Australian Biography - Bill Roycroft

Shot Vision Audio In Point
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Bill interview

Bill sync: They don't think about it, most of these people that go to the Olympic Games. And they haven't up until we've won quite a few medals, given any thought much to the equestrians, just what they do and go through. Not the other athletes. I think they look down a bit on us, bloody horsemen, you know.

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Archival. Bill going over jump

Super:
Bill Roycroft
Born Melbourne 1915
Olympic Equestrian

Music

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Archival. Men carrying milk cans to truck

Bill v/o: Well it was a dairy farm, it was a dairy farm, and my father used to plough and you know,

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Archival. Man ploughing

going back in those early days he ploughed with two horses and a single furrow plough. You know, I can

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Bill interview

Bill sync: see that old dad now with a bag of oats around, tied the thing around his neck,

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Archival. Man throwing seed

Bill v/o: and sprinkling the oats on the field, on the paddocks, by hand, you know.

Robin v/o: What sort a person was

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Photo. Man on horse on country road

your father? What was he like?

Bill v/o: He was a very kind man. I think back

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Photo. Detail of previous

on it he was terribly damn kind because he many a time -- he never ever

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Bill interview

Bill sync: belted me, but he should have, I'm sure he should have. I think I gave him plenty of opportunities.

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Photo. Large family group outside house

Bill v/o: See there was seven in the family. There was two girls and five brothers.

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Photo. Detail of previous. Family members

Now there wasn't a horse for each one. You, you rode behind one of the others, or you walked to school. But it was usually dink behind them.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Sometimes there'd be three of us on one horse, you know. And at one of those rides behind my brother called Ted, we got bucked off this pony and broke my arm, and he galloped home with a flapping arm. It was quite a long time ago, you know, and things were different those times, because Mother then had to put the horse in the jinker and take me 14 miles to have my arm set.

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Archival. Kids cantering on ponies

Bill v/o: I suppose that was the grounding of my riding, because eventually I had my own horse to ride to school, and it was bush country with big fallen trees on the side of the road, gutters, and going to and from school we jumped those things.

Robin v/o: What was your mother like?

Bill v/o: She was a very soft person. You know,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: very thoughtful. I thought she was a very good looking woman, she was. That might have been her downfall

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Photo. Detail, same as previous. Family members. Zoom in to parents

later on in life. I don't know.

Robin v/o: What happened to her later on?

Bill v/o: Well the family broke up eventually. And we split up.

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Bill interview

Robin v/o: Did your mother meet somebody else?

Bill sync: Yes, yes, it was a brother of my father.

Robin v/o: And what became of you

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Photo. Bill as young boy in school blazer

when that happened?

Bill v/o: I suppose I was looking after myself at 15. I lived in an old hut,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: and I trapped rabbits. I liked to call myself a fur trader. It always sounded better than a rabbit trapper. But you see, you could make a living,

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Archival. Man on horse herding sheep [3 shots]

Bill v/o: a poor living. I did some fencing if somebody wanted fencing done. And worked a lot on big properties, stations, mostly I worked with horses on these big properties. I did a lot of breaking in

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Bill interview

Bill sync: of horses eventually, you know, and was to get the horse from just a wild horse down to a horse you ride, or drive. Because we used to have to break them in to both saddle and to harness. And you know, for that we'd get 30 shillings.

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Photo. Bill as young man in riding gear

Bill v/o: And we made enough money to buy clothes so we could have a decent suit to go out in.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: We got by all right. Pretty tough way of getting by I suppose.

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Photo. Bill as young man with young Mavis outside house

Robin v/o: What kind of social life did you have at that time? Where did you meet girls?

Bill v/o: I was a horseman and I

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Bill interview

Bill sync: used to go to shows and you'd meet them around shows. Because you know, women were competing on horses also.

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Archival. Country dance [2 shots]

Bill v/o: Dances was the place I would think. Because there where you picked up a girl and you had a girl dancing close to you. I remember -- I was pretty shy.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: I used to drink, I used to drink a fair bit just to get courage enough.

