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Leongatha's Lennie and Ginger Mick

Home > Gippsland > Day Trips | Fun for Children | Fun Things To Do | Kids | Outdoor
by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia. https://www.facebook.com/paula.mcmanus1
Published September 28th 2021
A boy, his pony and the Sydney Harbour Bridge
I learnt something new this past week. I learnt that, 90 years ago, a 9-year old boy travelled from his family farm in Victoria to Sydney on his own. The more I read, the more entranced I became with Lennie and Ginger Mick. It's an epic story and one that needs to be shared with your children and grandchildren!

Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick
Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick (image via Creative Commons, Wikipedia)


In the early 1930s, Australia had been suffering badly from the effects of the Great Depression. The Australian economy had collapsed and unemployment had reached a record high of 32%. Hundreds of thousands of Australians were out of work. Tens of thousands of men packed their belongings in a swag and moved around the country looking for work. These swagmen filled the roads and walked from town to town looking for any kind of job with any kind of pay. Shanty towns grew on the outskirts of towns as more and more people lost their homes. Families, previously doing ok, were now living in poverty. Men recently returned from the Great War were hit the hardest. They were still dealing with the trauma of war and now their families were starving and destitute. Suicide numbers spiked and morale across the country was at rock bottom.

In the spring of 1931 in Leongatha, a town in South Gippsland Victoria, a farmer broke his leg. The farmer was Captain Leo Gwyther - a war hero, husband and father of 5. He was in a Melbourne hospital for 6 weeks and the family farm, 'Flers', was in danger of falling apart.

Great Depression food line
Great Depression food line (ABC Reference ID: abc.net.au/photo/DP037252)

Captain Gwyther's eldest child was 9 year old son, Lennie. Lennie took over the responsibility of the farm and ploughed 24 acres of land with 4 draught horses and prepared the land for sowing. He saved the farm.

Lennie had saved the family from becoming one of the awful statistics of the era and Lennie's parents, Leo and Clara Amelia, wanted to reward him for his hard work. They asked him to choose whatever he wanted. His parents thought he would ask for a new saddle or art supplies, but Lennie was one small boy with a very big dream.

Lennie had been obsessively following the construction of the largest bridge in the southern hemisphere; the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He mapped out his route and, according to his calculations, figured that if he rode 20 miles per day, he would make it to Sydney in time for the opening. This was the reward he wished for. His parents communicated with Leo's war veteran mates along the route to ask for support and also mapped his route according to the country show circuit. Once that was done, they gave their ok.

Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick
Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick (image via Creative Commons, Wikipedia)


On the 3rd February 1932, Lennie packed a sack with basic supplies, jumped on Ginger Mick's back and set off for the 1000 kilometre trek to Sydney. ON. HIS. OWN. A 9 year old boy, his pony and a bag with toothbrush, pyjamas, his map and a drink bottle. He had 1 in his pocket.

Lennie had owned Ginger Mick since he was two years old. Ginger Mick was named after a character from C.J Dennis' book The Moods of Ginger Mick

His map took him east to Sale, Bairnsdale, Cann River and then north to Bombola, Cooma, Canberra, Goulburn, Moss Vale and finally, Sydney. The bush telegraph moves faster than a boy on a pony and Lennie found that on arriving at towns along the way, people knew who he was. The further he went, the more people greeted him. Entire town populations would be out on the streets to welcome him.

The ride to Sydney took him 4 weeks. Newspapers printed regular updates of Lennie's ride and Australia became enthralled with this boy who had tea with Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in Canberra, got attacked by a deranged swagman who tried to steal his horse and survived a deadly bushfire. He rode on dirt tracks and slogged through days of heavy rain and fog. Lennie was the good news story that people craved and needed - he gave Australians a much-needed break from the grief and hard times in their everyday lives.

Swagman
Swagman (image via Creative Commons, Wikipedia)"


As Lennie arrived in Sydney in March, accompanied by 25 police, he was met by 10,000 cheering citizens. The crowds crammed in close to the duo with people wanting to pat them and congratulate them. Some even tried to pull hairs from poor old Ginger Mick's tail.

On the 19th March 1932, Lennie not only saw the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he became a part of the official ceremony! It was a huge event and everyone who was anyone was there. And there, in the middle of the grand parade was a 9 year old boy and his pony. Lennie and Ginger Mick crossed the bridge with indigenous groups, war veterans, schoolchildren and bridge workers and saluted the Governor-General and the NSW Premier. The parade was held half an hour late, due to the infamous cutting of the ribbon by rebel Francis De Groot

Two days later Lennie met Don Bradman, the biggest celebrity of the Depression-era. Don Bradman had requested to meet Lennie, where he gave him a signed cricket bat. Lennie also visited the beach, the zoo and attended many official functions and receptions.

Don Bradman
Don Bradman (image via Creative Commons, Wikipedia)


Lennie had originally arranged to catch a boat home from Sydney but he was having such a good time that he managed to convince his father to let him ride back as well. He took a different route home - the return journey path is largely unknown but he definitely went through Wagga Wagga, Albury and Wangaratta.

When Lennie left Sydney for the 1000km ride home a month later, he had become one of the most famous people in the country. Large crowds stood along the route to wave handkerchiefs and women wept and shouted goodbye. Lennie, ever so casual, replied with a cheery 'Toodleloo!'".

Lennie was 10 years old by the time he reached home on the 10th of June. He had been away for 4 months and travelled more than 2,000 kilometres. He arrived to a tumultuous homecoming - 800 people greeted him in his hometown. He is recorded in the Guilds Records as the "youngest known person to make a solo equestrian journey." In Leongatha, Victoria, Gwyther Siding Road was named after him.

At the age of 19, Lennie enlisted in the army and served in the Morotai Islands in the Pacific.

He worked as an engineer with General Motors' Holden at Fishermans Bend, Victoria and lived in the Melbourne suburb of Hampton.

Lennie Gwyther died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 70 while building a yacht to sail to Tasmania. On 14 October 2017, a true to scale bronze statue of Lennie Gwyther riding Ginger Mick was unveiled in Leongatha by the Gwyther family. Leongatha is a town in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges in South Gippsland Shire, Victoria and is located 135 kilometres southeast of Melbourne.

What an amazing story and what a remarkable young man! There have been several books written about Lennie and Ginger Mick, but I don't think a movie has been made yet. Lennie's story really is the stuff of legends.

Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick
Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick (image via Creative Commons, Wikipedia)


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Why? The true story of a 9 year old who rode his pony 1000 kilometres, with his parents' blessing, to attend the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It took 4 months and along the way he lifted a nation and captured the hearts of every Australian
Where: Leongatha, Victoria
Your Comment
This is definitely one of the characters in my latest article, Up-coming events at Bankfoot House, which includes The Yarn Spinner, who walked from Victoria to Queensland and back during the Great Depression. Good article, Paula!
by Elaine (score: 3|8503) 20 days ago
What a fantastic story Paula. I'm going to go have a look at that statue. Leongatha is only a half hour drive from where I live.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|9188) 19 days ago
Well deserving of a movie - What an adventure for such a young man in a boys body...
by Peter Redmond (score: 1|23) 18 days ago
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