Featured Image: Ron Jeffries relaxing and reflecting in the garden at ‘Geraldton’
Ron is another former stud manager from the ‘old school’. There are hardly any left. Ron is 90 years of age as I write.He only very recently relinquished his total independence and accepted care with great assistance and encouragement from his admirable family. . His is a remarkable tale; I only wish I cloud tell it better. He certainly knows how to ‘take off’ vets; and critique his employers!
Manager of Woodlands & Bellerive Studs
‘An old dog for a hard road. Puppies for pavements’!
(Ron made this remark about an ingénue Newmarket veterinarian whom Murray had just corrected!)
If Cliff Ellis is the Victor Trumper of stud grooms/managers then Ron Jeffries is a combination of Stan McCabe and Doug Walters! Ron was Manager at Woodlands during the halcyon days of the late 1950’s, through the 1960’s and into the early 1970’s. This was a time when Woodlands was one of the world’s most prolific thoroughbred nurseries in one year producing over 180 winners of about 360 races. They also presented one quarter (109 yearlings) of the total draft at the one of the annual Inglis Easter Yearling Sales in the 1960’s. Ron is a great raconteur with a natural dry wit and laconic dispenser of percipient one-liners! “Dry as a lime burners boot” is one such example. “If you tap their hooves with a hammer they ring like a bell” was his graphic description of the hard quality of the yearling colt’s hooves at Woodlands. Another gem is “He thought ‘hygiene’ was a tall girl”.
Ron and Murray were great friends and I think there was mutual trust and respect emanating from their subliminal recognition of each others superlative qualities. There is probably no better person than Ron Jeffries to critically and objectively evaluate the veterinary fraternity passing through the Upper Hunter and Scone in particular from 1950 to 2000 and beyond! Ron has also spent a few pleasant years of his twilight era working with John Flaherty at Clovelly Stables.
One year in the 1960’s Ron had the champion yearling filly by Newtown Wonder in the Thoroughbred section at the Royal Easter Show. She was a full sister to Apple Jack (Newtown Wonder ex Silver Words) and competed against him for the championship. Sir Alan Potter was Chairman of the AJC and presented the championship ribbon. The Newtown Wonders were superlative strikers and Sir Alan placed the sash around Ron instead! The crowd was greatly amused!
There were no vets about in the early days. In 1947 we had our first foaling case and John Goodsir from Singleton came out. Of course by the time he’d done the caesarean we’d lost the lot. Norman Larkin used to travel from Sydney. Fancy having a panel van locked up at the railway station with all your gear in it! Frank Williams [FW] arrived in 1949 and we nicknamed him Joe Stalin because of the big mo he had. Murray came in 1950. Frank didn’t make it through the gully in the Widden Valley a few times either!
In November 1946 I went to Woodlands from a pre-training establishment in Cessnock. [Ron had acted as ball boy when Woodlands boss George Ryder was a playing tennis!]. The yearling barns were on the Hunter River flats. A man named Lincoln went down to inspect the water and the river came up and cut him off. He ended up on the roof of the shed then felt the shed moving so jumped into the river. The thing that saved him was not panicking. They sat waiting for him for half an hour at what is now Coolmore. He got on an old log and just floated down. They eventually saw him walking around the corner! There were 20 yearlings in that shed there and we lost all but one. We found the one surviving colt on a flat at Arrowfield. When the river broke the bank Jim Gibson and I were out riding and were cut off by the water bank on other side. There were 20 mares and foals there. There was nowhere to ride or hide. A mare called Cabinet came to the water and went in to get her foal and they all followed her. The mares were in the water chest high with the foals swimming at their sides. We didn’t lose any of them – all for the one mare Cabinet.
We once took 100 mares from Widden to Piercefield near Denman. We drove them by road and walked them all the way over. We wintered them there. They didn’t do much good there as it wasn’t horse country. Across the road where Bowman owned the paddock we had 50 mares and foals there one year. Saddlers Creek was that brackish they wouldn’t drink the water.
There was a lot of convivial activity in Denman those days and we had trouble with motorcars coming back over Ogilvie’s Hill! Georgie Bowman was the stallion man, general farrier and factotum. He could do most things and had a unique way with words as well as many special sayings. We were repairing a trailer with hexagonal bolts. “Don’t forget them bolts with the hoxygen heads” said George! We knew what he meant!