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Archival. Country dance

Bill v/o: You know, in those days, girls would be sitting along one wall of the hall. And you'd walk, you'd have to walk

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Bill interview

Bill sync: across the hall to ask a girl to dance. And if she said no, then you had to walk all the way back. [laughs] That was rather embarrassing. And if I'd had enough to drink I didn't give a damn whether they'd dance with me or they didn't. And I didn't care whether they said no, or they would. But no, mostly I think I was a pretty good dancer. And I think most of the girls wanted to dance with me anyhow... Now that's bragging a bit.

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Photo. Mavis as young woman with horse

Robin v/o: How did you meet Mavis, the girl you later married?

Bill v/o: I think at

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Photo. Bill and Mavis in riding gear

dances, probably danced with her and also around shows.

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Photo. Bill and Mavis with their horses

Because she showed horses and so did I.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Oh, she was a brilliant looking little girl, you know.

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Photo. Mavis with horse

Bill v/o: About 17, I think she was 17 or 18 when I went off

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Photo. Bill with his arm round Mavis

to the war.

Robin v/o: Where were you when the war broke out?

Bill v/o: I was shearing

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Archival. Shearing shed [3 shots]

at Bob McCracken's Switzerland Station. We were shearing and I remember there was two Irish blokes shearing alongside me, and you know, 'Are you going to

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Bill interview

Bill sync: join up you fellas and go and fight for Britain?' And I said 'Of course we will, of course we will.' And they've said something about Ireland was Ireland when England was a pup and Ireland will be Ireland when England's buggered up. And I don't -- I think they probably got a beat of a belting after the shearing was over.

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Photo. Bill in army uniform

Bill v/o: When Dunkirk fell I thought it's time I go enlist.

Robin v/o: And you ended up in New Guinea, where

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Bill in army uniform

you found you'd had a lucky escape, because the Second 22nd Battalion had refused to let you enlist with them.

Bill v/o: It was very fortunate because eventually

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Bill interview

Bill sync: I was guard of honour on most of those blokes in Toll Plantation [?] New Britain, where they'd been massacred by the Japanese. See luck's a fortune. I would have been a long skeleton -- all there was the green ants clean them up very quickly there. There's millions of green, these big green ants. And all was there just their bones. And their boots. They never took their -- their boots were still there. Dead meat tickets or the identification disk that we wore all the time, they were thrown away or burnt, or something done with them. So they were put in sandbags and buried, those boys. Some they identified by their dentures. Mostly they were just gone by the way, just lost. So that was escape for me.

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Photo. Soldiers in New Guinea

Bill v/o: You know, we really shouldn't have been fighting there. I think that that was very silly that we lost troops up there. All we were doing

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Photo. Bill in New Guinea

was mopping up. The war had gone past New Guinea.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And Blamey, I blame Blamey for doing that, you know. That should never have happened.

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Photo. Bill and army mates

Bill v/o: I got away before the war finished because I was

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Photo. Mavis holding baby

one of quite a few that had gone to New Guinea and left a baby behind.

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Photo. Bill and Mavis's wedding photo

Because Mavis and I had married and Barry, the eldest, he must have been round the 18 month or something

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Photo. Bill holding baby

before I saw him.

Robin v/o: So what made you decide to become a soldier settler?

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Bill interview

Bill sync: There was a chap on the soldier settlement down there that was already on the settlement

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Photo. Bill in slouch hat beside pony

Bill v/o: And I didn't really want to be a dairy farmer, because I was managing a sheep property.

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Photo. Bill with Mavis and baby Barry

And -- but he said 'Come and have a look, Bill. Come and have a look.' So I drove down and had a look down here.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And I thought, god, you know, this is great country. So I applied for it. I applied for this and was selected to settle on this property.

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Photo. House in country

Robin v/o: Setting up from scratch must have been terribly hard work.

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Photo. Bill and Barry with goat on tractor

Bill v/o: I didn't mind because damn it hard work was what I knew how to do. And I was good

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Photo. Roycroft kids on lawn in front of house

at what I did, you know.

Robin v/o: How did you find time to keep up your interest in horses?

