Bert Lillye

Bert Lillye

The featured image shows Mr. Bert Lillye, turf writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, presenting Mr. J. W. ‘Bim’ Thompson of Widden Stud with the owner’s trophy, who accepted on behalf of himself and co-owners Messrs F. L. Bragg, W. Parry-Okeden, F. Wilson, F. Thomas and R. Mann after their horse ‘Idol’ won the Bert Lillye Lightning Stakes

Wednesday May 16, 1979

The late Bert Lillye was the racing journalist par excellence. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword then Bert’s construct was exquisitely honed pure rapier steel with an incisive pointy tip. Even his peers acknowledged his craft. Among these legendary luminaries are figured Jack Ward, Bill Casey, Keith Robbins, Max Presnell, Bill Whittaker, John Holloway and even Les Carlyon. Racing writers were employed to keep punters informed. The furious advancement of new age technology has caused a withering on the vine of media’s changing face. Few are left. On retirement Bert said: “My greatest disappointment is that the wonderful characters are fast disappearing from the racecourse, the victims of progress. The characters have gone even faster than the racing writers.”

 

Bert Lillye was the best friend the Scone Race Club ever had. He retained a lifelong passion for Scone and district. The Scone Cup in May each year was his most favoured destination exceeding even that of the Melbourne Cup. He brought an entourage with him. Being a most gregarious person he appreciated more than anything the abundant hospitality lavishly bestowed. Famous watering holes included ‘Trevors Stud’ in Phillip Street, Scone. This was the home of Archie and Betty Shepherd. Rum and milk was the ‘heart starter’ every day at 6:00am. On one famous or perhaps infamous occasion Bert and I overdid it. We were expected on Radio Station 2NM at Muswellbrook to talk about the Scone Cup. We lingered rather too long at ‘Trevors Stud’ and were running late. The anchor journalist Mike Pritchard (now ABC) was distraught! He’d run out of content and advertisements with almost 40 minutes to fill. No worries! He couldn’t shut us up when time expired. We talked through the 10 minute news break as well. Both outward and return journeys would have been criminal today. This was before RBT. On reflection perhaps we were culpable anyway? I was the guilty driver.

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Stanley Wootton

Stanley Wootton

Having included an encomium to George Ryder it is only fitting and fair that I incorporate a tribute to Stanley Wootton (STW) as well. With G E Ryder I believe STW was the other most significant figure in the evolution of racing and breeding thoroughbreds in Australia and NSW in particular encompassing the latter part of the 20th century. The story of the Wootton family is a legend in itself. As Bob Charley rightly points out it was actually jockey Frank Wootton who was the inchoate superstar. All this is well documented in Bill Eacott’s: ‘The Wootton Family – Australia to Epsom’ cited by admirable SMH journalist Max Presnell below. Max would know best. His family ran the Doncaster Hotel, Anzac Parade on behalf of the Wootton family for more than a generation.

I was fortunate to have met Stanley Wootton although I can barely claim I knew him well. He was most astute. He actually had a profound effect on both my personal and professional life. I still retain a letter I received dated 14th October 1974 from his home at Treadwell House, Epsom Surrey, England. In the letter he thanked me for my congratulations on ‘Bletchingly’s win recently: ‘This is a very nice horse and I believe will make a good sire one day’. He did! ‘Bletchingly’ (Biscay ex Coogee Am.) became a champion sire three times based at Widden Stud. On the strength of STW’s recommendation I bought a share. I had to borrow the money from a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling Methodist lay-preaching Bank Manager. The rest as they say in the classics is history. Interestingly ‘Bletchingly’ was the only champion sire actually bred. He will forever be associated with importation of his grandsire Star Kingdom.

I will leave the soliloquy on STW to the erudite Max Presnell. The image accompanying this vignette says it all: Gentleman of the turf … Stanley Wootton with ‘Todman’ left his mark on the Australian racing scene.

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George Ryder Racing Supremo

Training leviathan T J ‘Tommy’ Smith said that George Ryder was the best man for racing in his time. Who am I to argue? I know from a long professional association he was the most opportunistic, visionary, imaginary, inventive, innovative and enthusiastic administrator NSW Racing had in the second half of the 20th century. I submit the following official biography as proof of these assertions. I acknowledge and appreciate the source as cited. The stories are legendary; and only half the truth! The image depicts Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Jockey Neville Voigt, Trainer Tommy Smith and then STC Chairman George Ryder at a trophy presentation at Rosehill. It was an auspicious quadrella!

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Farriery in the Far East

I first encountered the Chinese Horse Crush at a private riding school in Nanjing during a visit in 2004. The horse was restrained between two metal posts with an overhanging mettle bar. A quite elaborate system of ropes was strung from the horizontal high bar with the horse ‘suspended’ between a longitudinal rope body restraint. Attached ropes surrounded the torso at the girth; also around and across the loins. A standard head stall tied to the overhanging bar in front completed the elaborate internment. The horse appeared to accept this arrangement quite well. Master Farrier Brian Atfield was on the trip. He said he couldn’t operate in this way. The horse was unused and uncooperative to the established western methods of approach and restraint.

