When Captain Leo Gwyther badly broke his leg working on the family farm in Leongatha in southern Victoria there was concern. Next season’s crops needed to be planted if the family had any chance of surviving what the papers were calling “The Great Depression”. The early 1930’s were difficult not just in Australia but all over the world.
So of course Captain Gwyther’s son Lennie volunteered for the task. He harnessed together the horses, and for weeks Lennie drove them up and down the family’s one hundred and sixty acres. He ploughed and planted and perspired solo to make sure the job was done before the summer’s heat really set in.
When Captain Leo asked Lennie what he would like for his reward, Lennie had only one thing on his mind. Lennie wanted to travel to up to Sydney for the opening of their magnificent and shiny new Harbour Bridge. But Captain Leo knew there were two obstacles to granting Lennie his request: The first obstacle was Lennie would have to travel one thousand kilometres by foot to Sydney, all on his own. The second obstacle was Lennie’s age; the lad was only nine years old.
Lennie’s mother said no to the request straight away as all anxious mums would, but Captain Leo wasn’t so quick to deny the boy his day. Lennie wanted to take his pony – Ginger Mick – who Lennie had grown up with. If nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther could plow one hundred and sixty acres of farmland with a team of working horses then perhaps a two month sojourn alone to the city of Sydney was not beyond consideration.
Lennie left Leongatha with Ginger Mick on a warm summer Wednesday in the February of 1932. His family was not to know at the time that sixty years later a life-size statue of the boy and his small horse would be erected in the small town to mark the extraordinary expedition. A brave boy in bronze – as a memorial to a feat beyond what twenty-first century parents would allow any of their children to attempt.
Lennie’s tools for the trip was a bed-roll, his tooth brush, a water bottle, his oversized bucket-shaped cloth cap…. and silk pyjamas. The boy headed north-east travelling about twenty kilometres a day. At the end of each day Lennie would stop at a farm house and ask if Ginger Mick could eat some of their grass, and if the both of them could sleep in the farm’s barn. In the first few weeks Lennie dealt maturely with a dangerous summer bushfire passing through his route, as well as the constant threat of vagabonds on the road.
News of a rural boy’s ride from from the green hills of southern Victoria up to the bright lights and bustle of Sydney for the opening of the huge Harbour Bridge began spreading over fences and down the road ahead of Lennie. Newspapers around the nation began picking up on reports from their country cousins of Lennie and his pony Ginger Mick’s journey north. Headlines were giving him the moniker “Lennie the Legend”, and the nation’s readers were requiring daily updates on his progress and safety. The London Times were even reporting on the the boy and his pony back in the Mother Country.
By the time the pair had reached the newly built Australian capital city of Canberra – the halfway point on their journey – Lennie had become a national celebrity. The Prime Minister of the country, Joseph Lyons, invited Lennie to have morning tea with him. Lennie couldn’t help but notice the sheep grazing on the front lawn of Parliament House as he ate scones with Australia’s premier politician.
When Lennie and Ginger Mick finally arrived into Sydney ten thousand people crammed into Martin Place to greet “Lennie the Legend”. Lennie was a little lost in all the attention and adoration as most nine year old boys would be. He had to be shepherded through the large crowd by two dozen police, and was annoyed with some of the greeters who were plucking hairs out of Ginger Mick’s tail as souvenirs.
Six weeks earlier Lennie had set off from Leongatha with farewells from his family. All he wanted was to see the brand new Sydney Harbour Bridge, and now he was being asked to ride across it on Ginger Mick as a national celebrity during the opening celebrations.
When all the ribbon-cutting was over, and tickertape was being swept from Sydney’s streets, Lennie and Ginger Mick began their long return home. The Sun newspaper reported the young boy’s departure with the following line: “Lennie, being a typical casual Australian, swung into the saddle and called ‘Toodleloo!’”
Today, when you visit Lennie and Ginger Mick’s statue in his home town of Leongatha, you’re reminded of the courage an adventure like theirs requires. All exciting escapades involve the ingredient of bravery. But another component is not so obvious – the element of faith. All journeys in life require a faith that, despite our fears, everything will turn out well in the end.
And for Lennie and Ginger Mick everything turned out just grand.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For my Creator walks with me; His rod and His staff comfort me.” (the 23rd Psalm, verse 4)
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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and is taking a sabbatical year to drag his family around Australia in a caravan. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series that meanders around a series of subjects pondered and stuff seen. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking “follow”.