By Kim Odgers
Our region has a strong and historic connection to the Melbourne Cup.
Braidwood may be a small town of less than 2000 good citizens but it has been punching above its weight since the early 1800s when it had its beginnings as a trading centre linking the farmlands of the Braidwood Plains, the Araluen goldfields, and the timber industries of the Port of Nelligen.
I have had a long romance with the Braidwood Bakery (partly because it was once owned by a gentleman named Hans Christian Anderson(!)). I have also spent far too much of my loose change at the Boiled Lolly across the road.
So, I feel a certain kinship with the town which gives me the excuse for claiming a connection to the following tale on behalf of our region.
Ballalaba sits a short drive east of Braidwood and is mostly famous as the birthplace of the murderous bushranging Clarke Gang. A lessor known story however, also from the Ballalaba area in the 1860s, is a tale involving Australia’s most famous horse race – the Melbourne Cup.
Thomas Molyneux Royds, the son of an English clergyman, settled in the limestone-rich springs region of Jembaicumbene (adjoining Ballalaba) in the 1840s and began a dynasty that is still strongly represented in the area today. Thomas was just 18 years old. He brought from England a love of horses and recognised the potential of developing a thoroughbred stud on his new property. In the following decade he assembled a quality mix of race-capable mares and stallions but tragically was thrown from one of his own horses and died at just 28.
Thomas did not live to see the birth of a foal born to Maid of the Oakes, sired by a stallion he had earlier especially imported from England.
The stallion was William Tell and the foal was appropriately named Archer.
Archer was eventually relocated to Nowra for training under the supervision of family friend and former Ballalaba local, Etienne de Mestre, who would be successful in five Melbourne Cups. Only Bart Cummings has trained more. Archer was considered a large horse for a 3-year old and was nicknamed “the Bull” by locals.
The inaugural Melbourne Cup was held in 1861 with the expectation that local Victorian favourite Mormon would win comfortably. Archer won by 6 lengths and repeated the win in 1862 winning by 8 lengths. Mormom ran second in both races.
The NSW twin victories further fuelled an existing strong and sometimes bitter interstate rivalry. In 1863 Archer’s Melbourne Cup telegraphed entry was deemed invalid because it was delayed 24 hours by a Victorian public holiday (ironically “Separation Day”, marking the anniversary of the 1851 secession of Victoria from NSW) and failed to be registered in time.
All NSW entries were withdrawn in protest with only seven Victorian horses remaining to contest the Cup.
Archer retired after being injured in Sydney in 1865 and returned to the family property at Braidwood. He was ridden the final 250 kms.
Balallaba has been successful in producing two further Melbourne Cup winners in Tim Whiffler (1867) and Bravo (1889). Strawberry Road was also foaled in the district in 1979. Strawberry Road raced predominantly overseas and was the only horse to win Group 1 races in three different countries – Australia, France and West Germany. He was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame in 2009.
Thomas John Smith (TJ Smith) was another famous identity from this small community at Ballalaba. Born in 1918, TJ Smith became a famous trainer of thoroughbred racehorses based at the Tulloch Lodge stables in Randwick, Sydney. He successfully trained the champions Tulloch, Gunsynd and Kingston Town. Daughter Gai Waterhouse continues the family tradition.
Before moving to Nowra, Etienne de Mestre fathered a child, Helen ‘Ellen’ de Mestre, to a local aboriginal girl. One of Ellen's grandchildren, Guboo Ted Thomas, who was born under a gum-tree at Ballalaba, became a prominent aboriginal leader and nationally respected Elder. He was the last initiated tribal elder on the South Coast of New South Wales.