Nine-year-old completes 2500km trek alone
As a 9 year old Lennie Gwyther had been given the responsibility of running the family farm at Leongatha in Victoria's Gippsland area, when his dad, Captain Leo Tennyson Gwyther, broke his leg and was unable to do the work.
Lennie with Ginger Mick. By Sam Hood Sydney Morning Herald photographer
Lennie would harness four horses and plough the 24 acre farm. With his chestnut pony Ginger Mick, named after his father's favourite character in the CJ Dennis book, The Moods of Ginger Mick, Lennie would complete many other chores needed done on a working farm. Ginger Mick stood 12 hands high and was given to Lennie on his 2nd birthday by his grandfather.
His father recovered and resumed his role but he wanted to give Lennie a reward for taking on more than most 9 year olds could cope with. Lennie had already planned what he would like to do.
It was 1932 and the Sydney Harbour Bridge was near completion. It was to be a momentous occasion, the opening of such a landmark building in the city and Lenny wanted to be there. He had developed an interest in engineering and had followed the news of the bridge's construction in the papers. He asked his father if he could go and be a part of the opening of the bridge ceremony.
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For any parent at any time, this was a huge ask. A 9 year old from the country going to the city by himself! Lennie's mum, Clara (Clare) Gwyther (nee Simon) was not having any of it. However, Lennie, and possibly with the backing of his father, persisted. Father and son sat down and drew up a map that Lennie would follow to get to Sydney; they contacted officials at the Royal Agricultural Show in Sydney who promised to meet him in Martin Place when he got there and take care of him and there was still the need to reward the young lad for taking on such an important role on the farm. Eventually Clara relented.
The morning of 3 February, 1932 dawned and the folk of Leongatha would have seen young Lennie and his 'partner-in-crime' Ginger Mick making their way out of the small town, heading to Sydney. He carried a haversack that held his toothbrush, silk pyjamas, spare clothes and a water bottle. It wasn't long before the media of the day picked up his story.
On the first night Lennie camped at Mirboo and reached Traralgon the next day. He was welcomed by half the town, who turned out to see him. In five days he had covered 180 miles (290kms) of a 600 mile (965km) trip.
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The Captain and Clara received a phone call from Lennie along the way and the relief must have been palpable. He explained he was very happy and enjoying his trip. He advised them that Ginger Mick was well, they were having plenty to eat and sleeping well. Lennie was having fun.
When Lennie arrived in Canberra, he made his way to Parliament House to be greeted by the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. They shook hands and had tea before the young boy set off again.
Sydney was Lennie's final stop and he was greeted by 10,000 people who all cheered him as he arrived in Martin Place with a 25-strong police escort. He was met by the secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society, Colonel Somerville and the Lord Mayor, Sir Samuel Walder. This little boy in his khaki breeches, carrying a cloth sun hat in his hand had galvanised a nation on the eve of the opening of one of Australia's greatest engineering achievements.
Lennie and Ginger Mick in the Harbour Bridge parade. Photo Sam Hood Sydney Morning Herald photographer
As 19 March, 1932 dawned, crowds of up to 750,000 people gathered to watch NSW Premier Jack Lang officially open the bridge. Lennie and Ginger Mick took part in the parade and walked across the new bridge. He had made it!
Two days later Lennie met cricketing legend Don Bradman at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where the cricketer gave him a signed cricket bat. Lennie finally turned for home. On the way he stopped at Gunning Public School where he talked about his experiences and celebrated his 10th birthday.
His arrival in Leongatha, via Melbourne, saw 800 locals waiting to welcome him home. He also delivered a letter from Sydney's Lord Mayor to the president of the Woorayl Shire Council.
Lennie went back to the farm and resumed his normal life. He and Ginger Mick had travelled 2500kms over a period of nine weeks and seen many sights.
At 19 he served in the army in World War Two, fighting in the Morotai Islands. He returned to work at General Motors Holden for most of his working life and lived in Melbourne.
Statue of Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick. Photo by Ollee
In 1992 he died at 70 years old from cancer. In 2017 a statue to commemorate Lennie and Ginger Mick's massive trek was erected in Leongatha.
'Lennie Gwyther', Wikipedia, accessed 29th April, 2021, Lennie Gwyther - Wikipedia
'Riding to Bridge on pony', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, Wednesday, 9 March, 1932, Page 6
'Boy's 600 mile ride to visit Sydney Show', Daily Standard, Monday 22 February, 1932, Page 12
'Lennie Gwyther', Youtube, accessed 1st May, 2021.