Farmer, fourth-generation horseman, whipmaker and single father Jim Lawton and his brood of five are a regular fixture on the southern campdrafting circuit.
Story By Kathy Mexted
You start with the Cattleman’s Crack then work up to the Sydney Flash, Queensland Crossover and The Train. Jim Lawton is sitting at his kitchen bench with a handmade stockwhip, which is tied with a blue Sydney Royal Easter Show ribbon, recounting some of the manoeuvres from his 1990s whip-cracking routine. His eldest daughter, 14-year-old Kathleen (“Kitty”), is shuffling stools with her 13-year-old twin sisters Gwenyth and Jennifer. The three girls look very similar, but it’s Kitty who wears a large silver belt buckle identical to her father’s.
Both were awarded to Jim as 1992 and 1993 Australian Whipcracking Champion. Eleven-year-old Johnnie is soaking up the conversation, and five-year-old Victoria drifts in and out collecting her gear. It’s the school holidays and the family, having just returned from a three-day campdrafting camp, is preparing to leave again for a weekend competition. The children lean in to survey a stack of old family photos, which include a few snaps of Jim’s paternal grandfather, World War I Light Horseman Francis James Lawton, astride his steed.
Jim is from a long line of horsemen, which includes his maternal great-grandfather, James Rutherford, an important figure in the history of Cobb & Co. Jim’s mother, Nancy, was an equestrian show jumper and during the 1960s his father, the late Frank Lawton, was in the first Australian equestrian team to compete overseas. Frank made local headlines in the 1970s when he and his horse stumbled on a rice bank. With a broken pelvis, Frank crawled for three days back to the house with his faithful red Kelpie “Boofhead” at his side.
In the mid-1980s, shortly after completing studies at Yanco Agricultural High School, NSW, Jim returned to Finley in the southern Riverina to farm with Frank. On many visits to a saddle shop, Jim became impressed by beautiful stockwhips. “I decided to have a go at making my own,” he says in his deep laconic drawl. “I didn’t have any leather on hand, so I skun a cow and dried the hide. It’s a rawhide leather whip, and she’s pretty rough, but it got me going.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #83
Outback Magazine: June/July 2012