In the midst of my polo days, a new equestrian avenue emerged: The Peel Hunt Club. As I was deeply engrossed in the polo scene, this traditional English institution of fox hunting beckoned. Given that I was still in a period of missing anything quintessentially English, the allure was irresistible.
Boy, did I look the part. The sharp red jacket with its contrasting yellow collar was a sight to behold. This, combined with pristine white jodhpurs, knee-high black riding boots with that dashing 5-inch brown turndown, ensured I stood out. To top it all, my stock proudly sported a gold hunt pin, an heirloom passed down from my grandfather. The stock is the frilled ruff-type collar worn by fox hunters. It's traditionally worn for safety as well as for its aesthetic appeal. In case of injury, the stock can be used as a makeshift bandage, sling, or even to secure a splint.
During this time, I made the acquaintance of Vic Ferreira, a former Canadian Mountie, who ran the Greenacres riding establishment. Vic, with his affable nature, quickly became a close friend. It was through him that I got to ride Grandy, a handsome, robust, black stallion known for his calm demeanour. Our connection was instantaneous; it felt as though Grandy could read my every intention. Riding him felt effortless. Vic would ensure Grandy was all tacked up and ready on location for the hunt, sparing me any preparatory hassle. And once the hunt was over, Vic's groom would take over, looking after everything. This made my hunting escapades stress-free and economical.
The distinctive aspect of The Peel Hunt Club was its adherence to real fox hunts. Unlike The Perth Hunt Club, staunchly anti bloodsports, which engaged in drag hunts, our hounds were always on the scent of genuine foxes. However, in a twist of irony, we never once caught a fox throughout all my outings with them. In stark contrast, The Perth Hunt Club, despite not actually pursuing real foxes, ended up catching one, meeting an untimely demise, much to their collective dismay.
Our weekly Wednesday afternoon gathering spot was the beautiful Gnangara Pine Plantation, north of Perth. This rendezvous was a sight to behold, as were we. Dressed in our finest hunting attire, we'd gallop through the woods, the thrill of the chase and sound of the huntsman’s horn ever-present, waiting to hear those words, “TallyHo.” But the hunt was just one part of the attraction. The post-hunt gathering, by a roaring bonfire, was equally, if not more, enticing. Everyone would contribute to a lavish spread with wine and champers flowing freely. A particular favourite were the seafood delights brought along by Greek fishing magnate, Mike Kailis.
There's one incident in the midst of a hunt, ,that still elicits a chuckle: during a break, a time when hip flasks were shared, Mike Kailis, attempting discretion, tried to relieve himself whilst still mounted. This was because if he dismounted, due to his age, he’d have trouble mounting again. He attempted discretion by standing in the stirrups and turning away from the group, however, a 180 degree turn by his horse exposed him, mid flow, to our entire crowd, resulting in hearty laughter all around.
Mike Kailis was the heart and soul of the club, a true stalwart whose presence was as warming as his generous spirit. Affable and well-liked by everyone, he had a knack for making every gathering a memorable feast. His culinary contributions were legendary—platters brimming with the freshest seafood, cooked to perfection, were his trademark. And his rich and hearty seafood chowder had us all in eager anticipation at every meet.
Our club events were a cornucopia of delights, with each member contributing their piece to the culinary mosaic. From soups and entrees to mains and desserts, the spread could rival the presentation and quality of a Michelin Star establishment. Mike's dishes were often the crowning glory of these occasions, cementing his reputation as not just a giver of great food, but of joy and camaraderie as well.
The Hunt Club Ball was the jewel in the crown of our social calendar, a glittering affair that rivalled even the most exclusive events of the polo set. Held annually at a venue that epitomised prestige, tickets to this grand event were as coveted as a winning lottery ticket. It was a night where the who's who of society gathered, a spectacle of elegance and finery, where the clink of glasses underscored the hum of high-spirited conversations and laughter. It was indeed the night of nights, where the camaraderie of the hunt spilled over into the sparkle of evening wear, the fantastic memories created were treasured until the next year's affair beckoned.
The club was a magnet for many of Perth's luminaries. Figures like Laurie Connell and Alan Bond were often in attendance. Bondy, despite his status, had an endearing down-to-earth nature. He wouldn't hesitate to pitch in, frequently seen manning the barbecue. Perth's elite, those who were making waves in those days, were familiar faces at the club. Tony Barlow, renowned for his showjumping prowess and holding the esteemed title of Master of The Hunt, was always around, often accompanied by his charming wife, Dorothy. Tracey Tyler, Bondy’s girlfriend was often there. Among other notable attendees were Bob and Marina Roget, Brent Morfesse, Bob Ryan, Bernie Hart, Robert Auguste, Mike Kailis, John Rossi, and the distinctively nicknamed Ian ‘Freddy the Rat’ Johnson.
