From four hooves to two wheels. That is how Rodney O’Regan OAM describes the next chapter of his commitment to commemorate military history and increase awareness of the service of Australian men and women in theatres of war.
The sudden death of his horse, The General, in August last year shocked Rodney – the grief at the loss of his horse sits close to the surface and he has yet to sit in a saddle on another horse .
The General carried Rodney in numerous parades to represent the Australian Light Horse Association and in one terrible moment on the Wallis Lake Bridge their pairing came to an end.
The General suffered a brain aneurysm during a parade as they crossed the bridge en-route to Tuncurry.
“He went over and hit two cars coming in the opposite direction. I got him off the bridge as quick as I could onto the grassed area and took him home. He died three hours later,” Rodney said.
“We were lucky to get off the bridge and lucky he did not die on the bridge. I haven’t been back on a horse since, I just can’t bring myself to do it.”
Rodney says he’s been representing the Australian Light Horse Association for around 10 years and now he will work to educate the community on the Australian Corps Cyclist Battalion.
The idea came as he stood at the Australian Corps Memorial at Le Hamel in France.
“I met a guy and he was riding one of these pushbikes and so I said, when I get back to Ozzie, I’m going to try to get one.”
Facebook connected him to a group in Melbourne and Rodney’s search resulted in him buying an unassembled 24-inch Avon frame and 28-inch Westwood Rolled Rim wheels.
“The majority of the bicycle is over 100 years old and when it was delivered to me I got myself into a situation when I tried to assemble it. I’d never seen this type of braking mechanism, there are no cables and so I called Deano for help and thankfully he told me to bring it in and I’ll fix it up for you.”
Dean Grace is known for his skill at restoring vintage bikes at Deano’s Bicycle Repairs in Taree.
“It came to me with a frame that had one wheel on it and the rest was in a tub, the front forks were out of the bike and the bearings were all loose but we persevered. It just took a bit of fiddling and time,” Dean said.
Rodney is nervous about the challenge of learning to ride the bicycle but is excited about its potential to educate the community about cycling battalions and he intends to take part in parades and visit schools.
He believes this bicycle was used on the western battlefields in World War I.
“The soldiers weren’t always on foot and these were used in manoeuvres to get soldiers from one battlefield to another very quickly and cheaply,” Rodney explained.
“You don’t have to feed them, you don’t have to shoe them and there’s no mechanical problems with them and you could move lots of men very quickly.”
Initially, Rodney won’t be moving too quickly on his bicycle and will not be participating in any 2017 Anzac Day parades, but it’s a possibility for 2018.
“It’s going to be different, four hooves to two wheels. I’ll be practicing around the front yard because I don’t want anyone to see me!”