Bernie is a tough Aussie bloke, but he was coughing to disguise his choking emotions as he told me some of the stories around the exhibits, that he and his wife Frances have collected to make up this Light Horse Museum.
The museum itself is an extraordinary mixture of rare and interesting exhibits, dramatic visual re-enactments and a collection of everyday things that poignantly tell the stories of horses, donkeys, mules and other animals in the horror that is war.
I’ve visited the museum several times now, the collection is awesome and have I loved it every time – but it’s Bernie’s stories that bring the museum even more to life.
… Stories like the one about 2000 Russian cavalry charging a German machine gun post and only 11 riders making it through. I’m not even going to try to tell you this story the way that Bernie tells it, with the strange rumbling of the ground puzzling the waiting soldiers and the 2000 horses and riders bursting through the mist into the mouth of the gun.
And I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling you the other stories here either – Bernie is full of them and you are in for a treat.
This museum is worth driving interstate to see but there it sits, just 1.2 kilometres from the Princes Highway at Nar Nar Goon, only an hour out of Melbourne city.
If you live in Victoria, you’ve probably driven past this museum numerous times and missed an incredible opportunity to have history brought to life in what may well be the largest private museum in the country.
Do you know, there is something about the graphic way that we see life these days – graphic television footage, violent video games – we can’t help but be at least a bit dulled off to these everyday horrors. Well folks, you had better bring a box of tissues with you to this museum because at some point in your tour, you are going to need them.
Frances told me that the key words about this exhibition are “They had no choice.”
The six horse gun carriage that you see in the photo here, is an incredibly difficult combination. Sadly, after the death of a human member of their team, we won’t see this again – although we are lucky enough to still have the four horse gun carriage and horse drawn ambulance in Melbourne’s Anzac day Parades.
The new movie War Horse and the amazingly realistically moving giant size “puppets” for the stage show of the same name are a hot topic doing the rounds of horsey people at the moment and they are focussing the world on the story of horses in war.
I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the movie, yet – I think I’m waiting to watch it at home where I won’t make a fool of myself or disturb anyone else with my sobbing (I’ve read the book you see, so I know what I am in for.)
Well, we have our very own “War Horse” right here in our own back yard with Bernie and Frances and their passion to tell the stories of the horses, donkeys and mules that were involved in man’s insanity of war.
With this museum, they tell a much more in depth story than War Horse is able to do – from powerful and tearful poetry to staggering statistics like 1,000,000 horses, donkeys and mules dying in just a few hours – IN JUST A FEW HOURS – in one horrifying battle at The Somme in World War One.
The museum is sometimes quirky, like the diorama of the deeply spiritual story of the Angels of Mons, complete with horse and human skeleton and then with some light relief on the other side of the museum with the figure of Harry Potter lurking slightly off stage and Phar Lap’s saddle in pride of place.
Get a group together and make an afternoon of it. Enjoy a typically old fashioned Aussie afternoon tea in the “canteen”. And you might want to go visit before I convince Bernie and Frances to increase their prices from their ridiculously low price!