‘Cheeky Charlie’ Feehan used to get Murray all wound up. He put the gelding trick on Murray one day when he was follicle testing. The boys were all standing around. I went off and pulled the saddle off my old horse. Murray didn’t notice. He was always talking and blathering away, so he lathered up the anus, looked down and noticed another part of the anatomy was missing. He pulled his arm out of the horse’s arse that quick and it “sounded like a cork coming out of a champagne bottle” said Charlie who could really embellish a story.
He [Murray] was always wrapped in our birds and animals. He’d say, “I can’t understand you fellas, you’re frightened of snakes but you’ve been born and reared with them!” So Jim [Gibson] found a dead snake, coiled it around and left it on the front seat. When Murray came in he saw this bloody snake, we found out he was a bit afraid of them! “There’s no doubt in this world”, said Murray, “that you bastards would be descended from convicts”!
Sue Rhodes of “Now you’ll think I’m awful” fame had written about Aussie men friends she’d had who weren’t up to scratch in her opinion. She was apparently in a very good position to have an opinion! She eventually married an American actor called Rory Colhoun. Murray gets the Sunday paper out with the headline ‘Aussie man make lousy lovers’. They’re bloody awful. “She hadn’t met me” said Murray! He couldn’t wait to show the article to me and Jim! I read it and said; “Yeah Doc, doesn’t say what sort of servers we are though”! [Murray was always called ‘Doc’].
We always had trouble with the housekeepers at Woodlands. They were usually kind and used to feed the vets sometimes with good grace and sometimes not with good grace. Gardeners and cooks were the worst two people ever employed on studs and caused more trouble than anybody else. Freddie Walden of Kia Ora said there were 13 families living on Kia Ora then  not counting single blokes. We had ten families living on Woodlands plus some single blokes.
There were only blokes on the place then and no women working there. All the single blokes were rabbit catchers and cleaned up the rabbits at Arrowfield for Lawson. He was a politician or something and he wouldn’t pay them. They had to walk away because they had no money to take him to court or anything.
Murray always maintained the best job he ever did at Woodlands was to fight with Bill Fletcher and beat him! He was “undefeated heavy weight champion of Hunter Valley” and Mace was mortified at her professional husband brawling. I [Ron Jeffries] took over from Bill Fletcher when he was dismissed. Murray went shopping in Scone later the same day and George Moore said; “Don’t hit me, don’t hit me. I’m only a little bloke”! The same thing happened at Oakleigh in the Widden Valley next day. Murray went into a barn to see a yearling and they’d set up a boxing ring with buckets and towels and everything! There is nothing faster or more reliable than the ‘bush telegraph’!
We worked very hard and played as hard. We were up at 3.30am, got going by 4am and were still going till 9pm at night. We took it in turns to relieve the night watchman. We had nine mares foal one night when George Asimus was there. His wife died so he sent his son Brian to school with my kids. He never remarried. He was a long time at Widden. George Ryder and Tom Street together with Dave Crystal owned Woodlands then.
In early 1970’s Lord Derby [England] and Bob Kleburg, King Ranch, Texas USA purchased Woodlands. I had to put up with a bit of flack! I was also known as ‘Lord Ron’ by ‘Cheekie Charlie’ Feehan. Lord Derby used to come out with his valet and bought out a book he had signed himself. Before dinner one night the boss of King Ranch Texas [Santa Gertrudis] was into the Scotch and Murray was late. They couldn’t keep him sober long enough to actually get to dinner!
They must have had a low opinion of the Australian industry because of the mares they sent out here. One good horse produced was Marscay. Lord Derby’s mares were rubbish. Heart of Market sent out by King Ranch wasn’t a bad mare. John Derby was a hell of a nice fella and dry as a lime-burner’s boot.
‘Cheeky Charlie’ described an overweight lady friend of someone’s in graphic terms and what might transpire – but it cannot be repeated here! Barry Blessington [Blesso] brought his old man to spend a week once. Charlie said; “I bet when you saw that bastard [Blesso] at birth I you turned up sex from then on in”! “We’re the best of mates,” said Blesso! Blesso’s wife Ida was Scottish and he worked for a Council in Sydney. He’d come to the yearling sales at 4am to help out. “How are you going with your retirement Blesso?” He said; “I’ve worked in the Council for 20 years, I’ve had plenty of practice”! We were all part of the ‘mad mile’ in Stable No. 3 at Inglis’ Easter Sales. We started at 3am and had all the boxes done and yearlings exercised, fed and watered by 6am with the rugs over the doors. We then opened 2 dozen cans and Archie produced his rum and milk! John Inglis used to join us some mornings and Archie asked him to get a milking cow – the ‘milko’ arrived too late in the morning with fresh milk! John would have rum or beer with us sometimes and said he would “look into it”. John [Inglis] was a champion bloke but he liked to see the lane clean and all the boxes done early. He didn’t mind if we had a few then! Blesso would be telling so many jokes no-one wanted to go for breakfast!