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The Dales Vet

The Dales Vet

One of the great facets of life’s journey as our own timeclock winds down is to contemplate the fascinating people one has met. I’m very blessed. I can’t compete with Albert Facey and his ‘A Fortunate Life’ but overall it’s been fabulous. I attended more Universities than Schools. I consider it a lucky advantage; others would say it has distorted my mind! I was a recipient of the social advantages put in place by Clement Attlee’s first Labour Government following WWII in the UK. While the rest of the world was astounded at Great Britain’s rejection of WWII hero Winston Churchill’s Conservatives we just had to get on with it. Essentially a universal free National Health Service and provision for both secondary and tertiary education were major and massive social reforms. I was a most fortunate beneficiary. My family could not have made these provisions. I met a fellow migrant ‘Ten Pound Pom’ Roger Morgan on an expedition in the Himalayas. He remarked we were the ‘luckiest generation ever’. I think he was right?

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Widden Stud

Widden Stud

‘Stay here; go no further’

It was simply superb! Why suffer diminutives when superlatives suffice? On Monday 28th August 2017 I was a privileged guest of Antony and Kate Thompson for the Widden Stud Stallion Parade 2017. You can check all this out at: http://widden.com/ . You don’t need a prolix diatribe from me. It was my first revisit for several years. I had my best day out for a long time. Thank you both Kate and Antony and the eclectic stud staff; many of whom I knew. Hospitality was exquisite matching the presentation of the stallions.

When the original first nation inhabitants brought John Lee to the Valley from the Bathurst Area they described it perfectly: ‘Stay here; go no further’. They were right. The rest is history. If ever you have opportunity do not prevaricate! It’s an Australian icon and a best kept secret. I am indeed fortunate that I was so privileged as to spend much of my professional life in this pristine location.

You can view Widden Stud and the Widden Valley on my website by clicking on both ‘The Veterinary Surgeon on the Stud Farm’ and ‘In the Blood: Thoroughbreds in the Hunter Valley’. At the risk of accusations of solipsism, sophistry and vested self-interest I commend both.

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Australian Stock Horses in Tanzania

Australian Stock Horses in Tanzania

Africa in general is never short of surprises. My son Hugh had taken a two-year position as teacher at the International School in Iringa. Actually reaching there is an exciting adventure in itself. The only access for mere mortals is by ‘bus from Das es Salaam. This can take from 10 to 14 hours depending on traffic conditions in the major coastal city. Market days are worst! The bus is shared by a varied assortment of people, agricultural produce and animals. The latter are accommodated on the roof and might include sheep, goats and chooks. Muzungu 2% (white people) are outnumbered by locals 98%. The only alternative is a charter flight to a game park; usually the domain of the big game hunters aka shooters!

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What about Winx?

What about Winx?

I’m fortunate to be included in a select camarilla of mature bucolic males who meet for coffee very Wednesday morning at a specific time (10:00am) and location. Let’s call ourselves the Midweek Brotherhood. Unbridled imagination could conjure up some more colourful epithets and elaborate sobriquets? Men-of-the-land are well represented with a smattering of urban professionals. Views tend to favour News Limited and Fox News outlets rather than ABC and Rural Press/Fairfax Media. The latter are nonetheless represented in the cadre. Luminary establishment institutions such as the RAS of NSW, Cattle Council of Australia and Thoroughbred Breeders Association are signified. The Hunter Valley and New England areas predominate.  One of our cabal is an ex-Wallaby with a strong rural pedigree. Pedigrees can be revealing. Early entrepreneurs who were awarded King William IV Travelling Fellowships via a mandatory legal interview process at the Old Bailey feature in at least one extended lineage.  A member of the Rum Corps Rebellion who apprehended Governor William Bligh has passed down a smidgeon of his genotype. Heritage views are to the fore with a smattering of small ‘l’ liberalism from the minority urban professional sector. At least three of our corps are writers and even authors. Rick Wright boasts a pedigree littered with erudite creators; he is a poet to boot. He produced the following very eloquent and topical tribute to super mare ‘Winx’ at a recent gathering. He has the advantage of knowing the Bowman family of ‘Dunedoo’ very well. It has a personal piquancy. I also attach Banjo Paterson’s ‘Do They Know’ (1902) for comparison. I wouldn’t want my views on anthology either!

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Perfect Polo

Perfect Polo

Was the Polo at Mr K F B Packer’s Ellerston Station on Saturday 27th April 1991 the greatest array of combined team talent ever assembled in Australia for any single sporting event? Aficionados of Polo would indubitably say ‘Yes’. Ellerston’s No 1 Polo Ground was a fitting venue for a camarilla of such rare and rich ability. They were indeed enriched halcyon days for the Polo cognoscenti.

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