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Henry Christian Farber (1880–1965)

by Edna Ward

This article was published:

Henry Christian Farber (1880-1965), equestrian showman, was born on 2 September 1880 at Waverley station, Broadsound, Queensland, son of Frederick William Farber, station-hand, and his wife Elizabeth, née Schneider. On cattle-stations Harry helped break horses for Cobb & Co. and developed into an outstanding bareback rider; when thrown, he would land on his feet and vault back on to the horse. He became known through Queensland as an equestrian and showman.

Farber trained horses for the South African War, then for about ten years specialized in breaking in horses near Rockhampton. In 1912 he took 200 horses from Charters Towers to Halls Creek, Western Australia. After a nine-month journey he sold the horses and drove a mob of cattle from the Kimberley to Meekatharra, more than a thousand miles (1700 km) to the south. Here he joined the Ireland family in organizing a travelling buckjump show. With Harry as bareback rider, they drew big crowds at Broome, Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Southern Cross, Meekatharra and Perth. He was tall, sun tanned, wiry, and handsome and wore tough trousers under leather pants strapped on around the waist, a long scarf knotted at the neck, high-heeled boots, gun-belt and slouch hat.

Because of bunions, Farber spent World War I breaking in remounts for the Australian Light Horse regiments. Afterwards he resumed droving. He always put his stock's protection before his own or his men's comfort and would sing to the cattle at night to soothe them; a tough boss, he was nicknamed 'The Murderer of Men and Mules' and 'Farber the Bastard from the back of B[o]urke'.

In Perth on 24 March 1921, with Anglican rites, he married Rita Arnold. He then managed Mount Fraser station; after a year his wife persuaded Farber to return to Meekatharra for the birth of their first child. But Harry preferred the free outback life. He kept horses at Mount Padbury until 1927: for six months of the year he would leave them and go droving. Towards Christmas he would rejoin his family in Meekatharra and stage a rodeo in the open-air picture-theatre: he was described by an onlooker as lithe, nimble and tigerish in his agility.

In 1928 Harry retired from the show-ring, his body kicked and bitten and with broken ribs and a crooked arm. His last drive was in 1936. During this, two-thirds of the sheep broke free and were lost. It left him in debt, which, coupled with the scarcity of droving work, led him to take a job carting water for the Comet mine; he and his family settled nearby. Farber's last official horse-race was at 68 when he won an event on Pebremas at Marble Bar. From 1959 he worked there as a licensed scrap-dealer. He applied for a pension at 79; but even when old, he regularly enjoyed Saturday race meetings and dancing at the balls which followed them.

In 1960 Farber became ill with asthma and went to Port Hedland hospital. Next year he was transferred to Nazareth House, Bluff Point, where he remained until his death on 27 June 1965. Farber was survived by two daughters and two sons; he was buried in Utakarra cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • RWAHSJ (Early Days), 6 (1969), pt 8
  • Harry Farber scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

Edna Ward, 'Farber, Henry Christian (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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