Colless 'Collie' Coombes tribute: A wonderful horseman and great stockman

Top horseman: Colless 'Collie' Coombes was a renowned horseman.
Top horseman: Colless 'Collie' Coombes was a renowned horseman.

He was acknowledged as a fine horseman and a great stockman whose honesty and work ethic were built from living through the great depression.

Colless Eric Coombes was born in Wauchope Hospital on May 27, 1924. His funeral service was held on June 6, 2019.

Collie was the third son and sixth of eight children born to James and Mary Coombes of Brombin.

As with most farming operations of the day, the Coombes children, Eileen, Eddy, Athol (Happy), Edith (Edie), Evelyn (Evvy), Collie, Kenneth and Elva, all had to pitch in on the family dairy farm.

That meant 4am starts to milk before walking two miles to Brombin school. There was also the milking in the afternoon.

Growing up during the great depression built a strong, honest, work ethic that shaped the man he would become: 'Tough times breed tough people,' he would say.

He left school at 13 1/2 with his first job milking and pulling corn. For two weeks he toiled from 3am to 8pm for the grand sum of 1 pound 10 shillings.

His passion for horses was kicked started a couple of years later at a sports days at Beechwood and Long Flat.

"I won nothing at my first two days of sports because knew nothing!" he used to say.

By 19 years of age, Collie was fielding offers from 'all over' from people to ride their horses.

His first ride on Newman Kirkman's horse, Prarie Lass, saw him win the maiden flag, maiden hunt and maiden campdraft on the same day at Bellangry. Not bad for a horse he hadn't ridden before.

Collie worked as a drover for many years, moving cattle to and from the sale yards at Long Flat, Byabarra and Beechwood to Herons Creek, Krambach, Kempsey and anywhere in between.

He landed a job droving Les Drury's herd from their Moto property to a new farm at Pappinbarra. That's where he met Les's 18 year old daughter Joyce.

During their courtship, Collie purchased the farm at Bagnoo for 4700 pound with 100 head of cattle, and after a slight delay, due to Les only being able to afford one daughter's wedding a year, they were married on January 19, 1952.

One year and 1 day later, Colleen was born, followed by Jimmy, Trish and then Robert. The farm at Bagnoo was both beef and dairy cattle. But they also raised pigs, chooks, dogs and horses. And a lot of children.

Collie and Joyce not only raised they're own children there, but he estimated some 30 odd other kids ended up spending some time there, when they needed straightening out, or just somewhere to stay.

He had a wicked sense of humour. And anyone who threw a calf in Collie's yards, would wear a bush oyster at some point, but you dared not let go of that leg.

Collie enjoyed social tennis over the years, and he revered his brother Eddie as the best cricketer in the family, although he too played inter-district cricket in his youth.

But he was known far and wide as one of the greatest stockmen there ever was, he and his brother Eddie even got mentioned on Ray Hadley's radio show, as living legends.

Back when Collie really got into his horse sports and campdrafting, he would ride his horses from Bagnoo to wherever the competition was, including Rolland Plains, Wauchope, Comboyne and Long Flat.

In 1963 he earned Australian Champion ribbons for flag and bending races.

Collie broke in many a horse in his day. Horses that went on to do well include Sir Robert, Starlight, Little Miss, Roy, Barris, Yvonne, Abba and Tabu. He also broke in a number of race horses for BE Coombes, a couple winning races in Sydney.

However it was his riding association with a black gelding called Nipper and owned by the Graham brothers, who would pick up Collie and Nipper and travel around to the sports days that needs some reflection.

Collie rated him as the best all round horse he ever rode. Nipper was the only horse he ever rode that won the open flag, open bend and open campdraft on the same day, and he did it twice.

His quick wit was legendary, he had a saying for most thing - particularly his grandchildren whom he christened: Karen dee, Jackie Grub, John the scone, Steven Fluke, Kirsty Worsty, Mee too, Pluto, Pumpkin Head.

Collie Coombes competing in an event.

Collie Coombes competing in an event.

If you hung around long enough, he would find a good hearted way to poke fun at you, while teaching you life lessons in honesty and integrity, and hard work.

He continued taking kids to horse events all over the place, even after he retired from competition himself.

Later in life, Collie was involved in two accidents. The first was at Long Flat when a horse fell on him, smashing his leg. He was told he'd never ride a horse again.

The second incident happened when his truck rolled forward, pinning him against his front gate post. He was told he might not make it through the night.

Both times he proved them wrong.

Just six months after the latest accident, Collie pulled a milk crate up to a quiet young horse called Abba. Not only was he walking but he was walking and back in the saddle.

Collie was as tough as they come, resourceful and resilient, but to say losing Joyce hit him hard, would be an understatement.

In losing Joyce, he had lost the love of his life, his book keeper, his house keeper, his scone maker, his "cook". His smiles and laughs, were understandably, a little harder to come by.

Joyce had famously given up waiting to travel with him, and gone on many solo trips around Australia and New Zealand. But the trip to visit they're grand daughter Sarah near Normanton, was possibly the only "holiday" they had ever been on together.

Despite the exhausting drive, it had been a very enjoyable trip, they even dropped in to Barraba on the way home to meet they're newest great grand daughter, a 1 month old Jasmine.

Collie is survived by his children Colleen, Jimmy, Trish and Robert. Grandchildren Toni, Sue and John, Richie and Tim, Steven and Karen, Sarah, kirsty, Nicole, Madeline, Colless and Jacqueline.

There are also great grandchildren, Dave, Conner, Ava, Levi, Cheyenne, Kurtis, Lachlan, Georgia, Liam, Harry, Ruby, Jack, Mia, Jasmine, Ali, Fred, Baxter, Preston, Sienna and soon to be a baby Cookson.

But most of all, Collie will survive in our hearts, for all of the stories, adventures and lessons learnt and the honesty and work ethic that we all now have because of him.

Collie and Joy are together again now, may they both rest in peace.

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