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Photo. Bill at equestrian event going over hedge

Bill v/o: Before we came here we'd done a lot in shows and gymkhanas,

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Photo. Mavis on horse in paddock

we knew all about competing in shows and that. Of course, this one pony we brought with us,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: well you can't do much at a show with one pony. So we set about to getting horses.

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Photo. Roycroft kids on horses. Bill beside

Bill v/o: Now those horses had to be worked and got fit. Now

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Photo. One of the kids on horseback

we were living in an area where there was a nice climb up a hill,

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Archival. Bill on horseback

and I used to do each morning on each horse about seven mile.
And in the afternoon they would go out again and they would do a bit of dressage, bit of show jumping.

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Archival. Bill on horseback

And I tell you, our show jumping were pretty damn rough, because they were old 44 gallon drum with a pole across it.

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Archival. Bill on horseback

We didn't have all the stuff that's necessary,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: or should have been necessary to do with our horses.

Robin v/o: When did you realise that you had the ability to succeed

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Photo. Bill competing at Olympics

at the Olympics?

Bill v/o: Having competed, or known these fellows that went away in 1956,

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Photo. Detail of previous. Bill at Olympics

I knew I could beat those damn fellas riding a horse,

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Photo. Bill playing polo

because I could ride a pretty rough horse, you know, one that bucked and that sort of thing. Funny thing about it, you know, I was getting up, I was 43 then I suppose.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And they said 'Bill, it's a pity you're so old you know.' I said 'What the hell do you mean, I'm so old.' 'Well you know, we like them around about 20 or about 21.' And I said 'What the hell have you got to do to go to the Games? I'm winning. Now what the hell have you got to do?' So they kept on saying that, next one come up, I'm winning again. I kept on winning.

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Photo. Man holding cup and shaking Bill by the hand

Bill v/o: So eventually they thought, well we'll have to take him I suppose.

Robin v/o: Even though he's so old.

Bill v/o: I was 45, see, when I went to Rome.

Robin v/o: Why hadn't

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Bill interview

you gone to the earlier Games?

Bill sync: Because we'd just settled in here you know, and I couldn't even afford to wear a hat, and I couldn't afford to buy horses.

Robin v/o: And when you were able to get

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Photo. Horses on board ship. Bill looks on

the horses to go to the Rome Olympics it took you months to take them there

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Photo. Horse in stall on board ship

by ship and to acclimatise them in England. Could you describe how you felt

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Photo. Olympic Equestrian team

when you finally arrived in Rome for the Games?

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Photo. Detail of previous. Bill in equestrian team

Bill v/o: Well, I suppose that'd be easier if

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Bill interview

Bill sync: I was young and romantic. But I've been through so many, so many of these things that I've become blasé. But, well let's go back to the first one. Yes, it was exciting. Of course it was exciting,

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Archival. Rome streets [3 shots]

Bill v/o: even though I was 45, it was exciting to be there, going to do it for Australia. Yes.

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Archival. Flags at Olympic site

Robin v/o: You were there to ride

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Archival.Olympic equestrian site

in the three day event. What did that

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Archival. Equestrian competition

involve?

Bill v/o: In the days when they brought in three day eventing it was called military.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: For cavalry officers that you went into battle, you know. You had, your dressage,

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Archival. Rider in dressage ring on horseback

Bill v/o: the horse did his parade work was nice you know, you did things on the parade with him. Then you went into battle

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Archival. Spectators watching dressage

and you went in damn fast,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: which was your roads and tracks. Anyhow the cross country part was supposed to be taking a message somewhere,

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Archival. Rider galloping in equestrian event past onlookers. Horse falls and rider tumbles

back to headquarters, and you galloped and you went over any obstacle that was in

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Archival. Rider jumping stone fence

front of you, you jumped the damn thing, you know, to get there

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Archival. Rider jumping hedge

as quick as possible. And then your show jumping on the final day was

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Archival. Show jumping

to show the horse after that terrible cross country to get back with a message, that horse was still capable of going out and doing his job. They've just changed that now, just now,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: on the continent, from military to three day eventing, yeah. Tour eventing they call it now.

