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Rob's Shed

Horses and Other Animals at RANAD Newington

Horses

Originally published in NAVAL SUPPLY, June,1988, pages 59-60:

Horses and an Armament Depot

By Bob Curran, Naval Armament Depot Historian

THE Newington Military Magazine, now the RAN Armament Depot Newington, was taken over by the RAN from the Australian Army in 1921. At this time the depot was equipped with a two foot gauge tramway for the conveyance of ammunition between the wharf and the storehouses. As the distances were short and the grades moderate this tramway was initially worked by man-haulage or, as it was colloquially known, the "Armstrong" method.

As the depot expanded in the twenties and thirties it became necessary to introduce horses, initially in 1929 for mounted Naval Police patrols and subsequently for ammunition haulage on the tramway.

The 1935 Instructions for Naval Dockyard Police required the Sergeant to be:

"responsible that the horses are properly fed, watered and groomed, and that the saddlery is maintained in a clean and serviceable condition, also that horses are properly saddled, etc. on each occasion of their use and that they are not ridden in a manner likely to produce soreness."

Apparently not all Naval Policemen were comfortable on horseback. In his Annual Report for 1928/29, the Armament Supply Officer referred to the case of a Constable who sought:

"permission to curtail alternate patrols throughout his period of duty each night, the reason for his request being that his feet were seriously affected by the amount of walking to be done (the man being unable to ride)."

Needless to say, permission was not granted!

Police horses continued to serve at Newington up to and through World War II. However, in 1945, a decision was taken to replace the horses with bicycles. At this time there were three horses in use for police work. Two of these, a bay gelding and a bay mare, were original horses which had been acquired in 1929. The third horse, a cream gelding, was unfortunately suffering from a bad fistula on the withers and had to be destroyed; its companions were placed in retirement "at grass" in the depot.

The exact date of introduction of horses for use in the ammunition haulage task is not known, however it was later than 1929 but before 16th December, 1937. On this date, Assistant (Armament) Bill Weekly was knocked down by a depot horse and suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.

This first depot horse was named "Hammer" and he was used for long distance haulage of the shell and cartridge trucks, the "Armstrong" method still being in vogue for the shorter hauls. In hauling the trucks the horse walked outside the rails and was adept at avoiding the heavy trucks when coming to a halt. (Personal communication Harry Creighton - Robert Curran)

The photo below wasn't taken at Newington, but shows a similar horse-drawn explosives train at Altona, Victoria, in 1954. The rail trucks at Newington were not enclosed as shown here.

Photo of horse-drawn train

Horse-drawn Explosives Train, Altona, Victoria - Herald-Sun photograph - Reproduced Courtesy of National Library of Australia

"Hammer" was a bay gelding, branded "D" on the near quarter and with two white hind feet. In October, 1943, he was found to be unfit for further service and was put out to grass; he was then about 21 years old.

"Hammer's" unfitness did not escape notice in higher Naval circles, for in the midst of the war the Rear-Admiral in Charge, C. G. Muirhead-Gould found time to enquire:

"What is to happen to the horse. How long has he been working for the Department?"

When told that the animal would be retired to grass he replied:

"Good. I am glad to hear it."

Certificate of unfitness for a horse

Veterinarian's Certificate for ""Hammer", the Bay Gelding

"Hammer" was replaced by a bay mare, number B793 supplied by the 2nd Australian Remount Squadron. This horse was foaled in 1935 and served until October, 1956, when she was found to have developed side bones in the feet. She was replaced by a brown gelding which had previously worked in a milk dray at a cost of £40. This horse was described as "brown gelding aged near hind half pastern white spot near neck, withers and back brand indistinct but appears to be [diamond with spot inside] few grey hairs on forehead" In 1963, by which time the horse was only used with the garbage dray, it was decided to replace the dray with a truck. Sadly, the brown gelding was not put out to grass as were most of his predecessors, despite the recommendation of depot management, but was sent to auction (described as "a light draught horse (aged) together with the dray, dray saddle, two collars, harness and chains, leading harness, winkers and reins".)

The mare, retired in 1956, lived on at Newington until her death on the night of 5th February, 1961. This horse, known as "Doll" or "Dolly" was affectionately regarded by the depot staff and achieved the distinction in death of an international obituary in the RN Naval Armament Journal. It read:

"IN MEMORIAM. We record with regret the passing of Doll, the retired Newington Depot horse. Rather than sell the old girl after many years of faithful service, Doll was pensioned off to graze the area and she enjoyed five quiet years. Many were the insecure posts around the Depot that succumbed to her back scratching endeavours and on one occasion she managed to knock over a lightning conductor finial on the top of a semi-underground magazine. No more can the lads blame Doll for the empty fire buckets - she must have consumed more water than a dozen normal horses."

Note 1: The cream gelding noted above as having been destroyed in 1945 was a replacement, acquired 11 August 1938, for one ("the black horse") of the two original police horses acquired 15 October 1929 and destroyed on 25 May 1938).

Note 2: The Scorched Earth Denial Plan of April 1943 records the horses then at Newington as one cart horse (probably "Hammer") and two police horses.