Tony Barlow was an accomplished rider and a notable figure in the showjumping arena, heading the 'TONY BARLOW SHOWJUMPING TEAM'. The team was spearheaded by John Fahey, an acclaimed Australian Olympic Gold medalist in showjumping. One exhilarating day, following the rush of a hunt, Tony conceived a challenge—a timed showjumping course. The participants were eager, and we formed three teams, each comprising four riders.
Although I had never attempted a jump before, the day's excitement had filled me with a rush of adrenaline. Entrusting my fate to Grandy, my faithful stallion, we took the jumps as if we were a single entity. To my astonishment, we soared over each obstacle with grace, including a daunting five-foot fallen tree that stood as the course's final test. With a push of encouragement, Grandy cleared it magnificently. That moment was exhilarating—we were truly airborne, and the round was flawless.
Surprisingly, I completed the course faster than Tony Barlow, a victory in itself that I wore as a badge of honour. Tony's team was ahead, and it all came down to the final team, which included me. Despite our collective efforts, the time was not on our side, primarily due to one team member's less experienced riding. In the end, we may not have won as a team, but I was immensely proud of my personal achievement. Grandy and I had conquered a formidable challenge, and I had the honour of surpassing Tony's effort.
One memorable hunt had me following Dorothy Barlow. She faced a split-second decision when approaching a very large tree in the middle of the track at some pace, leading to a rather comical situation: Dorothy expected to go to it’s left whereas the horse decided to go right, leading to the horse proceeding riderless and poor Dorothy clutching the tree some 6 feet from the ground, looking much like a startled koala. There was a frozen moment of this view, then Dorothy very slowly slid down the trunk to the ground. She was quite shaken but thankfully with no visible injuries.
One balmy morning, my phone buzzed with an unexpected call from Vic Ferreira. There was a tremble in his voice as he informed me that Grandy, my usual gallant steed, was feeling under the weather. Yet, in the same breath, he assured me that a replacement awaited—an equine of such noble lineage, it was bound to quicken the pulse. This new mount, a regal creature with a mane like woven silk, was a racing prodigy hailing from England's finest breeders, for which Laurie Connell had forked out a staggering million. Yet, despite its price tag, it had arrived on our sunburnt land only to falter on the tracks, leading Connell to bestow it upon Vic gratis.
As I perched atop this aristocratic horse, a sense of fleeting prestige washed over me. Alas, the hunt proved too much for the beast; it pranced and preened, each step more erratic than the last, until I had no choice but to dismount and guide it back, a dance of two steps forward, one step back. Vic later confided, with a sorrowful shake of his head, that the steed's racing spirit had been tainted by Connell's notorious indulgence in doping, leaving its system a chaotic jumble. "Grandy, for next week," I implored Vic, eager for the familiar comfort of my tried and true companion.
It was a weekend steeped in tradition, as the Club set the stage for a hunt in the storied surrounds of historic York. Eager members, some seeking the charm of an overnight stay, others content with the day's journey, descended upon the town. I, with a penchant for the historical, found myself nestled within the walls of the enchanting 'Laurelville' a day in advance. Tony Barlow and a few others were to join me there, and our hosts, the epitome of York's warm spirit, were none other than the esteemed Warren Marwick and his wife.
The eve before the hunt, we dined under the roof of the York Hotel, where Warren, a man of many talents, moonlighted with grace. Come morning, the main street of York transformed, as onlookers gathered, their numbers a testament to the spectacle about to unfold. And what a sight it was—the convergence of history and present, as the huntsman, with hounds in tow, paraded before us, leading the parade.
The clatter of hooves on cobblestone gave way to the hush of the countryside, where the pace quickened, the hunt pressing on. Despite the absence of foxes, the ride was nothing short of exhilarating, a testament to the spirit of the chase. Eventually, we returned to Laurelville, where the dust of the day was washed away, and we settled into an evening of good food and lively conversation, the camaraderie as rich as the history that enveloped us.
As 2002 approached, life was calling me to new adventures. On the brink of marriage and with a move to Jakarta imminent, I had to bid adieu to my beloved hunting days. These memories, however, remain deeply etched in my heart, a testament to an incredibly vibrant chapter of my life