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Archival. Equestrian event site, Rome Olympics

Robin v/o: And at Rome, what happened to you in the cross country?

Bill v/o: Well I went well, I went well

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Archival. Italian officials

'till I got to those pipes.

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Archival. Concrete pipes on course. Rider jumps over and rides away

There was big concrete pipes that face you. And although I thought my horse was right to jump the thing at the right place to take off

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Bill interview

Bill sync: and jump it, he just galloped straight through the thing, as if it wasn't there, you know.

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Photo. Bill jumping

Bill v/o: And thinking maybe

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Photo. Detail of previous. Bill jumping

he'd recover, I stayed on top of the horse, and the horse didn't, he didn't recover, he turned over on top of me

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Photo. Horse galloping away

and left me -- he up and away, because it didn't hurt him, didn't lame him.

Robin v/o: And what happened to you? What injuries

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Photo. People assisting Bill

did you get?

Bill v/o: Well a dislocated collar bone and a broken bone behind my shoulder. And

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Bill interview

Bill sync: I was injured all down the right leg. But the thing was bad concussion. I was just lying there for some time and when I come to, I said 'Where's my bloody horse?' and he was standing alongside me.

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Archival. Bill jumping on course

And away I went again. And it must have been just by memory, because I did jump the fences,

Robin v/o: Were you in very great pain?

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Oh god, you wouldn't be feeling any pain then... No,

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Archival. Bill jumping on course

no I wasn't feeling any pain. You know, it was just the heat of the moment.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Anyhow a bit of pain's nothing. I wouldn't be worried about that you know. Concussion the next day... but anyhow from there, it was a funny thing, you know, from there they put me on a stretcher there. He's buggered the old fella, put him on a stretcher.

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Archival. Helicopter on grass. People mill around

Bill v/o: So they decided I had to go to hospital. And they had to tuck me up

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Archival. Helicopter on grass

a bit to get me in the helicopter, it was only one of those little ones.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Four times a day I used to pass that little helicopter sitting there. And I used to thing some poor bugger will get a ride in this thing. And that poor bugger was me.

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Photo. Brian Kroger on horseback

Bill v/o: Next morning Mavis told me that Brian Kroger on this big horse bowed his tendon and he was broken down.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: So that meant I'm in hospital, the horse had broken down, they've got two riders. Now you've got to have three to finish.

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Archival. Aerial Rome

Bill v/o: So I said 'I've got to get out of here.' And they said

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Archival. Nuns walking down street

Bill v/o: 'Well you're going to be here three or four days, you know, you won't be getting out of here.' So I said

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Bill interview

Bill sync: 'If you don't let me go, I'll walk out in my knickers.'

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Archival. Olympic equestrian stadium

Bill v/o: And by the time I got in,

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Archival. Olympic equestrian course

you know, so many had fallen by the way

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Archival. Man walking across course

in the cross country, a lot of the teams didn't even have a team to

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Bill interview

Bill sync: compete over the show jumping, the final phase.

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Archival. Competitors walk on course

Bill v/o: I had walked the course

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Archival. Competitors and officials on course

before I got on the horse with Neil Avis.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And he was terribly worried about whether I'd remember where to go,

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Archival. Bill riding course, jumping [4 shots]

Bill v/o: And it was okay. I did jump a clean round on that course.

Robin v/o: Now you know horses, Bill. Do you think your horse had some kind of glimmering of what was going on?

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Bill interview

Bill sync: Now being a realist, no I don't think so you know. No.

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Archival. Bill jumping stone fence

Bill v/o: You know, when I tell you about doing those last fences after being knocked unconscious there at that fence,

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Bill interview

Bill sync: that little horse, you know, without being steered or helped, would gallop anywhere. So you'd have to be a real romantic to think this bloody horse took me home, yes. I think so... It would be nice to think that, but no.

Robin v/o: It's more likely that you were just on automatic pilot?

Bill sync: Yes.

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Archival. Bill jumping on course

Robin v/o: Did your riding on that final day make a real difference for the team?