Cattle used to come across the river onto Woodlands but they never used to go back though. There was a bloke there then who used to ‘borrow’ a few cattle. He used to do some horrible things and poor old George [Ryder] didn’t know what was going on. Old George had an association with Jack Kramer the tennis player. Newtown Wonder was the ‘gun’ stallion. I was to take this group of yearlings to LA to go on the first boat that took live sheep across. My wife got in trouble with this pregnancy so Jim Gibson went instead. They raced well in America. They all had tennis names.
The ‘Old Fellow’ [George Ryder] also tried Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. He would try anyone he thought had any money! George Ryder had Winifred Atwell playing the piano at Woodlands. Lew Hoad had a gutful! He went to sleep on the marble slab in the kitchen but next morning he ran four miles around the river flats with three thick woollen jumpers on! He was a legendary tennis player. [Note: Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall played an exhibition match at Denman RSL – arranged by George Ryder!]. Bob Askin, Jack Green and Bobby Limb were there. I had to drive them down to airstrip opposite Coolmore. We all talked about how black Winifred was and especially Bob Askin! No political correctness then!
George Ryder once asked Bill Howey to an STC Lunch when he was chairman. Bob Askin and Bill were sitting up there at the top table. John Kelso could tell a story. He and Norman Larkin of the NSW TBA were worried about impact of SP bookmaking on the TAB. They arranged an interview with PM Sir Robert Askin. He was standing at fireplace and said; “Okay, what the hell do you two bastards want”? “Come off it”, he said, “my best mates are SP bookmakers” when they tried to explain!
The sergeant in Denman said; “No way you’ll have grog there [at Woodlands] on Sunday”. Someone got onto Askin who got onto the cop and said to get out of the way. They invited him as a guest. He didn’t like being pushed out of the way.
Bill Dovey, the Chief Justice, came from Newcastle once a month on Friday to do the divorce court. He’d finish then it was “Righto boy where’s the first pub”? He’d be half drunk the whole weekend. He took two bottles up to Woodlands after I picked him up at Muswellbrook station.
All the things that Cheeky Charlie used to say to Murray Bain are unprintable. Murray was a proud bloke, so they would try and bring him down. It got worse and worse and worse. Shona Murphy said females were monogamous where males weren’t. Murray was one of those ones who wasn’t! Cheeky Charlie once sold a shed full of hay but ‘forgot’ to pass on the proceeds to who actually owned it.
Murray was passionate about record keeping and a perfectionist in the way he kept professional standards. I don’t remember anyone who’s matched him. He had immaculate white overalls. Going out to Baramul when Noel Hennessy was there they tricked him. They waited for Murray coming, and there was an old dry water tank. He got everything out, everything beautifully done. These blokes were sitting watching him through a hole in the tank. He gets out of the car, reads the paper; packed everything back up again, everything back neatly again. They popped up just as he was leaving and said; “G’day Doc”. He had a stainless steel silver tray with an Italian fella’s name on it. They used to have a go at Murray. They reckon he shot that fella in the war.
Richard Greenwood was a very English Englishman. Sue, his wife, was a very pretty woman. At the sales she came and sat on my knee. Poor old Richard – always late and always forgot something. But a top bloke – he swore so nicely. Instead of saying “Farrckkk” he’d say “O Fuck”. Murray didn’t swear much but when he did it was a horrible sound [Scottish man]. What you see with Bill is what you get. He never changes. He was a bit nervous to start with but soon fitted in with the fellas. He did really look up to Murray. He was his hero more or less.
We would sometimes get into trouble! I remember ‘Dossor’s Keg’ at Denman. They had a keg up there in the icebox at the old Lucerne factory. We went up there and help them drink it, didn’t we? Ruby often brings that up. “I was waiting for you to finish, I had all the kids down the street”. I say; “Listen dear, don’t live in the past”.
