Mortlake musters up a crowd

Tim Haworth prepares for The Drover's Return which was performed on Australia Day. 120123AS10 Picture: AARON SAWALL
Tim Haworth prepares for The Drover's Return which was performed on Australia Day. 120123AS10 Picture: AARON SAWALL

IT seems a few clever horses and talented riders have proved they can bring crowds galloping back to Mortlake following the demise of the once-famous buskers’ festival.

More than 1200 people paid about $15,000 to see a spectacular two-hour night-time muster of local equestrian talent, singers, actors and dancers called The Drover’s Return on Australia Day evening.

Organisers yesterday confirmed the enthusiastic response had ensured the event’s future.

Later this week they are expected to officially decide to hold musters every two years with expanded programs, probably extending over several days.

“We’ll be around for a long time,” Mortlake Muster committee president Brian Thorpe said yesterday. “Mortlake has a history of putting on quality shows and this one highlighted the depth of talent in this district.

“We wrote an original script and used all local performers. They carried it out like professionals — fantastic.

“There was rave feedback.”

Thirty horses and riders trained every week for almost three months under Caramut trainers Tim and Gaye Haworth.

The muster was performed at the Tea Tree Lake precinct based on the theme of three drovers sitting around a campfire swapping yarns including content from Aussie icons Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson.

It included local residents as actors in comedy skits and singers plus school students.

One scene involved a square dance and line dance with horses doing the same moves as the dancers.

The country and western-theme band comprised local farmers.

Mortlake-based Moyne Shire councillor Jill Parker said she believed the muster program was unique.

“I certainly hope it can continue as a major two-year event,” she said.

“Being held on Australia Day it is so fitting to celebrate equestrian heritage.

“Horses and stockmen have been part of our district’s history for a long time and we still have some very talented riders.” The buskers’ festival ran for 17 years, giving the town national status at its peak.

However, it folded four years ago because it had been running at a loss.

Cr Parker and Mr Thorpe said a lesson learnt from the buskers’ festival was not to cause local volunteers to burn out.

“That’s why we think holding a muster every two years is best,” Mr Thorpe said.

“Next time we’ll probably run a few shows in a row.

“This was our third muster with performing horses and it’s proved to be the right formula.”

Committee vice-president Ann Dodds said spectators came from as far as Melbourne.

“My phone was running off the hook with inquiries,” she said. “Proceeds go to the local SES and CFA.”