Bill v/o: My final ride, yes certainly did make a difference. Because

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Newspaper article. Headline: 'Roycroft Injured Clinches Olympic Gold Medal'

if I hadn't ridden there would have been no gold, no team gold medal. Because you have to have

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Newspaper article. Picture of Bill and headline 'Hero of Rome Gold Medal Win Home'

three finish to get any medal you know.

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Archival. Bill, Mavis and family on board ship [3 shots]

Robin v/o: When you came back to Australia, were you surprised that it had turned you into a hero?

Bill v/o: Yeah, I was surprised. I was. And there was a chap, oh he greeted me and said

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Bill interview

Bill sync: 'bugger you, Bill.' And I said 'What are you buggering me for.' He said, 'You had my wife crying like a baby.' [laughs] Yeah.

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Photo. Bill with Japanese Olympic official

Robin v/o: And you kept on representing Australia. at the Olympics -- Tokyo in 1964,

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Archival. Athletes at Olympic ceremony

and then

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Archival. Japanese crowd at Olympics wave

Mexico in '68.

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Archival. Tokyo Olympic stadium

What were the Mexico Olympics like?

Bill v/o: It was one of those Games

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Photo. Bill on course

that will never be seen again. And it poured rain, it just fell out of the sky.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And I was on the steeplechase course way up above when it started, and I came down. We had a windy track down and it poured and it was hailing cold.

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Photo. Bill on horse competing

Bill v/o: I was so damn cold, and there was ten minutes to go before

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Bill interview

Bill sync: you start your cross country while the vets check your horse. And the normal thing is to, before you go cross country in case you have a fall, you go and have a pee. So right on the spot they didn't have a toilet to go, so I wandered across the road and got behind a house and didn't appear to be anybody there. So I had my pee. But I didn't have a zip fly. I had buttons on my fly. I got them undone all right, but do you think I could get them done up. No bloody way could I. My hands were that cold. So I just made sure -- it was all right but it was that bloody cold you know, they wouldn't have seen anything if it was hanging out. [laughs]

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Photo. Equestrian teams lined up on podium for medals. Zoom in to Australian team

Robin v/o: And did you win anything at the Mexico Olympics?

Bill v/o: Yes, we jumped and we got the bronze medal there in Mexico.

Robin v/o: And then after Mexico,

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Photo. Bill competing in dressage

there was Munich, wasn't there?

Bill v/o: Yes.

Robin v/o: Now by this stage -- by the time Munich came along,

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Photo. Detail of previous. Bill in dressage competition

you were?

Bill v/o: Fifty-seven I was.

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Photo. Bill competing, in water jump. Zoom in to ECU

Robin v/o: And you didn't actually win any medals at Munich, did you?

Bill v/o: No, we didn't. We were fourth there. But that's something I live with.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: I still wake up of a night time, you know, sweat on my face. I said, I see it now, I can see it all the time. Never leaves me. And I'll have it until I die. I was, I was one point off winning dressage and I was sitting on a horse that could do it, no worries, it was up to Bill. Don't let him stop. You know, I got so blasé about cross country, it was so damn easy for me, I never worried about it. Had I been worried, I wouldn't have made the mistake I made. I stopped at a simple fence.

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Photo. Bill competing

Bill v/o: That cost me the individual gold medal. I had it sitting there, you know,

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Photo. Bill competing

right round my neck because on the final day I jumped a clean round.

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Bill interview

Bill sync; You know, the funny thing about it, or probably the great thing, I think I'd feel better if those three riders had blasted me.

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Photo. Australian Olympic equestrian team. Zoom in to Bill

Bill v/o: You know, they never, ever said a word. They never ever said you could do it, you rotten bastard, you could have done it, you know.

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Bill interview

Bill sync: And I would have taken it. I wouldn't have been belting them for saying that, because I would have deserved it, you know.

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Archival. Bill competing, water jump

Robin v/o: After Munich you went to Montreal at the age of 61 and you came away with a bronze and by now you had

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Archival. Australian team receiving medal

sons competing with you at

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Archival. Bill receiving medal

these Games. What has it meant to you to have the whole Roycroft

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Archival. Team shake hands with officials

family do so well with horses?

