Stewart Thompson and his wife, Joan, have been valued members of the Hawkesbury community since purchasing their picturesque 32-acre property Misley Grange in 1982. It is also the home of Stewart’s vast collection of Light Horse memorabilia; certainly, worth seeing.
Tennyson, where the property is situated, is a small seclusion of historical value, sitting high in the Hawkesbury basin. It was there I joined Stewart and Joan for a cuppa and a chat about their lives spent with horses.
The Mounted Police became an attractive working arrangement for a young man who had grown up with, and loved, horses. In 1955, the round-up of interested bodies was done similarly to the Light Horse in 1912 — “See if you can ride this one mate, and you’ve got the job”.
Stewart was no fool, and remembered what his father had warned him before mounting an unknown horse. “Always walk him a few steps forward son, see if he has any buck in him.” And so, Stewart did this after he was asked to mount a stationary 16-hand thoroughbred.
Stewart gave a laugh at the memory. “When I walked him forward, he exploded into some of the best bucks I’ve seen!” he said.
It was obvious the horse was girth shy, as when he was done bucking and the girth had loosened up he was fine. Stewart, no doubt, got the job which saw him around the Sydney area for three years, mainly controlling traffic.
He remembers a day when his trusty steed, as usual, was fast asleep while Stewart controlled the traffic with hand signals. A lady carrying a large bunch of poppies (the kind they make opium from) was most smitten with this handsome horse standing like a statue, and proceeded to approach rapidly. The poppies tickled the horse’s nose, he woke up and took one enormous mouthful. Was he unusually happy after? Maybe. Stewart said the lady wasn’t. I must add that in 1955 the Mounted Division was totally separate from the foot police.
The year 1952 was a memorable year for Stewart, as it was when he met Joan, his wife and soulmate. Joan was riding past Stewart’s home on her attractive horse and, as you do, especially back then, you say, “G’day”. Their conversation continued from that iconic word, to their mutual interest — horses. The match was made. Fate? Of course!
After their marriage, an opportunity arose for them to go bush. The Mounted Police division was looking for volunteers to police a 6,000-square-mile radius around Bellbrook, an historic New South Wales town boasting famous past residents Slim Dusty and Tom Woodcock (the trainer of Phar Lap).
Why wouldn’t Stewart and Joan agree to this romantic Australian adventure? No reason at all. They enjoyed their nights sleeping under the Southern Cross, riding and pack horses tethered close by. Eventually the Mounted Police were no longer needed in this area, as progress in the shape of four-wheel drives and motorbikes took over, leaving Bellbrook to claim its place as the last Mounted Police area in Australia.
Stewart joined the army after Bellbrook, and his long-time passion for the Light Horse came back into focus. It had begun when listening to his uncle, Robbie Macnab, Light Horseman, 12th division/351, tell stories of the charges and battles in which he was part in the Middle East during the First World War. Robbie regaled the wide-eyed young Stewart with his tales, which stuck like glue to Stewart, who wanted to keep the memories alive.
After retiring from his stint in the army, which also saw the couple stationed in Papua/New Guinea during the change to independence in 1975, Stewart and Joan put plans into action and gathered volunteers to join them in enactments of the Light Horse Brigade, mainly at Anzac ceremonies and around New South Wales agricultural shows. The polo fraternity are also proud to be reminded of our heroic Light Horse Brigade, both man and horse.
Stewart and his volunteers can be seen at local functions and nursing homes. Joan and Stewart bring joy and delight to the local residents at Cheslon and the Ron Middleton VC Nursing Home, part of the new North Richmond RSL Retirement Village.
Joan recalls taking their beloved horse Digger to the Cheslon nursing home, where a gentleman sat silent. He was suffering with dementia and never spoke. But when stroking the horse’s nose, he smiled and to everyone’s amazement, began reminiscing about his life spent with horses. So fluent was his speech that it was difficult to believe when the horse left, so did his voice.
Stewart and Joan have two children. Their daughter lives happily in New Zealand and their son is on the South Coast. The numbers have dwindled among their Light Horse Brigade, and they would dearly love to keep it going for as long as they are alive.
Give it some thought, please.
As a footnote, you will find Stewart every Tuesday at the Redfern Museum of Mounted Police, working as chief guide.

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