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Pile, John (1842–1924)

The death of Mr. John Pile, reported in The Register on Friday, brought back to the memory of sporting men who were associated with him in the early days of racing in South Australia, many incidents which occurred while the deceased was connected with the local turf. Mr. Pile was for many years, in its earlier days, a member of the committee of the Adelaide Racing Club, and the services he rendered to that body were appreciated to such a degree that he was made a life member. Mr. Pile was perhaps best known to the sporting public as the owner of the steeplechaser Confidence, which won an Australian Grand National for him, while Madhi also won many good races for him. The deceased always regarded with pride the fact that during his association with the turf he was never brought up before the stewards. He was an excellent judge of a horse, and whenever he found any animal in his stable that did not turn out just as he expected he immediately disposed of it. Apart from Adelaide and Melbourne, Mr. Pile also raced with success at Wentworth, Wilcannia, Menindie, Broken Hill, Albury, Wagga, Tasmania, and many other places. Mr. Pile was interested mostly in jumpers, but he was always pleased to see his colours carried to victory on the flat, and among those which credited him with success in that direction was Affluence in the Sandhurst Cup, while twice Affluence and Necklace narrowly suffered defeat in the Onkaparinga Cup.

Mr. Pile's association with the turf went back to the days when meetings were held at Gawler on the flat, where the township now stands. Relating the story of his career some years ago Mr. Pile said that while at Gawler he met many overlanders, among whom Dick Holland invited him to go with him to Sydney. His story runs:—"I was then a boy of 13 or 14 years, but the spirit of adventure appealed to me and I secured my parents' consent. 'Old Dick,' as he was called, had his home on the Hawkesbury River, and I accompanied him overland with a mob of horses from New South Wales to South Australia. It was shortly after this that I first met McKinlay, the explorer, who subsequently married my sister. My father was mixed up with McKinlay in some horse transactions, and my next overlanding trip was in the company of the man whose memorial still stands at the northern end of Murray street as a fitting tribute to an intrepid bushman. It was after this trip that McKinlay settled for a time on Lake Victoria Station, and it was also on his advice that my father took up 60 miles of frontage on the River Darling to the south-east of Broken Hill. This is how Cutheroe and Netley Stations were formed. Subsequently my father sold Netley to Joe Dunne, and I remember he was proceeding home with a buggy and pair and the river was swollen with flood. On that lonely journey Dunne must have gone to sleep, and the horses, being accustomed to fording the river at a certain place, followed the track instead of crossing the bridge. Dunne must have awakened to the situation later, and tried to save the lives of his horses, for, while they were found with their heads to the opposite bank with some of their harness removed, his body was recovered farther down the stream stripped to his singlet. He evidently died like a good sportsman.

"We started Cutheroe with 1,200 to 1,300 cattle, which were delivered to us at Wentworth. There were no fences in those days, and I remember having to teach the blackboys to ride so that they might assist me in looking after the herd. Then by small purchases from passing droves we got 3,000 on the place. I remember on one occasion making a good deal. I was riding down to Netley and saw a big mob of cattle on the other bank. The river was low, and I also noticed that a number of the cattle had crossed to our side of the river. Meeting the man in charge, I asked him whether he had lost any cattle, and he replied in the negative. I had seen and counted their tracks, and told him I would pay him £100 for all that had crossed and any stragglers, which proposition he accepted. I also suggested that we should round them up the next day, but he declined. However, on the following morning I was in the saddle bright and early, and mustered 75, which were immediately put through the crush pen and branded. It was a genuine deal, but I believe my father sent on another cheque later." 

There were some rough characters on the Darling in those days, but I was always capable of holding my own with them. I remember riding on one occasion to the White Cliffs Hotel, which was near Cutheroe, when I met on the road a man who asked me for a match. He asked me whether my name was Pile, and on my replying in the affirmative we conversed for some time. I then heard the rattle of the coach coming over the claypans in the distance, and I said I must push on. My companion then remarked that he was going to stick up the coach, and asked whether I would stop and see the fun. I declined, as I had no desire to be associated with such an affair, and rode away. The sticking up was a success from the standpoint of Radford, the bushranger, and by the time the police arrived on the scene the highwayman was 200 miles up the river. Altogether we were 30 years on the Darling, and before the droughty periods set in we shore 210,000 sheep on Cutheroe and the adjoining country. But about 1899 we left it financially broken. The drought was bad then, and if you had ridden 500 miles you would not have gathered enough grass to fill your pipe. The rabbits had helped, and the small settlers completed the job. During our previous experience there had only been one other drought which was in 1864, but a big flood came down the river that year, and left us plenty of green feed on the lower levels. This was the most remarkable flood we ever knew on the Darling, as the water was running 2 ft. deep through the house at Cutheroe."

One of the deceased's sisters, Miss Jessie Pile, is still living at Gawler.

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Additional Resources

Citation details

'Pile, John (1842–1924)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/pile-john-14302/text25368, accessed 27 June 2019.

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