By PAUL DOLAN
HERE’S a question which might be a little tricky.
Do you have a racebook which is older than you? I guess most people will answer in the negative.
I have a book which is seven years older than me. I have no clue who gave it to me, obviously I wasn’t at that meeting! But it makes for some fascinating reading.
It was greyhound racing at Newcastle in New South Wales on Saturday afternoon, October 19, 1946.
‘The Sport of the People’ are the words on the front cover, but it wasn’t quite like that. Gents (men) could go into the main part of the track where the betting and bars were situated but women were confined to another area.
Persons under the age of 18, male or female, could not attend. Strangely, however, there is a clause in the raceday conditions which states that “bookmakers’ special attention is drawn to the question of betting with infants. A bookmaker doing so is liable to a heavy fine”.
How can a bookie bet with an infant when infants aren’t allowed in? Perhaps persons aged 18, 19 or 20 were considered to be infants. The track had an on-course tote where betting by people under the age of 21 was illegal.
There was no shortage of bookmakers, in fact there were three separate betting rings. Ring one contained 25 bookies betting on the greyhound events. Ring two contained 45 betting on the Sydney gallops. Ring three comprised 17 bookies operating on the Melbourne gallops. I don’t know how many people went to the track that day or any day but you would assume it was a packed house.
Race distances were 500 and 680 yards. Some meetings staged a hurdle race or two over those distances.
The racing rug colours were almost the same as today. The exceptions were number four was green and number six was brown.
Total prizemoney was around 400 pounds per day, with the highest paying being the free for all for which the winner collected 45 pounds. I expect that would have been considered decent money way back then.
The chief steward is listed as W. Hill. That was the quite remarkable chap named Billy Hill whose profile is in the well-known book on Australian racecallers called ‘London to a Brick On’.
In that book, author Steve Cairns points out that, as well as steward, Billy Hill filled lots of roles including trainer, racecaller, grader, kennel attendant and office secretary. He also worked for the Newcastle Herald newspaper as a story-teller and tipster.
When aged 14, Billy Hill attended his first greyhound meeting, that was in 1929 at the Newcastle Sports Ground. He gained entry to the course by scaling a seven-foot high fence.
In April, 1935 Billy became the first person to call a greyhound race in this country. He was at Gosford, where he had a runner as a trainer. That dog was unplaced. The Gosford club had purchased an amplifying system to provide music to entertain people between races. It occurred to club secretary Bill Grahame that the loud speakers could be used to carry a description of the action. Billy Hill was assigned to the task. Despite the fact that he had no training in the art, Billy set up in a towering tree about 20 metres from the winning post and proceeded to call the races.
No doubt there were many people who climbed the fence to gain access to race meetings. Come to think of it, I’m sure I did that as a school kid. Hands up those who are not guilty!!