Bill v/o: Well, it's

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Bill interview

Bill sync: terrific you know, it's terrific, because those three boys, because I sent them to school on ponies and they continued on from that

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Photo. One of Bill's sons on horseback

Bill v/o: competing on horses, those -- everything they did,

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Photo. Bill and son with their horses

it was always thinking ahead about the horses competing and then of course

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Photo. Bill and sons in stables

the Olympic Games come into it and they were striving for the Olympic Games, it kept those boys out of trouble,

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151

Bill interview

Bill sync: you know, where the other -- a lot of their friends went to the towns, got into trouble with the police. They never caused me any trouble those boys,

00:24:41:09
152

Photo. One of Bill's sons riding

Bill v/o: and it was I think through the horse and their involvement with the horse

00:24:51:09
153

Photo. Bill with his three sons

that kept them out of that trouble.

Robin v/o: You were a dairy farmer, you started from scratch.

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154

Photo. Bill competing

How could you afford to enter the expensive world of horses?

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155

Photo. Bill on horse

Was it always a struggle?

Bill/o: No, it was -- you see,

00:25:10:19
156

Photo. Bill jumping fence. Large tree in b/g [4 shots]

I was a good enough horseman to buy these horses off the racetrack, wayward horses that

00:25:14:00
157

Photo. View from below of horse jumping fence

bucked a bit, or they wouldn't, couldn't get them to go to the barriers. And you know, some of those were damn

00:25:22:00
158

Photo. Horse in mid-air jumping trough

good horses, but they were a bit wayward.

Robin v/o: So they were

00:25:30:03
159

Photo. Bill on white horse

cheap?

Bill: Yes, that's how I was

00:25:33:16
160

Photo. Spectators watch Bill jump

able to get these horses.

Robin v/o: Looking back over what's been an extraordinarily

00:25:37:01
161

Bill interview

successful life, is there anything you would have changed?

Bill sync: Yes. Yes, I would have. I would change where I made the mistakes in Munich, for God's sake, sitting on a champion horse and I was capable, all the big fences I jumped no worries. And leaving those boys down, and leaving my gold medal behind, just through being blasé and poor riding. Yes, that's things that will worry me until I die.

Robin v/o: And of all the things you've done, what do you feel proudest of?

Bill sync: I suppose there is a few things I was proud of doing. Mavis is not about, I suppose I was proud about marrying her,

00:25:42:07
162

Mavis in garden

Bill v/o: and she's been terribly damn good for me, although we still argue, as you know. And if I say it's going to rain, she'll say it's not. And I think she loves doing that to me.

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163

Bill interview

fade to black

Bill sync: Yes, there is some great things I've done, I suppose. But I don't think that's very important. I suppose it was, but I don't think it was. I think it's just try and be a good bloke rather than do things that are not right, you know. Bit hard to do at times. [laughs]

00:26:44:06
164

Fade up from black.
Credits fade up over postage stamp shot of Bill in paddock:
Interviewer
ROBIN HUGHES

Editor
KIM MOODIE

Director of Photography
JENNI MEANEY

Sound Recordist
MARK TARPEY

Production Manager
JEANNINE BAKER

Sound Post Production
MICHAEL GISSING
DIGITAL CITY STUDIOS

Online Editor
ROEN DAVIS
VISUALEYES

Music

00:27:14:17
165

Production Accountant
FIONA WHITE

Research
JEANNINE BAKER

Transcripts
CLEVERTYPES

With Thanks To
FILM AUSTRALIA
ABC FOOTAGE SALES
FILMWORLD
NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVES
AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL
CINESOUND MOVIETONE PRODUCTIONS
DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
HOOFS AND HORNS
SHELL AUSTRALIA
LA TROBE PICTURE COLLECTION, STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA
YEA LOCAL HISTORICAL SOCIETY
KEITH STEVENS
PAMELA VESTEY
THE ROYCROFT FAMILY

Produced and Directed by
ROBIN HUGHES

Executive Producer
SHARON CONNOLLY

Made in association with SBS TV

A Film Australia National Interest Program
© MCMXCIX

00:27:31:02
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