Cape Otway Horse Ride 1933

We received this epistle from Bob Bell to his wife Daisy in 1933, submitted by their daughter  Robyn Currie and an abridged version appears in the latest issue.

We present the original letter here in its entirety and the letter from Robyn.

It provides a glimpse into a time, when social mores and values were different, over eighty years ago, and Cape Otway would have felt like the outback.

Image Source: State Library of Victoria Good history of Ballarat Hotel Apollo Bay can be found here:



Ballarat Hotel,

Apollo Bay

October 9th 1933

Oh my darling,

I know you are anxious to hear about my trip to Cape Otway on Saturday.  Before we made a start I was hoping that you would arrive in Apollo Bay and accompany us on the trip as I am sure you would have enjoyed it as I did.

As you know, we had to do the trip on horseback, three of us started off with our haversacks up ready for trails up hills, down into valleys.  The three were Miss Freda Hayward, Jack Funston and myself we left Apollo Bay at 2.45 p.m. the day was nice and warm although it was rather cloudy overhead.

We rode along the metal road towards Hordern Vale for about 5 miles and then took to the bush past where a sawmill had been years ago but everything was deserted. After we left the old mill site we started on a rather long, steep grade down into a valley, through which the Clare river flowed, about the bridge of which there was a lot of mud into which the horses went knee deep and the ascent for 100 feet or so was very steep and muddy but the horses took it in great style although it was a long climb for them. By this time we had got into the bush proper, and the birds were making their various calls and chirping but no trace of animal life did we see.

No sooner had we climbed the next ridge than we had to go down again, this time into the valley of the Elliot river, although the descent and ascent weren’t as steep as the ones at the Clare river there was a lot more mud and Freda had to get off and lead her pony through as it didn’t like the mud, and even when it was led, it stepped so daintily as if it tried to keep her hoofs clean.


Courtesy of the James Northfield Art Trust


From the Elliot River onward we often had to wait for Freda as her pony couldn’t keep up with our horses on the climbing.  Jack Funston was always in the lead as he knew the track and we needed a guide.  Our next descent was into the Stinky creek valley and then up a track that had once been a road along which bullock teams used to take supplies to the Cape, but that was years ago, the track being very rough now, with water courses down where the road used to be.  The track is used now only by travellers on horseback to and from the Cape.  The present track for the carrying of supplies is from Hordern Vale a distance of 8 miles making a distance of 27 miles from Apollo Bay to Cape Otway whereas our track was much shorter being 16 miles to the Cape.

After climbing up from Stinky Creek we got into a different class of country, mostly bull oak scrub and saplings, this section had the appearance of being settled and cleared at one time and then deserted, the scrub and saplings were growing up between the logs in an old corduroy road, the first which we had seen since leaving the metal road, 5 or 6 miles back.


We now left the wide track and took to a bridle track through the scrub, (a bridle track is one, which is only wide enough for one horse, the others follow in single files) this track followed the telephone line for about ½ mile after which we came out on to the old bush track again.  Just as we came out of the bridle track I found that I had lost my camera.  The spot where I made my discovery was near a deserted hut called Jack’s hut.

I had my camera slung over my shoulder under my overcoat, but while we were galloping along the metal it was flapping about, so I shortened the strap, but couldn’t have buckled it on properly with the consequence it slipped off with out me noticing it.  Anyhow it was too far to go back and look for it.

After leaving the vicinity of Jack’s hut and crossing Jack’s creek we got into country where there was a galaxy of wild flowers, red, pink and white heath, wild sweet pea, everlasting flower, bacon and eggs flower, wattle and a lot of others I didn’t know the name it all looked very pretty.

It was in this section that the horses had their first gallop after leaving the metal road as we couldn’t take them above a walk before.  It was great galloping through the bush and the warm wind blowing in our faces.

In this part years ago, some black fellows murdered a white man, it is a good job there are no black fellows about there now.

After our short gallop we came across the Parker river, just near the bridge, was a plot of ground, about an acre in size and subdivided into 4 plots, for the use of keepers at the lighthouse, for vegetable gardens.  The Cape Otway Lighthouse being about 20 minutes ride on horse back from the Parker river.  After a short climb over a hill we trotted or galloped for a good distance, then on entering a gate (with a notice up, No admittance Government property) Jack and I had a race on horse-back to the last gate, leaving the third party to herself we galloped for a mile, Jack beating me by a length.



At last after 3 1/2 hours riding we reached our destination, the Cape Otway Lighthouse.  The lighthouse is on the most prominent point. About 200 yards behind the lighthouse are the homes of two of the keepers Messrs Young and Rickson, 100 yards to the east is the home of the head keeper Mr De La Cour, and about ¼ of a mile still further east is the home of Mr Ford another keeper, and also the school. Only keepers with families the larger the better are sent to the Otway lighthouse as they have a full time school teacher there.  There has to be a certain number of scholars before there can be a full time teacher, and it is too far from anywhere for a part time teacher.



Our host for the night was Mr Young, the school teacher is also stopping there.  Tea was just ready when we arrived and it was a good meal too, after we had satisfied the inner man, we changed from our riding clothes into others more suitable for dancing.  Before going to the dance, Mr & Mrs Young, the school teacher, Mr Whittle, Freda, Jack and myself sat talking and listening to the gramophone until 9.30 p.m. then we went to the dance which was held on the verandah of Mr Ford’s house.  There was about 20 persons there but only 3 ladies, but soon after the others began to arrive, some from Johanna River, (two chaps came from Johanna River in a gig and at one spot it tipped completely over throwing them out) some from Glen Aire and others from Hordern Vale.  It seem strange (to me at any rate) to see girls arriving at a dance in riding breeches and bringing their dresses with them.  The dance went on very merrily, with three exceptions, the dances were old time dances and were very enjoyable, I was M.C. for 1 set the first set, and was given a card to read the figures from.

