23 April, 2021
“90 OR NOTHING”
Remembering the legend of campdraft champion Mick Murphy (1929 - 2021)
I SHARED A PHOTOGRAPH.....
I shared a photograph on Facebook when I heard of the passing of a mighty man. A nostalgic photograph from an era not that long ago of horse, bullock and rider in full flight. A perfect moment in time capturing a freedom, finery and boldness seldom seen today. It conjured memories from many. Memories of days when Novices were Progressives, Kingswoods hauling roofless floats dotted the outside of arenas, cattle were bullocks and weekends away were a rare privilege.
The rider, Mr Mick Murphy of Kilcoy astride Arthur Sommerville's stallion My Abbey, bridged generations, evoked comments of awe and wonder from all, and sparked in me a great longing for the days of my childhood. The mystery of a man, who as I child I recall being referred to as ‘a true gentleman, unbeatable and the best ever’.
There was an amazing story to be told, and I had to tell it. So many wonderful horsemen are passing, I just couldn't let this story go with Mick to the grave. I hope you enjoy reading this tribute as much as I have enjoyed piecing it together. Whether it's a trip down memory lane, an insight into a man you admired from afar or a tale of a man you never knew, I hope you remember it.
“Anyone who has worked a lot of uneducated cattle can see the degree of difficulty that this beast is presenting the horse. Both elements required for degree of difficulty are being fulfilled in this photo.....the beast is fast and ignorant, and the horse has to get very close in its efforts to control it”
Neville Thomas Murphy "Mick", was born in 1929. Born into a generation where "dreaming" and not being sure of what you wanted to do or be, was not an option. Hard work and plenty of it was the perfect recipe to grow handy, tough and respectful gentlemen. Growing up in the Kilcoy/Jimna mountains, Mick soon realised the value of a hard earned dollar. From butchering to running his own bullock team, aged 15, the determination of this young man stayed with him over the years. It lead him to become one of the finest and fiercest campdrafters Australia had ever witnessed. Mick Murphy broke Open at age 15 at Nambour Campdraft in 1944. It was but a taste of things to come.
When a handsome 21 year old Mick married the real jewel in his crown, the beautiful Avis, he presented his new bride with a priceless wedding gift - a young, unknown, untried, unfashionably bred filly. Trixie, as she would be known, became a champion.
While us married girls smile and give thanks for the countless toasters, kettles and towel sets we received on our wedding day, Avis received one of the greatest mares to ever grace a campdraft arena. With a career spanning over 20 years, Trixie was like no other. Winner of the very first Chinchilla Grandfather clock in 1966, a Risdon draft winner at Warwick in 1957, second in the Warwick Gold Cup after a run off, an unheard of winning streak of 13 Open drafts in a row and at the ripe old age of 23 with a young Shane Murphy exercising her at home to keep any weight off her ageing legs, Trixie won the Chinchilla Grandfather Clock again in 1974 to give Mick his third clock in nine years. Mick had also won a clock in 1969 on Havelock. This was the year the "clock" was not the "clock". Seems a Grandfather Clock could not be sourced and a replacement Arm Chair found its way into Micks lounge room.
A tally of all the Open Campdrafts Trixie won was never kept, but it is believed to be well over 60. Trixie was the best and most consistent horse Mick had ever ridden. Her toughness, reliability and durability made her the champion she was. Trixie was still drafting and winning at age 25. As a team they were unbeatable.
“Mick Murphy and Trixie- how exciting in the cutout yard! Mick on one occasion I remember, walking out carrying his saddle! And like old Freddie Turner in the 1950s, Mick could get a top run out of a broomstick”
Max and Lynne Glasser
Possessing a style, strength and determination unequalled by most, Mick never turned up at a draft to run second. He rode horses for many different owners, of varying ability levels but with one common factor, he won on all of them.
From the honest, tough Open gelding Havelock, who was a SEQCPA Campdraft HOTY and Grandfather clock winner for owner and great friend Kevin Richardson, to his Dad's great mare Treasure. Treasure, the sometimes bridesmaid to the unbeatable Trixie, must have felt like she had run into a Black Caviar at times!
