the audience. Dargan’s Grey gave an unforgettable performance and showed the conscientious Seymour who was the master.

Unless one witnessed the old grey buck, it would hardly be
believed that any horse could tie himself in so many knots
in so short a time.


The Days of Martini’s Buckjumping Show

© Chris Woodland

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Martini’s Buckjumping Show.

Leaving Skurthorpe’s show in October 1901, the little group started their new enterprise in December, starting out from Bankstown, Sydney, with one small performing tent and a small wagon or wagonette.

Though Martini was no roughrider, he was an extremely talented performer on the triple bars. (( The term barrist was sometimes used to describe such an athlete. ))    His years on the road with other shows had taught him much, but there would be much more for him to learn. Experience on the road would teach them many things: that their performing animals must always have sufficient, water, food and ample rest. To maintain their performing abilities donkeys, mules, jennets, ponies and horses, both circus performers and buckjumpers needed to maintain their strength and health to carry out their particular areas of expertise. The demands of providing comfortable accommodation for audiences during performances and the maintenance of canvas, ropes, pegs, saddles and harnesses and horse-drawn vehicles were continual. Members of the troupe were continually practising, experimenting and learning new acts. All performers and assistants were multiskilled by necessity.

Little is heard of Martini until he was mentioned in a letter to the Editor of the Sydney based Referee 19 February 1902. The famous horseman Jack Pendergast offered a challenge to another horseman saying if the roughrider, Andy Thibault, were satisfied with the challenge, he should have the money at the Referee office at noon on the Tuesday of the following week. Pendergast concludes that he is the principal roughrider for Martini’s Hippodrome (( The use of the word hippodrome was often used as a synonym for circus. )) and that they were travelling the South Coast for a few weeks. The letter had been sent from Bulli.

This is what Martini had to say, to the Bulletin readers in January 1906, of his starting out with his new show:

When I left Sydney three years ago with a small side show [sic], we just struggled along. At Parramatta the van-man thought I was going to balance him – swindle him out of his money; and when I paid up he said, ‘Look here! I didn’t expect this I’ll tell you where there’s a horse you ought to get – up at Lithgow, owned by Jones, of the Zigzag Brewery – that’s Dargin’s Grey.’ Well we went up to Lithgow, and I arranged to get the horse for one night for £5. If the chap had asked for the money in advance we were done, because I hadn’t got it; but we took £10, and after the show I gave him his £5, and he was so pleased that he said, ‘Look here, you can have the horse on Monday night for nothing.’ A few days after that I bought him for £8. Since then I’ve walked him overland right up to Port Douglas, then across to Normanton. Then by sea to Thursday Island, and down again to Sydney here – picking up buckers all the way.

On 1 April 1902 the Lithgow Mercury announced that Martini’s Band of Rough Riders had performed to good houses on the previous night (Monday) and on Saturday, the evening of the 29 March. The newspaper told its readers that several hundred men attended the exhibitions, which included ball-punching, a boxing match, and an imitation donkey which promptly unseated the hopeful lads trying to ride it. However, the main attraction was definitely Dargin’s Grey (( Sometimes spelt Dargin’s. ))  the buckjumper whose name became a household word in his time and still remains so in the annals of Australian buckjumpers. The paper also states:

Then came Martini in his remarkably clever treble act on the horizontal bar. We venture to say that that no circus in the state has a more able performer than Mr Martini in this particular class and the spectators showed their appreciation by unstinted applause.

The two or three locals who took up the challenge of boxing a few rounds with Joe Coster were defeated. A man by the name of Combo claimed to have ridden Dargan’s Grey, but spectators argued that he held onto the saddle pommel.

Proprietors of all roughriding shows regulated the saddles to be used. No stock saddles, that is saddles with pads, were to be used, only English hunting saddles and poley saddles. Skuthorpe used to have a light rope attached to the saddles of riders, which gave him some control over the roughrider. It is not known if Martini used this technique in his travelling shows, but it was most likely he did.