There were two chaps there I knew, one, George Shields, a brother of Marg. Shields, he had come over from Glen Aire, the other, Jack Webster, used to go to the High School about 16 years ago, we had a great chat about olden times at school, he is farming at Hordern Vale.

Supper came on at 1 a.m. it was very nice, all home made the brown bread, egg and lettuce sandwiches were very nice, after supper a lot of us went up the light house with Mr Ford, he was re-fueling the light, a kerosene light, but it developes up to 10,000 candle power and shows 24 miles out to sea.  There is a landing outside the top of the tower and some of us went out on to the landing but it was blowing, (the wind was) nearly a gale, 22 persons were up the tower at the one time.  The workings of the light were explained by Mr Ford.

The Presbyterian Minister at Apollo Bay or at least the home missioner as he is called had been at Hordern Vale, that day, and he had walked over to Cape Otway, although a horse was sent for him he preferred to walk, to give the youngsters Sunday school, he is coming over every fortnight, Mr Maggs his name is, stayed at Mr Ricksons home for the night.  He came up to the dance and stayed until 2 a.m. he even played the mouth organ for a couple of quick sets.  He left Cape Otway about 11 a.m. to conduct a service at Hordern Vale, but I imagine he would be rather late for it.

We danced until 4.15 a.m. towards the last we had several old dances, seldom seen now, the princess polka Palma waltz, the Kings Waltz, Canadian Barn Dance, the Maxina and the Highland Schottiche, although the last named is often done.  We then had another supper in the school room, and everybody (except the Apollo Bay Visitors) changed into their riding gear to go home, some of them to start milking.

We got to bed at 5 a.m.  Jack and I sleeping in a single bed, the school teacher had the other single bed.  When we awoke in the morning, there was a ridge between Jock and myself, evidently we didn’t move much during our short sleeping hours.

About 10.30 a.m. we had breakfast, porridge, bacon and eggs.  After which I borrowed a camera and Mr Young took us for a walk explaining and telling us various things.  The light house was built in 1846 by convicts.  We went down to the beach a fairly steep incline it was too, Mr Young, Mr Whittle and myself climbed into a very pretty cave, all colors were in it, the stalagtites were multicoloured also, we couldn’t stay there long on account of the rising tide, there was also another big cave under the light house, but we didn’t go to the end of it.


Enter a caption

Courtesy of the James Northfield Heritage Art Trust  ©

I took 5 snaps while we were out walking two of the light house from different angles, one of the keepers quarters and observatory, one back view and one of the group on a big rock in front of the cave under the light house.  While we were at the light house looking around, we saw a huge shoal of porpoises Mr Young said there was about 200 in the shoal.

After finishing our walk, Jack and I went looking for our horses, but someone had let them out the previous night, evidently, into the big paddock, only Freda’s pony was in the little paddock so Jack Young a lad of 12 years got on the pony and rounded up our horses, we then had a light lunch before leaving for Apollo Bay.  We said good bye to our hosts, Mrs Young taking a snap of us on horse back before we left.  Mr & Mrs Young are fine people, they looked after us well during our short stay in Cape Otway.

As soon as we got on the horses, they were eager to get home, especially my horse so I galloped away from Jack and Freda reaching Parker River a good while before them.  My horse being very anxious I let it have its head and took the lead most of the way home.  At one place I deliberately took the wrong track, a road to Blanket Bay, and the horse didn’t want to go that way, it seemed quite content when I got on to the old track again.  On the way home we passed lots of cattle, evidently been turned out for grazing I have since learnt that there are a lot of wild cattle in that part of the bush.

About 200 yards pass Jack’s hut on the Apollo Bay side in a bridle track along the telephone lines, I came upon my camera, not far from where I first missed it, near it on either side were two holes of water about 6 inches deep, so I was rather lucky in finding it.  We continued on our journey without further incident except that Freda had to lead her pony through the mud at Clare river.

As soon as the horses got on the metal the horses were anxious to be off and they had their heads most of the way.  We arrived back in Apollo Bay at 6.15 p.m. having done the trip in 3 hours.

Jack and I went to the hotel for tea, Jack boards there.  After tea, I had a nice hot bath and shower, a good rub down and then I went home to bed, to have a good sleep, 10 1/2 hours solid sleep the end of a splendid week-end, awoke the next day feeling very fit, except for a slight stiffness between the shoulder blades.  Not too bad for the longest ride I ever had and the second or third ride in 12 years.

My dear, now you know what a trip I had to Cape Otway, my first, I wonder if I will have another.

I hope you enjoy reading this story

of your rough rider,





Hello Nettie, Gillian and Helen,

I have just read your Winter edition of the Otway Life magazine and loved the stories. As I have been staying in Anglesea for a few months it was even more interesting!

I have attached a letter that my father (Bob Bell) wrote to my mother (Daisy Swayn) in 1933 after a horse ride from Apollo Bay to the Cape Otway lighthouse. I find it fascinating of course, but I thought there might be enough detail to interest other local people. I have looked for photos in our family collection to accompany the story but have not found any. My sister typed as written from the original letter so some of the grammar and punctuation is missing. If you want to use the letter in your magazine that is fine, and edit out unnecessary bits – maybe the first paragraph and the one about the “blackfellows”, the latter not currently  acceptable but I realise he was just writing that there were thankfully no dangers. Mum and Dad lived most of their lives in and around Colac but often holidayed down at the coast, particularly Lorne where they eventually retired.

I love a print magazine over an e-magazine but understand that costs may influence your decisions. Keep up the great work ladies,
Kind regards
Robyn Currie (nee Bell)




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