Ploughs cutting through clay a mesmerising sound for Olympic swimmer

Former Olympic swimming champion Shane Gould meets ploughing champions Gracie and Major at the Good Old Days Festival at Barellan. 

The red dust at Barellan is a long way from the sparkling water of a pool but former Olympic swimming champion Shane Gould was taking a keen interest in the sound of a single furrow plough slicing through the clay. 

“One of the things I love most about ploughing is the ssshhh sound of the plough shear turning the soil and the clanking of the chains. I still dream about them, so I’m thrilled to be here today,” she said.

Shane had travelled from her home in Tasmania to catch up with old mate and mentor, Tim Peel, a retired harness maker and teamster from Borambola, NSW, at the Good Old Days Festival at Barellan, NSW. 

She was a keen spectator at the single furrow ploughing completion on Sunday at Barellan, drawing heavy horse and bullock teams.

A former WA State Ploughing Champion, Shane was fulfilling a dream to attend the Barellan event, a unique gathering of heavy horses, camels, bullocks, donkeys, mules and goats all working in harness pulling wool wagons, timber jinkers, headers, hay rakes, ploughs, mowers and Furphy water carts. 

“It’s been a fantastic weekend to see the horses working and how they are handled, and keeping the good old days skills alive – that’s why I’m here to remind myself of those,” she said.

“I started on my horse journey in the mid 1970s when the oil embargo happened, and oil prices were rising so we wanted to learn the old ways of using horsepower.

“That set us off on a journey to find out how to harness horses and train them to pull. We came across Cecil Noakes in WA teaching people how to harness and drive horses.”

Shane owned a Percheron mare and was encouraged to try her hand at ploughing at a heavy horse field day.

She won a novice ploughing event at first try and also took out the open in 1993-94.

“I had to defend the championship the next year and won it again with a different pair of horses. It’s a fantastic sport and I still have the cheat sheet on dropping or raising the wheel – it is different sorts of straight lines than a swimming pool. 

“Tim Peel was the judge at the time and I’m here today soaking up his wisdom.”

Shane swam at the 1972 Munich Olympics at the age of 15, winning three gold, one silver and a bronze medal, and went on to hold 11 world records in six different events.

“I’m a versatile person and was happy to turn my hand to straight line ploughing,” she said.

“The discipline, perseverance, concentration and attention of swimming can be transferred to other areas of your life including horsemanship.”

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