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After death

Spirited: Australia's Horse Story

After death

Until synthetic materials became widely available in the mid-20th century, horses’ bodies provided a wealth of products. Leg bones were turned into knife handles, tails and manes into cloth, ribs into bone black (a kind of charcoal), hair into padding for upholstery, hides into leather, and hooves into toothpicks and combs.

A horse killed in a collision on Flinders Street, Adelaide, 1912.
A horse killed in a collision on Flinders Street, Adelaide, 1912. State Library of South Australia.

A host of businesses took care of the collection, disassembly and recycling of horses’ bodies. They were known, collectively, as the ‘noxious trades’ because of the foul smells and waste products generated during slaughter and from rotting carcasses, boiled down hooves and burned bones.

Initially these trades were located near city centres, reducing transport costs for the collection of live horses and the recovery of dead ones. By the early 20th century, however, residents were calling for their relocation to outlying suburbs.

Explore some of the stories and objects

Memento of ‘Rainbow’
Memento of 'Rainbow'

An inscribed silver inkwell set into a horse’s hoof.
 Ladies’ grooming set
Ladies' grooming set

A case with horsehair brushes, presented as a gift from aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm.
 ‘Cavallo’ product labels
'Cavallo' product labels

Packaging from one of the few Australian butchers licensed to sell horsemeat.