Reminiscing on the sights and sounds of racing circa 1954

Reminiscing on the sights and sounds of racing circa 1954

Featured Image: Randwick Spring Carnival 1954


Joseph Conrad said it first but it could have been Max Presnell; only the epoch and locale were different!

“I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more /the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort /to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires /and expires, too soon, too soon /before life itself”

It’s good to reminisce. I’m better practiced now I’m rapidly approaching 80 years of age. I can google with the best of them. That’s a consolation of staying alive long enough. The late Keith Binney (‘Horsemen of the First Frontier’) told me if he’d had access to Trove it would have been very much easier? I especially appreciated Max’s richly wistful piece on ‘Racing and Randwick’. I was actually searching for the origins of his ‘Bad Call’ on Ray Flockton versus Richie Benaud’. I discovered the following which I duly acknowledge. It transpires Richie Benaud wrote an emotional eulogy for his great cricketing mate ‘Flocko’. It’s fabulous nostalgia for any dedicated sports nut.

See: Reminiscing on the sights and sounds of racing circa 1954 (

By Max Presnell

December 5, 2014 — 3.09pm

Recollections of 1954 confirm that characters, more than racehorses, dominated the Sydney scene.

Hooked on the turf, on December 8 that year I took a tram ride into a new and somewhat musty world of newspapers.

Featured Image: Those were the days: The scene at Randwick for the 1954 spring carnival. Credit:Ern McQuillan

From my early teens I had a solid racing foundation, being reared at Kensington’s Doncaster Hotel, alongside Randwick racecourse. I was awoken by the clippety-clop of horses going to the track.

People, too, in 1954 surged up and down Doncaster Avenue from tram stops going to the Villiers meeting, generating a Pied Piper effect.

You had to get inside the high fences to see what the attraction was. There you found a wonderful mix of horses in action, with jockeys and trainers, bookmakers and punters, all contributing to the magic.

For the Villiers that year I went over the fence around to the half-mile entrance to get into the St Leger to support Silver Phantom, which had won the 1953 Epsom in record time over the same journey.

Alas the grey couldn’t handle the weight rise to 58.5kg under real handicap conditions, not the soft touch given to the modern-day top-weights, because the winner, Kev Mar, had only 49kg.

Five years later Silver Phantom distinguished himself as one of the stars of the film The Sundowners with Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum✓✓.

Mitchum was so upset by interference suffered by Silver Phantom during a scene that he went into Australian punter mode and used bad language, necessitating a reshoot.

But the tone at the Doncaster, after the last on Villiers day, was always raucous with trainers usually having the benefit of cuddling horses (conserving energy in lead-up races) to win for Christmas.

Arthur Ward was the leading Sydney jockey in 1954-55 with Neville Sellwood and Jack Thompson more favoured by horse players than George Moore, who would become an all-time great.

Wise guys at the Doncaster were predicting leading trainer Tommy Smith wouldn’t last although he had taken the previous two trainers’ premierships. He won the next 30.

However, December 8 was my big day, getting on the Circular Quay tram opposite the Doncaster and going along Anzac Parade to where it linked with Elizabeth Street before stopping near the office of The Sun, the afternoon newspaper, to start as a copy boy.

Soon after, The Sun was taken over by John Fairfax. When I arrived a young cricketer, Richie Benaud, was working in the counting house.

Using the judgment that has flavoured my 60-year career, I figured Ray Flockton would be a better all-rounder. After all, Flockton was eastern suburbs while Benaud was only a boom colt from the back-blocks of Parramatta.

To get into the lift at the office with Keith Miller, then working on Sporting Life, a magazine and stablemate of The Sun, made my day, my week even.

The editorial floor was the hub – the best university in the world with journalists such as Noel Bailey doing police rounds supported by Zel Rabin (Rupert Murdoch’s first Sydney editor with the Daily Mirror, and a major contributor to his early survival).

The sporting room boomed to the editorial expertise of editor Con Simons, supported by the best ever reporter in the field, Ernie Christensen, who covered Olympic Games just about one-out.

Christensen was in Tony Madigan’s corner when he beat Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) at the Rome Olympics, but didn’t get the decision.

The racing staff was headed by Jack Charles (“The Fat Man”), who insisted his team wore hats to the races.

Bert Sessle, father of the renowned Bruce, who is still going strong, Bob Kent, Des Corless and Fred Imber with Bill Mordey the cadet contributed to a very impressive racing line-up.

Mordey, the most courageous punter to get his foundation in journalism, became a top rugby league writer and fight promoter.

Charles had cause to send him home to change his golden socks, the memory of which later sent The Fat Man into a spiral resembling a bulldog that had swallowed a wasp.

Fortunately the copy boys were under the direction of the kindly Les Frazer and Stan Appleby, a former axeman who had lost a leg, according to legend, in a chopping frenzy when he miscued on a film set while being diverted by the star, Helen Twelvetrees.

Appleby, a humanitarian, also handled the SP betting and when settling was a little slow, he would commiserate: “Max, have you hit a hurdle?”

“Mr Appleby, I’ve been run over by a cement truck.” – Presnell.

“Don’t panic, son, you’ve got time to pay.”

