Olympic equestrian Neale Lavis remembered by his lifelong friend Catherine Lawler

A screen capture of a film by the National Museum Australia which shares equestrian champion Neale Lavis story. See video below.
A screen capture of a film by the National Museum Australia which shares equestrian champion Neale Lavis story. See video below.

Equestrian Neale Lavis was a true Australian in the eyes of his lifelong friend, Catherine Lawler (nee Carden).

The former Bodalla boy, who grew up to claim an Olympic gold died on Sunday, October 6, aged 89.

Mrs Lawler of Cadgee said it was rare to come by people like Mr Lavis. He became her best friend when she was 13.

In 2017, Cath Lawler of Cadgee, Neale Lavis and his wife Velma of Braidwood stand by a plaque commemorating Mr Lavis' sporting success. Photo: Laurelle Pacey.

In 2017, Cath Lawler of Cadgee, Neale Lavis and his wife Velma of Braidwood stand by a plaque commemorating Mr Lavis' sporting success. Photo: Laurelle Pacey.

She described him as a humble and generous man right through to the end.

"He mixed with a lot of different people right through his life," Mrs Lawler said.

"He would help people out no matter what.

"Neale didn't have one bit of malice in his body. He would always give people a chance."

Mr Lavis' love for cross-country grew from a young age, mustering cattle.

Mrs Lawler said the buttons would have burst off his riding coat when he received a team gold medal and individual silver at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

"When the Aussie flag went up - that had such a big impression on him," Mrs Lawler said.

"It was a very proud moment."

The story of how Mr Lavis found a shortcut in Rome was one of Mrs Lawlers' favourites.

"It was priceless," Mrs Lawler said.

"As the team was walking the course, before the event, Neale saw a fella on a donkey going up a hill through the scrub.

"Neale thought, 'where's he going?' because that part of the track wasn't flagged.

"He made sure you could go through there, and so he did!

"It took a minute off his time, which is a hell of a lot."

Only recently, Mr Lavis told Mrs Lawler about the reaction at the following 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

"When he got to Tokyo, the other teams and countries said 'you won't be able to find any shortcuts this time, the course is flagged' - he had a big grin on his face when he told me that," Mrs Lawler said.

In the early days, with no horse floats or trucks, Mr Lavis and Mrs Lawler would ride their horses from the Lavis' family farm, Rewlee, at Bodalla to the Cobargo Show.

I am on the sidelines with smoke coming out of my ears.

Catherine Lawler

Mrs Lawler well remembers a polocrosse tournament at Burradoo, near Bowral - and a bully.

"We were all novices playing the top-notch team of Sydney," she said.

"One of the fellas playing position number two on the Sydney team was a thick, big man.

"He was well known for pushing you over.

"Neale was riding a young and inexperienced horse and the huge man was after him.

"I am on the sidelines with smoke coming out of my ears.

"Neale had the ball, and when (the other man) came to lean right over, he swung his horse around and the man flung off and landed in mud.

"Everyone laughed and cheered - it was something a true Australian would do.

"Other fellows would have taken a swipe with a stick, but not Neale," Mrs Lawler chuckled.

His funeral will be held at Braidwood on Monday.

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