The Stampede of '41
by Norm Flynn
During World War 2 the port of Bunbury W.A. was home to the 10th Light Horse Regiment. Troopers were camped on the showground now known as Hands Oval an Australian Rules football ground.
During their encampment, their horses were tethered on a nearby sports ground known as Forrest Park where cricket and soccer is now played.
On Sunday morning 3 March 1941 during the watering of the horses with a smaller number of handlers than usual because it was Sunday and several men had weekend leave, a horse was spooked after being nipped by another and the horses broke free and stampeded through the streets of the town. It was suggested that up to about 300 horses were involved.
They were wearing halters and tethering ropes and when galloping down the bitumen road and treading on the ropes several fell and were badly injured. It was reported that when stampeding through the town's centre a woman pushing a pram found herself in the middle of the road with horses passing either side of her. She had a lucky escape. The horses galloped up a road leading to the town's back beach. At the end of the road, there were white posts and several horses became impaled and further injuries occurred.
They then travelled southwards and when exhausted, ceased their stampede in the sand hills. Troopers who had jumped into an army vehicle and followed their chargers had the unfortunate duty of destroying several of the badly injured mounts before rounding up the stragglers and leading them back to Forrest Park.
As a Senior, Bunbury man Neville Hislop (now deceased) stated that he was passing through the town when he heard a roar and saw the horses bearing down on him. He took refuge in a cemetery and said he pulled his bike behind a headstone and out of harm's way. When the horses passed he continued on his way down to the beach to view a large surf club carnival which had attracted most of the town's population. It was here that he heard gunshots and when enquiring what was happening was told that the injured horses were being put down.
Bunbury's local newspaper reported that some of the troopers visited the hospital for treatment to minor injuries but were discharged the same day.
Finding the story
My main interest is playwriting and community theatre involvement, but as an oral historian at one time, I interviewed several people on a variety of subjects concerning Bunbury's past. After hearing about the stampede which seemed to me to be a little-known part of the town's history, I asked several of Bunbury's old-timers if they knew details of it. Those that did gave a commentary of what they saw from their vantage point. Several were at the Highway Hotel corner where the horses were skidding on the bitumen and tripping themselves up as they rounded the corner and the witnesses said it was a rather brutal sight to see the horses bleeding and limping off to follow their herd. It was commented that had the surf carnival not been on that day, there would have been more people in the town with perhaps a more dangerous situation presenting itself.
I then wrote a piece of bush poetry and it was presented at a poetry reading afternoon in the lounge of today's Highway Hotel, accompanied by a few slides (from numerous sources - see below).