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.
Bert Lillye was the ultimate ‘wordsmith’ challenged only by Carlyon but exceeding him in passion. He was a perfectionist who did not cut corners. His research was profound; his ‘nose’ for a story piquant. In pursuit of a good yarn Bert was absolutely determined and stoically single minded. Bert was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in Brisbane in May 2015 which is the industry’s leading accolade. It was the 15th occasion the Racing Hall of Fame honoured the luminaries of the turf; both equine and human. Chairman of the Hall of Fame selection panel Bob Charley said the event was an opportunity to recognise the people and the horses that make racing the “unique sport it is”. Lillye joins previously elected journalists A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, Bert Wolfe and another former Sydney Morning Herald racing editor Bill Whittaker. His presence there is richly deserved.
One of Australia’s foremost racing journalists Bert Lillye was involved with the industry for almost 50 years. Lillye began work at 15 as a copy boy at ‘Smith’s Weekly’ in 1934. From there he progressed to the Sydney Morning Herald, moved to the Daily Mirror for five years, and then returned to the Herald where he remained until his retirement in 1984. He also contributed extensively to Turf Monthly, where he commenced writing his column ‘Backstage of Racing’; a feature he later continued in the Sydney Morning Herald. Lillye was an expert researcher, ever careful to verify his findings before committing them to print. Wherever possible he would look at the human angle, and show sympathy for the ‘battlers’ of racing. He was known as a great raconteur. Many of his stories he brought together in his collection of anecdotes ‘Backstage of Racing’. I’m the very proud owner of a signed copy.
Legendary turf journalist Bert Lillye joins greats in racing’s Hall of Fame
John Holloway May 21, 2015
Racing Victoria Assocaites
Bert Lillye (1919 – 1996)