A living history

Main picture – Gary Chandler and son Alex.
Photography – Terry Hope

Founded in 1995 by local policeman Gary Chandler, the Creswick RSL Light Horse Troop grew from very humble beginnings to become one of the most favoured attractions at many commemorative ceremonies and parades held throughout the State.

When he was posted to Creswick in 1988 Gary found the ‘one man’ station was a little restrictive and he needed a distraction, so he bought a horse and relaxed by riding through the local bush. Riding the trails, he would regularly come across stolen cars, marijuana plantations and other things that shouldn’t have been there, so his days off effectively didn’t exist. He realised that there was very little for young people to do in and around the town, so the Creswick Youth Alliance was started through the Neighbourhood house.

It soon moved to become the Blue Light group, but the local kids wanted something else. Gary saw an advertisement for the Castlemaine Light Horse, which led to a group of Creswick kids, including Gary’s then five year old son, Alex, become part of the Castlemaine Light Horse, eventually making up half the numbers.

To turn out in correct uniforms and equipment led to a protracted effort to beg, borrow and scrounge equipment from far and wide. The troop’s first outing was at the 1995 Begonia Festival with 10 riders. One of their biggest parades became the most memorable for a very unique reason. The Troop was invited to participate in the Centenary of Federation in Melbourne in 2001. It was a major effort to transport 42 riders and horses, 10 helpers and all the equipment

Young girl honouring the nurses who went to war.

needed to turn out a proud and impressive troop. Part of the 10 helpers’ duties was to follow the parade with shovels and wheelbarrows scooping up the horse droppings along the way. Gary says, “I remember looking along the route and seeing over a hundred thousand people clapping and cheering us along and it was hard to contain the emotion”. When the parade was over and they could relax, one of the helpers told Gary to open his hands into which he promptly deposited a cache of bank notes and coins. The enterprising helpers had obtained bags and filled them with the horse poo, which they then sold to the Governor, the Premier and other dignitaries after the parade. The funds paid for more hay for recycling.

It hasn’t been easy to keep the Troop going and attending around 20 events per year including parading on the MCG before the traditional Anzac Day football match, however this ‘Living History’ group ensures recognition of our country’s heritage as well as providing an outlet for any young person interested in history, horses and being involved in a community group. Check out the Facebook site for the Creswick RSL Light Horse Troop.