Racing Journalism’s Halcyon Days
Featured Image: courtesy of Ray Alexander
Ray writes (23/06/2020): “I am including a photo which Bill Whittaker’s son Mark (another journalist and author) placed on Facebook. He identified Bill and me, but did not know who the other two were. I was able to inform him that they were Barry Parkes (ex-Mirror, Truth and Telegraph) and Frank McGrath, who trained On Line to win a Sydney Cup for John Wren and whose father trained dual Melbourne Cup winner and one of the all-time greats, Peter Pan”.
I have known Ray Alexander for over 50 years. In recent years we met annually at a ‘long luncheon’ hosted at the Royal Easter Show. This was to celebrate ‘all things thoroughbred’ including racing administration, breeding, training, education, journalism and any other old excuse; genuine or otherwise. At various times we entertained at least four ex-AJC Chairmen and three STC Chairmen as well as two RAS of NSW former Presidents. An inaugural ‘intimate’ was one of Australia’s most successful owner/breeders. The Scone Race Club was strongly represented with many former committeemen and at least four ex-Club Presidents. A further ‘country delegate’ was long term Chairman of the North and North West Racing Association as well as President of Tamworth Jockey Club. The Keeper of the Stud Book was another ‘thoroughbred celebrity’. Queen’s Trainer Lord William Huntingdon attended one of our levees. Sadly these days are now gone. Ray Alexander writes: “They were memorable luncheons which we all enjoyed. I can appreciate that a nucleus of the group is impeded by the hand of Father Time”.
One of our guests at the RAS of NSW Luncheon was Michael Keenan. Mike Keenan is a NSW farmer with a keen interest in the environment. He is the author of The Horses Too Are Gone, Wild Horses Don’t Swim, In Search of a Wild Brumby, Last Horse Standing and The Shadows of Horses. Mike Keenan writes with a deep passion and knowledge of Australian life on the land, tinged with a sadness and nostalgia for a way of life that is under threat. The Horses Too Are Gone strikes a chord with all Australians.
Perhaps we should ask Mike to write the epitaph for racing journalism? On second thoughts both Ray and regular luncheon guest Max Presnell would provide excellent copy. Both have regaled me with sad tales of the demise of racing journalism. I have documented much of this myself; unashamedly plundering the best copy written by Max in particular.
Ray Alexander has provided me with a superb vignette of a meeting he facilitated:
“The last time I saw Frank (McGrath) was when Jim Bell (AJC Chairman) and I were on our way to a meeting with Kerry Packer on Pay TV. Frank, adorned in uniform, was a doorman at the Consolidated Press offices. He thanked me for giving his daughter Ellen a job in the racecourse manager’s office. Ellen is now writing a book on the McGrath family”.