Note 3: Harry Creighton, in an oral history interview, recalled that:

"Actually, the horses weren't too bad. At least they didn't break down. I meant to say that in the earliest stages of the War. Come to think of it, the old horses did a pretty good job really. And during the war years, they introduced the diesel ones and that, you know. ... Yes, they used to pension them off which was good. Instead of sending them to the knackery. If you read up some old records about the police, I think the police or some of the residents in those days, especially in George Bell's time - they used to have their own horses too. They used to sometimes go up to Auburn. I remember George Bell used to have a little gig and him and his wife used to go out in it. I don't know where feed [came from], it might have come out of the Navy." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 (Oral History Interviews p.9)

Note 4: Bob Lennox, in an oral history interview recalled that:

"We had one, Dolly. They used to go around on the horse and cart picking up all the rubbish from the offices and all the different areas. They put it down in the swamp all the rubbish. Old Dolly, when it used to come for shoeing time for old Dolly, he used to get in the horse and cart and come up here to Auburn. Before he went into the pub, he used to put the horse into shoer place at Ryans. He'd put the horse in and he'd go back to the pub. And one day he was that full, they were going to charge him with driving a vehicle under the influence but he talked them out of it. And old Dolly knew the way back anyway. He just let her go. She'd come back." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 - Oral History Interviews pp.11-12)

Note 5: Tom Lusted, in an oral history interview, recalled one of the horse drivers, Percy Quigg:

"He worked with my father at one stage. His name was Percy Quigg. He was the driver. Yeah, I remember one chap there. He was a mail officer, he was. Harry was his first name. I can't think of his second name but one of them [the horses] died and he was in a dither how he could write this horse off, see. You've got three codes there. "serviceable", "repairable" and "unserviceable". So, he ended up ... I think he wrote this poor horse off as "unserviceable". See - because the poor thing died." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 - Oral History Interviews p.11)

Sheep

For a short period around the early 1950s all the mainland armament depots tried out sheep as a means of keeping grass under control. The experiment may have resulted from the high price of wool at the time:

"If you have seen a couple of Depot employees going about with a dreamy look in their eyes, you can say they have been wool-gathering. All the Depot's flock of sheep have been shorn, and it is expected that Defence Revenue will benefit considerably." (RANAD Sydney Newsletter, November 1953)

However sheep were present at Newington from at least 1943; in that year they were listed as an item in the Scorched Earth Denial Plan. The planned denial method for them was "to dispose of to best advantage".(ASO minute S.C. 168/1/300 of 22 April 1943). In 1946 there were about 300 sheep on the site. Anecdotal evidence is that the sheep eventually proved unsuitable. Apart from damaging the earth traverses by trampling, in wet weather they tended to shelter in the protected entrances to magazines and other buildings, leaving copious droppings that needed to be cleaned up before the buildings could be entered.

Photo of shepherd and sheep

Harold Bugg, the Newington Shepherd, 1952 (Photo courtesy of June Madden)

The author of this page was told by John T. Miller, who was an Assistant Armament Supply Officer at Newington in the early 1950s, that eventually it was decided to confine the sheep each night, and the shepherd (Harold Sydney Bugg, 1890-1976) was required to count them in. This was a somewhat difficult task, as anyone who has had to do it will know. One late afternoon, Miller spotted a sheep loose after curfew. Thinking to chastise Harold for carelessness he sought him out, only to be asked as he approached "haven't seen a sheep, have you?"

Bob Lennox recalled that:

"... they had a chap who was the shepherd. He used to take count of his sheep of a night and put them away. He had two red dogs. He'd round his sheep up and let them go of a morning. When they had to be shorn, he supervised that. He was a bit cunning the old fellow. He'd do the ... sheep have a lot of twins. When they had twins, he'd only count it as one so that if he lost any it would make up his numbers. Yes, he was a funny old bloke. He liked doing his sheep work." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 - Oral History Interviews, p.11)

Tom Lusted recalled the location where the sheep were penned at night:

"They had sheep there too. That was before my time too. Between the two railway lines. ... So, there's a bit of a rise there. ... Well, it's between Lab C, that's on the left and then there's a straight line through to Building 46. Between there's a hill there with a few trees on it. I believe they put them in there during the night." (Heritage Assessment - RAN Newington Armament Depot, Schwager Brooks and Partners in association with Wendy Thorp and UNSW Centre for Community History, May 1996 - Oral History Interviews p.11)

The sheep pen, based on the anecdotal and photographic evidence, was located to the west of the railway cutting between buildings 42 and 43. At this location, the rising ground and existing trees provided shelter from bad weather.

Photo of sheep pen

The Sheep Pen in July 1952 (Photo courtesy of June Madden)

To see more photos of the Newington sheep, and of shepherd Harold Bugg, view June Madden's Photo Album.

Pigs

During the late 1970s and early 1980s a population of feral pigs built up at Newington - probably descendants of escapees from the nearby Sydney Abattoirs. Eventually they caused significant damage by rooting up large areas of grassland at night. Some of the depot's executive staff were authorised to hunt and kill them using shotguns. These hunts took place either in the early morning or late afternoon outside normal working hours. The technique used was to employ several people as "beaters", who were equipped with garbage bin lids as noisemakers, to push the pigs towards the shooters. Many pigs were killed in this fashion, although anecdotally, the last of the population was removed using "pig" dogs.

Dogs

Read the obituary for "Nugget", the boss's dog. Not a resident of Newington but an occasional visitor, so entitled to space on this page.

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au