Flockton, Raymond George (Ray) (1930–2011)

by Richie Benaud

See: Obituary – Raymond George (Ray) Flockton – Obituaries Australia (

from Obituaries Australia

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Raymond Flockton and I were contempories throughout our careers. I played first grade, aged 16, against Glebe in the 4th match of the 1946-47 season. I think Ray, at the same time, made it into the Paddington firsts. Mort Cohen was the ‘Paddo’ captain and he always had a very high opinion of Ray’s cricket.

We were both chosen for the NSW Colt’s XI to travel to Brisbane in 1948. ‘Chappie’ Dwyer as chairman of the selectors made it known that NSW intended to produce young cricketers with the second world war having ended. I have a photograph of that Colt’s team which was captained by Chappie’s son, Brian. The players were: Brian Dwyer (c); Clive Johnston (vc); Russ Hill; Brian Flynn; Graeme Hole; Richie Benaud; Jim Burke; Ray Flockton; Alan Walker; Geoff Trueman; Ron Briggs and Bob Madden. The manager was Jack Norton.

I was chosen in the Sheffield Shield team to play Queensland at the SCG, 31 December -4 January, a few weeks after the Colt’s match. A few days later in the 2nd XI game at the MCG I suffered that very bad head injury trying to hook ‘Dasher’ Daniel on the second morning of the game, having gone in as night watchman. Brian Dwyer also captained that match.

Ray made his debut at the start of the 1951-52 summer. Neither of us did much in the game at the ‘Gabba’. Ray batted six, I was at nine. In the West Indies match at the SCG Jack Moroney replaced Ron Kissell. Moroney made 166* in the second innings and Ron gradually faded from view.

I don’t think Arthur had any idea of me sharing a partnership with Ray though, as it happened, we shared a good partnership which he completely dominated, if I ever went ahead of him, in what the selectors may have seen as a choice between two youngsters who batted, bowled leg spin and were good in the field. It happened when the Australians were on tour in South Africa.

The game Vic v NSW at the MCG was the one where we had our first sighting of Jack Iverson who had during the war played a little cricket in New Guinea. He was an extraordinary bowler. Only one of our players, Ron James, the captain, knew anything about him. He had received this information from his former South Australian team-mates the previous week when we had played in Adelaide. Ron said that ‘Jake’, in taking his seven wickets in the South Australian first innings, had looked for all the world as though he was bowling leg-breaks, but in fact was a very good off-spinner. ‘You must trust what they told me, he is definitely an off-spinner.’ ‘Burkie’ made 162 not out, I only made 68, but it was one of the toughest days I can remember. Our partnership was 138 and they still beat us by five wickets.

My bowling career was completely changed at the end of the 1953 tour of England when Tiger O’Reilly cancelled a dinner with Hassett to have dinner with me. He gave me six things to do, and, as I had my hand on the door and was saying thank you, he added that it would take me four years to get it right.

The next first class match I played was against Queensland in Brisbane in 1953-54 when I took 5/17 in the first session of play and then made 158. Tiger said ‘Well bowled, but don’t pay too much attention to the runs you made’.

He was delighted when at the end of the season I had finished third in the Australian bowling figures with 35 wickets at 30; was very casual that I had finished third in the batting with 811 at 62, and was even less impressed when, against Victoria, I was promoted to number 3 and made 78, but finished with 11 overs 0/58. He wasn’t irritable, but he did want to see me working hard on the bowling side of things. He just shook his head when in 1953-54 Miller had me open the innings with Ron Briggs at the SCG and I made 112 and 59, but he did smile broadly at seven wickets in the match.

When Flocko started the second part of his cricket career, he began out of the main team and played in Perth with WA winning by an innings and 105. He was on the way back though, with 60 and 76 not out.

In 1961-62 after we had gone through the wonderful Tied Test series, had retained the Ashes at Old Trafford and come back to what I hoped would be one of the greatest summers, I said to the team, ‘Lets go for 400 in a day’. I never really expected it to happen but it put it into the minds of the players, the best example being at the MCG on December 23 when I walked out to join (Grahame) ‘Tonker’ Thomas when we were 6/141. He smiled and said to me ‘Is this still a 400 day?’ I said ‘Yes, get stuck in’. We did and the ‘little favourite’ (J. M.) tried unsuccessfully to hit the last ball of the day for six. We finished with 8/398. Raymond George was 12th man in that match as he was in five other games of the eight played. NSW won the Sheffield Shield for the ninth successive year, which provides a clear picture of how good you needed to be to make it into the eleven player NSW team and why Ray and others missed out. It was a great achievement to be 12th man in that squad.

Raymond George was one of the very best. A splendid person, a fine cricketer, who might have played in a tough era, but enriched the Australian game with his skills, humour and personality. He was a deviser of nicknames (Today’s Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Nov 2011, page 26, Obituaries. Quite a coincidence). Lee Pockriss and the story of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Ray started working on a nickname for Doug Walters when Doug made his debut for NSW v Qld at the SCG, 29 December 1962. Ray was in the team and made 12 and 55. The method was: Doug Ford already had ‘Dougie’ or ‘Dugald’ hence the Bikini and ‘Biki.’ I first heard about it in Adelaide, I think from Wally Grout during the Test match. Wally had played in the game when ‘Biki’ made his debut.

Original publication