It’s a long way from Gundagai to Kondinin in WA but the two towns are now inextricably linked by one person’s determination to keep the narrative of the Australian Imperial Forces Light Horse Regiment alive.
On Tuesday, this will become apparent as hundreds of locals gather in darkness before the Light Horse monument at Kondinin’s nearby striking granite formation, Yeerakine Rock, to commemorate Anzac Day.
And although Lucas (Luke) Dowell can’t be there, a giant mural adorning a water tank adjacent to the memorial certainly moves, lives and breathes Luke in all shades of grey, which in reality he rarely was.
The mural, in the thick of the central WA wheatbelt, has just been completed and is now included on the Australian Silo Art Trail and, for locals, tells the story of their strong links to the Light Horse.
Luke, who called Gundagai home, was a shining, charismatic, larger-than-life character and few who knew, met or saw him in the saddle would forget him.
Involved in rousing re-enactments of flighty moments of local history and poignant rides with his beloved 7th Light Horse Gundagai troop, Luke was also known to enjoy a beer on a horse in a bar if the occasion called for it.
The death of the popular 38-year-old farrier and father-of-two, tragically killed in a car crash near Wantabadgery in 2017, practically stopped the clocks in the South West Slopes.
Such was his presence, his agility and antics still vibrate through the communities.
Luke’s own Light Horse legacy arose from discussions during rides alongside members of the longstanding Harden-Murrumburrah Light Horse Brigade, who still regularly participate in annual commemorative ceremonies.
Harden-Murrumburrah, the birthplace of the 1st Australian (Volunteer) Horse Regiment in 1897, now has, at its historic heart in Murrumburrah, a swathe of bronze statues and memorials celebrating that fact.
Luke’s partner Kerrie Stewart said that heritage and those conversations fed Luke’s determination to ensure future generations knew of the service and sacrifice of the Light Horse regiment in war.
“He embraced it fully, he had family who served with the Light Horse and his love of horses just dovetailed into all of it,” Kerrie explained.
Not only did Luke raise another troop – the 7th Light Horse Gundagai – but he became a director of the Australian Light Horse Association.
That this passionate, daring larrikin would come to embody the hardy, sturdy and fearless bush characters who comprised the famed light cavalry regiment was no surprise.
But it actually was.
And that’s precisely what happened – unbeknown to the family, Luke had become part of the commemorations he, in life, was so passionate about, with his likeness represented twice in the painted frieze that tells the story of a soldier leaving his family in WA’s drought of 1914 to sail from Fremantle to serve as a soldier in the Great War.
Many soldiers of the WA wheatbelt left their families to serve their country as part of the 10th Light Horse Regiment, undertaking their pre-war training in the region, a fact also symbolised by a large metal cutout silhouette of a light horseman on his steed, installed at Yeerakine Rock in 2015.
Artist Jacob “Shakey” Butler wasn’t just challenged by the heat and strong winds as he worked on the mural – his spray cans exploding randomly in the high temperatures – but condensing the madness of World War 1 into a few images required restraint.
“The imagery came about after extensive research and consultation with members of the local community and historians,” Shakey said.
Sifting through movies, archives, books and other literature, he homed in on Luke’s image from photos taken just before he died.
Kerrie said the pictures were taken to help create several bronze statues to remember the Light Horse.
“So not only is he immortalised in a mural, but also bronze,” she said.
Those bronze figurines are still available through The Military Shop.
Shakey knew nothing of Luke’s backstory, and Luke’s family knew nothing of the mural.
“It was only after the mural was completed that another troop from WA, who had personally met Luke, saw the mural, recognised him and sent through photos,” Kerrie said.
“We were absolutely blown away to see him immortalised like that. It was a bit of a shock, really, but we also couldn’t be more proud and happy.”
Kerrie said his likeness had been captured perfectly.
“Now, there he is over the other side of Australia, just as he was in life – enthusiastically representing the Light Horse in a way he hoped would inspire future generations to pay their respects,” she said.
“I can’t tell you how proud he would be to have seen this mural come to life.”