A savvy purchase at Yarraman Campdraft, saw the mighty Tennyson join his team. Purchased from the very handy Kevin Smith, Mick saw the potential in this horse immediately. 26 Opens and a SEQCPA HOTY award later, he too was gifted to wife Avis, who became one extremely lucky owner.
The talented Carnival, Hidden Gold, My Abbey, Master Jack, Smokey and many, many others, all multiple Open draft winners, some Warwick Gold Cup place-getters under the capable guidance of Mick, saw the trophy room overflow.
A silver platter and many an old blue ribbon that still hang at my childhood home, always held a little mystery to me. See my Grandfather and Dad purchased a bay gelding from Arthur Sommerville, Poco Little Dell. A champion as soon as Mick stepped upon him. Many Open wins including the two Opens in one day at Boonah, Little Dell was a legend in our house.
It was said when Mick rode your horse, no one else ever rode that horse again. Being a man of extreme core strength, these horses were on the job when they stepped into the camp. Mick was a fierce rider, a bold rider, a rider who rode to win every time. He needed a warrior with him. Mick Murphy was awarded the SEQCPA Open rider three times. Collectively from Maidens to Opens he won well in excess of 300 drafts.
“I didn't draft much in the 70's but went to a lot of drafts bullock riding and watched a lot of drafting. Mick was the man to beat. He rode quite a lot of horses for other people with great success. Mick’s style of drafting (as was all of the competitors from those days) was two or three turns in the yard at the front, straight to the blade cross over, straight to the blade again, crossover and push through the gate. The bigger cattle used in those days allowed for this type of drafting. Mick told me that the type of drafting these days did not suit his style and he found it harder near the end of his career to change his style. The camps were also bigger in those days with more cattle mostly of one line and no gate - just two men holding the front of camp”
The support team of wife Avis and son Shane proved a man is only as good as those behind him. Shane Murphy an accomplished drafter himself, was lucky enough to spend the best years of his life watching his Dad, idol and best friend create history. Mick was a firm believer in his horses being fit, fed on a high grain diet and having the stamina to cop a weekend of hard drafting. Shane was a full-time strapper.
Like any winning rider, this meant a lot of celebratory drinks. A keen whiskey drinker, Mick along with "Big" Jack Hughes, Johnny Smith, Kevin Smith, Kevin Richardson, little Dinky Webster and Shane, sure knew how to quench their thirst! They were also the kind of men you wanted on your side should trouble come a knocking. The lifelong friendship of Mick and Jack Hughes served them both well into their twilight years. Both talented A Grade Footballers in their youth, wonderful family gentlemen, campdrafting competitors and tough, hard working men.
The 80's saw Mick with a top team of horses under his belt and though Mick dominated South East Queensland drafting from the 1950's to the 1980's, a passion to indulge in another equine interest was growing. Enter the racing world. The lure of better money, a more consistent judging system and just the yearning to try something just a bit different, saw Mick first past the post many a time.
With plenty of wins on country tracks and doubles on city tracks, Mick was hooked. Between Shane and himself, they greeted the judge many a time and as age and a devotion to his racehorses gradually took over, campdrafting took a back seat. The curtain may have come down on a very illustrious campdraft career but his love for horses never faded. Still poking about on a horse well into his 80's, one could say it was a life very, very well ridden.
Campdrafting during Mick’s time was so much different to the one we know today. It was a time of character's - where would a young Gwen Macmillan fit into today's campdrafting world, smoking her pipe? They were the golden years. The fun years. The ‘can we have them back years ?’. We often think that these present times are the mark of greatness. "Oh times were different in the olden days", "They didn't have horses as good as the ones we have today". How wrong we are. With men like Mick Murphy passing on, who will remind us? Who will keep us grounded?
Mick Murphy passed away this February (2021). A gentleman to the end. A champion to the end. What a privilege and honour to write this story. With the help of son Shane and Lenore Hughes we started it two days after Mick was buried. Seems I'm a South East Queensland girl to end, and yes I miss the old days and legends from them too. Rest in peace Mick. May the bullocks be fast, Trixie be fully shod and the whiskey on ice.