14 September 2022

Former students, friends remember legendary Canberra horsewoman

| Sally Hopman
Start the conversation
Group of women

For some of these friends and ex-students of Canberra horsewoman “Bobbie” Llewellyn, pictured at a reunion earlier this month, it had been 40 years since they’d last met. Front row, left to right, Jill Edmonds, Shirley Houlahan, Kylie Hawkins, Jenny Stewart, Karin Wetselaar, Jacqueline Wilson, Karen Grant. Back row: Jill Medvezy, Lyn Murray, Vanessa Inglis, Kerrie Tanner, Diane Turner, Bridget Doyle, Jayne Hardy, Julianne Stewart, Margaret Alexander, Cathy Baird and Sue Rann. Photo: Judith Perkins.

Some hadn’t met for more than 40 years, but for this group of women, the conversations started where they had once left off – mostly about horses.

But the day was really about one remarkable Canberra woman, Mrs Bobbie Llewellyn.

For all of them, Mrs Llew, as she was known back then, changed their lives. From 1936 to 1979, Mrs Llew ran a riding school in the Molonglo Valley where the Royal Canberra Hospital once stood along Lady Denman Drive. But to her “girls”, she did more than that.

READ ALSO Memories bring life of Canberra legend Bobbie Llewellyn galloping back

Born on May 7, 1908, Mhyrra “Bobbie” Llewellyn, taught young Canberra women to be strong and independent. She taught them how to become accomplished horsewomen but to always remember that their horses were more important than they were.

In May, Jenny Stewart, of Yass, who was taught by and worked with Mrs Llew, called out, through Region, to the riding teacher’s other students and friends. She wanted to see who was still around in Canberra and who would like to get together to talk about old times. About 40 women responded, with many turning up on the day at the Yarralumla Wool Shed earlier this month.

“It was such a wonderful day,” Jenny said. “But none of us wanted it to end there. We wanted to do something more permanent for Mrs Llew.

Two women and a dog

Jenny Stewart, left, with Bobbie Llewellyn, pictured in the 1970s. Photo: Supplied.

“She deserves to have her name kept alive so we don’t lose the connection.”

There’s a crossing down to the Molonglo River Valley, fed from below Scrivener Dam, that was the riders’ entrance into one of their favourite trails, Stromlo Pines. The crossing has been gazetted Llewellyn Crossing, but according to the women who visited the site during their reunion earlier this month, there’s no sign to indicate the tribute.

“So that’s first thing on our agenda,” Jenny Stewart said. “To have that sign put up. “We also reckon she deserves to have a suburb named after her too, but we’ll settle for a road,” she laughed.

READ ALSO Uncovering the mystery of some postcards, a blacksmith and the Bowning pub

Jayne Hardy, who knew Mrs Llew for more than 50 years, was also at the reunion. “I was one of her naughty, cheeky students,” Jayne, the current president of ACT Masters Athletics, said.

“A friend told me she had seen a story on Facebook about the reunion and sent me a link. I spoke to Jenny Stewart and said I was really keen to come along.

“I was just a junior but I remember Jenny was second in charge to Mrs Llew.

“She was a woman of such strong character,” Jayne said. “In her day, she was one of those women who just got things done.

Women on river crossing

At the reunion, the women gathered at Llewellyn Crossing on the Molonglo where they used to ride, to remember Bobbie Llewellyn. Photo: Judith Perkins.

“She trained as a jockey, you know. I remember she bought this broken down racehorse called Trooper. She was the owner, trainer and jockey. She looked after him and had 38 wins. He ended up racing until he was 19. That was because she looked after him so well.”

Newspapers at the time described him as “Canberra’s Phar Lap” because he was still winning at age 18.

Mrs Llew was also the first woman in Canberra to apply for a trainer’s licence and, in 1971, was awarded a Member of the British Empire for her services to the community.

READ ALSO Yass FM broadcasts urgent call to find new home

“But I’ve got to tell you, I was terrified of her when I was a kid,” Jayne said. “There was an aura about her. But what she knew about horses was incredible.

“You could always go to her about anything, she was always supportive but she never let you get away with anything.

“I remember one day we’d gone for a ride and I came back walking my horse who was really sweaty. My Dad had turned up to take me home, but Mrs Llew said I wasn’t going anywhere until I’d dried the horse down.

“She really roused on me and to this day, I’ve never left a horse sweaty. She instilled in me, and all of us, how important it was to look after your horse.

“We ended up as great friends.”


The scrapbooks came out as the stories were told when friends and former students gathered to remember “Bobbie” Llewellyn earlier this month. Photo: Judith Perkins.

Mrs Llew, Jayne said, “set me up for life” when it came to her love for horses.

“Thanks to her, we learned how to treat animals, to not do stupid stuff, and that’s stayed with me for life.”

Jayne, who now lives in Gundaroo, said she kept horses till a few years ago when her last one, aged 31, passed away.

“I’m really pleased we got together to celebrate Mrs Llew’s life,” she said. “She made a difference to so many of our lives. She should be recognised for that.”

Mrs Llew died in 1987 but if any of her former students and friends have their way, her legend will live on.

More get-togethers are planned with former students as are moves to ensure a sign is erected to officially mark Llewellyn Crossing and, if her friends have anything to do with it, a Canberra suburb, in the not-so-distant future, will be called Llewellyn.

Former students, friends or those with a connection to Mrs Llew can keep in contact by emailing [email protected]

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.