A stalwart of the Shoalhaven equestrian circles has been farewelled in a ceremony at the Worrigee Memorial Gardens on Monday (February 11).
Merilyn Apperley, nee Morgan, better known in local horsing circles simply as Meri, passed away on February 3, just 11 days short of her 71st birthday.
Meri was involved in a variety of local horse events and for many years was the author of the popular South Coast Register column Horse Talk.
The following tribute was prepared by her long-time work colleague at the Register Alan Clark.
We first became acquainted when we occupied adjacent desks in the South Coast Register typesetting room.
Merri’s passion was horses while mine was cricket, and although neither of us knew much about the other’s interests, we found that we had plenty in common and became close friends.
This story begins on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1948 in suburban Sydney, when Merilyn became the only child of Max and Mabel Morgan.
It was logical that her name should be shortened to Merri, for that described her cheery personality. She was probably only called Merilyn by her mother after she had been a little bit naughty.
Merri was educated at the Methodist Ladies’ College, Burwood.
In those early years the agile youngster enjoyed ballet lessons, and performed competitively in swimming and tennis.
Although self-taught, Merri’s creative urges showed out in floristry that she followed from time to time over many years.
She sometimes worked in established shops, and when other activities reduced time for formal employment, she conducted the Town and Country Florist from home.
It is a pity that Merri did not write about her own interesting life, for she took on many different roles, and although not realising it, she invariably did them well.
But she was far too busy writing about others and working tirelessly in the promotion of all kinds of equestrian programs.
Olympian Merv Bennett recalls Merri’s enthusiasm and her willingness to assist in various activities – from the three-day events to the endurance rides which always required a lot of planning and organisation.
When the Worrigee Equestrian Common was being developed, she was elected as the inaugural secretary in April 1991, and held the position for more than a decade.
As well as undertaking the normal secretarial duties including soliciting donations, she was a hands-on committee member and happy to get her hands dirty when it was necessary.
Merv was also grateful for Merri’s floristry work in establishing the imitation gardens upstairs when Worrigee House was opened; and for the expertise she showed when asked to write an obituary on his father.
Talking to Robert Crawford a few days ago, he expressed admiration at Merri’s passion for all activities relating to horses.
During his many years as sporting editor, few people matched the volume of material she consistently turned out.
Weekly Meri produced Horse Talk in the South Coast Register – covering everything horse related in the Shoalhaven and often further afield.
He recalled when Merri needed accreditation to cover events in the United Arab Emirates in 1997. Somehow that was achieved, and she became the official representative of the Australian Endurance Riders’ Association.
She was accompanied by Amanda, and coping with the technology required, their reports were sent back home to the Register.
She had a non-de-plume of Charlie Horse for her earliest columns, but most enthusiasts knew who was behind the authoritative articles.
Remarkably, Merri’s introduction to horses is hazy, but it is known she was taught to ride by a relative, Helen Mathie.
The family had the Currarong property for many years, and it was there that Merri met Colin Apperley when he was chasing brumbies. They would ultimately marry.
Long-term plans came to fruition in 1978 with the establishment of the Malu Vale Stud at Terara, for breeding activities and riding lessons for the next generation.
Although they took considerable work, the holiday camps were relished by many children who returned year after year.
The showpiece of the stud was Linden Kasimir, the pure-bred Arabian stallion that was adored and much photographed by the proud owner.
Merri conducted horse-related classes for TAFE from the stud which would continue to function until 2005.
She also devoted considerable time as secretary of the South Coast and Tablelands Quarterhorse Association, that has evolved to become the Shoalhaven All Breeds Association.
Living on Millbank Road within a short distance of the former Terrara Estate, Merri took an interest in the history of the dominant horse trainer of the 1860s, Etienne de Mestre.
It was then believed that de Mestre had walked Archer to Victoria where it won the first two Melbourne Cups, and deciding to re-enact the epic walk, the Apperleys got a team together.
That took place in 1983, culminating on cup day when Colin rode a horse called Archer’s Image onto the Flemington course, with Merri riding alongside, to the roar of the huge crowd of racegoers.
It is perhaps fitting that Merri died during the week between the Berry and Nowra Shows.
She loved all agricultural shows – whether she was competing, judging, reporting on or just catching up with friends in the equestrian world.
She would have been delighted that the tradition continues with Chase now competing in shows, of course guided by Amanda.
Merri had a passion for endurance rides, either as a participant or as an organiser, and relished the opportunity to see these events start in the early hours from either Terara or the Equestrian Common.
Merri was proud of her heritage in the Shoalhaven, especially one ancestor, Fred Moore who was a colourful character around this district more than a century ago.
When he became part of my book on Blacksmiths of the Nowra District that was to be published in 2016, I called on Merri to write the foreword, and she also performed the launch, to the satisfaction of all in attendance.
At the newspaper, Merri was part of a team of typesetters; and apart from that task, always took photographs to illustrate the stories she wrote.
Those were the days when film was used, and digital was a mathematical term.
Her easy style as a journalist may have followed her father Max. It was certainly in the family, for she was writing before her mother Mabel took over the Currarong column.
Both Mabel and Merri were proud of Max’s work, and following his death in 1981 they published a book of his poems, called simply, Glimpses.
We always knew what each other’s children were doing; she was able to comprehend my girls’ interest in dancing, and was always talking about Amanda who had been given the nickname of “Chicken”.
That apparently came when the baby arrived prematurely and when she saw her new daughter wrapped in tin foil, Merri had quipped that “she could only produce a cooked chicken”.
Even when our lives went in different directions, Merri would keep in touch – perhaps sending a postcard from some faraway country.
In more recent times she often had a travelling companion in grandson Morgan, and on a card from Rome she described his “Geography Lesson”, with time also spent in Paris, the Greek Islands and Dubai.
Even though she had been out of the media for some years, she was at the farewell dinner arranged for me by the Register back in 2012, and I was pleased to have her there to reminisce.
With her health not what it had been, Merri’s latter years were slightly more genteel at Currarong where, always active, she used shells to make hangings and other mementoes to sell at the local markets.
She was immensely proud of daughter Amanda and her husband Greg; along with grandchildren Morgan and Chase who will keenly miss her presence.
There are others who have also been close to her; and in the knowledge that each has wonderful memories to treasure, we join together in expressing heartfelt sympathy to them all.