John Hull: Gentleman and Waler Supporter

© Janet Lane. Image: John Hull at Saltwater River, moving a few of his sheep, by Leonard Johnston, 1982.

John had a big, truly beautiful farm at Saltwater River, Tasmania; still in the family. Back in 1986 when I formed the Waler Society, John was very supportive. I hadn’t met him before but heard he had a Waler – after a phone call he kindly asked me down to his farm, Blackjack.

Of course, like all older horsemen then he’d asked me what I thought a Waler was – hopefully I’d given an ok answer! After all, one is always learning and it’s from these good people one learns.

Anyway after a cuppa – a very hospitable family – he drove me in his old Landrover down to the horse yards. John bred a lot of horses mainly just because he liked them, and because mustering in some of his country was best done on a horse. He called them his brumbies. He’d bought a leopard spotted Appaloosa stallion (must say, who doesn’t like one of those?!) and had about 20 mares that had bred foals by him – but this stallion never threw a spot (obviously recessive gene for the spotting). As DNA testing for colour wasn’t a thing then and the internet didn’t exist; he bought all sorts of mares hoping one would throw spots. But nope.

He’d run in a mob of youngsters by this stallion, 20 or so, various colours; they were crowded in a yard, and we climbed the fence to peer over. Only one was a half Waler, the rest with no Waler blood. “Now can you tell me which one of those is the Waler?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye. He had a good straight gaze, as straight arrow a person as you’ll ever meet. He was known as “Honest John” down that way for his quiet honesty. I had a good look and pointed at a solid little bay. “Not sure which one you mean, you better get in there and put your hand on it.” So I did. They were all unbroken and jammed in pretty tightly. But none had a bad bone and the solid little bay didn’t mind me putting my hand on his rump. “Yes, that’s him” said John, pleased, “never had a hand on him before” and after that we were friends.

He’d got a Waler stallion over from a station in South Australia, a big solid grey that had been a brumby. Aged when he came over. John soon got him tame and broken in. However he proved too good at jumping and touring the countryside (John’s farm was beautifully looked after – super good fences). So reluctantly, as no-one seemed interested in Walers then, he was gelded. After all if you said “Waler” back then you got laughed at or worse by some people. Things are different now. The grey had only sired one foal as John had always caught him before he went too far, or so he thought. As it turned out, somehow, probably aided by a dam wall – he’d got a Shetland pony in foal! The bay was the result, actually a good little horse, about 13.3 hh; stood over a bit of ground as that sort of cross does. Tremendous bone and temperament.

John had an uncle who’d gone to the Boer War. He had a photo of him there with his grey horse (hence John glad to get a grey Waler too) and pet lion cub. The uncle liked South Africa so much he came home after the war to say goodbye and went back there to live permanently. John also had his saddle from that war – a very interesting looking military saddle of a different design to the WW1 ones. He’d looked after it beautifully. In the very first Waler Soc newsletter, I put a photo of this saddle and a copy of the photo of his uncle. Well, I just had a look and darned if I can find the first and second newsletters from 1986, thought I had them but hmm; and maybe it was in the second one? Memory isn’t that flash these days! If anyone has them please put send them in, thank you. Would love to see them again.

It was great to talk horses with him, turned out we knew some people in common up the Lakes etc and he took me for tours about his farm and bush in his Landrover, like all good farmers he had a deep love of his land, the paddocks and the bush.

A man of few words but all gold. Good sense of humour. He’d been a shearer when young, and he ran sheep on his farm. Still shore at times.

He was also well known for training sheep dogs, often for farmer friends too. Loads of patience. Usually had a pup or young dog or three at his heels. Passing the stallion paddock where his Appaloosa lived, John stopped. He got out and called the stallion, he cantered over, leaving his mares. John got in the paddock, and leaped onto him bareback, no bridle. He jumped him over the fence onto the farm road, looking as proud as punch. Yes, I was impressed. Probably said woo or something, ha. John said he rode him after sheep and cattle like that, he was so good he never needed a bridle “like riding a good sheepdog” he chuckled.

Photo of John Hull by Leonard Johnston, 1982

Well, I ended up buying six young horses from John to break in (how I was making a living back then). None with spots, ha. One was the little half Waler, what a champ. He was the oldest, about 5. All got good homes. And went to visit the grey Waler, now well aged, he was living on a farm at Forcett, he’d been used for a trail riding business there and was retired. People for miles knew him because he jumped out when he felt like it and toured about. His name was Brumby.

Photo of John Hull by Leonard Johnston, 1982

Lost touch with John over the years, but have never forgotten him.

His quiet encouragement when we first started out with finding Walers in the modern era, was more than words can say. As well as his knowledge of horses. He had worked horses, unlike me (have never used a horse in harness, never mind we can’t do everything). When I said I’d heard a chap on the wireless talking about them being on some stations still (Reg Wilson), John said oh yes. When he went for a holiday after shearing, he liked to look at country. He would tour about the mainland and the outback. Sometimes he would drive up to a big station if he liked the look of it, and introduce himself; “Hi I’m John Hull from Saltwater River, just having a look about, wondering what you are running here, looks a nice place” …he said the people were always super friendly, and they could talk horses and dogs and sheep and cattle for hours, and some of them told him they had a few Walers left out the back. So there you go.

Rest in peace dear John, a gentleman, a quiet, humble, good family man, top notch farmer and truly wonderful horseman. One of the best.

Posted by Janet Lane

Rare breeds advocate, and Waler researcher and owner/advocate since the 1980s.