During the foaling season there were cases in the night; fortunately they used to save more than we used to lose. They used to be on call from Scone to Woodlands; when it was discovered that semi-anaesthetised mares during foaling was the answer. Murray had two rules – two people go to a foaling, and you anaesthetise the mare. I was telling Jeremy Francis the other day about an English Mare with tetanus and pregnant. Old Jack [Francis] pumped her full of antibiotics; anaesthetised her to finish her off and did a caesarean at the same time. A black colt jumped out of her straight to his feet. Two weeks later he had tetanus contracted from her and we lost the lot.
One year we had a Salmonella outbreak. Shona Murphy had just come to work in 1965. A foal had an abscess and Murray lanced it in the yards and took a culture. The next morning we had half a dozen foals scouring and by the time the Doc arrived there were 20 or more. The culture turned out to be Salmonella and we treated all the foals and lost none. That was the time Murray showed adding liquid paraffin to the scour drench enabled the foals to recover quicker.
Pipe of Peace was a great stallion. We served 95 mares one year with him then backed him up to serve those mares belonging to Jack Kramer. That burnt him out. He was a top sire. Old George buggered that horse up with his attitude at the sales. He used to put exorbitant prices on them. Pipe of Peace, King of Babylon and Sostenuto were the same. Owners were a problem a lot of the time. One owner was over the moon when her mare had twins. “Oh good, two for the price of one”! Little did she know! Then there was the owner who wanted us to serve her mare again “just to make sure” when told her mare was in foal! Another asked if we had served his mare yet? I told him we usually waited until a mare foaled before we served them again!
Old George [Ryder] could be creative when he syndicated stallions. He was the first in Australia to do this after the Americans started it with Nashua. When Lord Derby and King Ranch bought Woodlands there was a meeting of the Sostenuto and King of Babylon syndicates. If there were 40 share holders about 57 actually turned up! Old George just invented and sold another share so as “not to disappoint his mates”! Bill Ritchie got him off the hook on that one! Old George was the most successful syndicator of stallions and everyone wanted to be in on it. He did a great job with Gunsynd and Baguette at Kia Ora.
Old George said they [stallions] used to shrink on the ship out! The BBA would say they were 16.2 HH when they left France or England and when they got here that were 15 nothing. He reckoned that Charleval and Damnos were little better than two geldings and had definitely shrunk by the time they got here! He once bought some sheep in Dubbo at the yards. George didn’t know they all had no teeth and lost a heap of money on them. He did some things well but he made a mess of a lot of things. At one stage he lived in the old Governor General’s house at Rose Bay. Mick Dunn and I went there once. We had two horses spelling there. We drove out there to take some sheep and the ute breaks down in the middle of the tram line. We had a stream of trams backed up there a mile behind to Rushcutters Bay with “trammies” helping us push it off onto the road. Hughie Ryder had all the pubs up there. George used to call his wife Dot “Grief and Strife” – but didn’t call her that to her face!
There is no doubt old George [Ryder] was one of the most colourful of colourful racing identities. He had a great life. He went to the races two days a week, played golf two days a week, played tennis two days a week – and served on Thursdays! He was a hustler and better than Bobby Riggs! He once had a 500 pound side bet with Norman Von Nida. He would give ‘the Von’ 15-love start in each game of three sets of tennis at White City. Von Nida would give George a one shot-per-hole start over 18 holes at The Australian Club. George cleaned up at tennis. He played regularly at White City with Davis Cup greats Adrian Quist, John Bromwich and Ken McGregor. They had to call off the golf after ‘old George’ was beating Von Nida ‘off the stick’! “Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus playing better ball couldn’t give me a stroke a hole at The Australian,” said George. He played off a handicap of plus four anyway! He even won the power boat race on Sydney Harbour when they opened the Harbour Bridge.
George Ryder had a private pilot’s license very early in the peace. He and Dave Chrystal took off from Bankstown one day. When they were over the ocean and out of site of land Dave became a bit anxious! “Where are we now George?” he asked with some trepidation. “No worries,” said George. “There’s a big block of land on the horizon. It’s not New Zealand so it has to be Australia”. After perusing the coast George found a city. It wasn’t Sydney so it had to be Newcastle – or Wollongong! There was consternation at Bankstown later on when George was trying to land with the wind instead of into it! The airport security and ambulance services had a good work out that day! George once spat out of the open window when flying “and the spittle came back and dam near chopped my ear off”!