By Paul Dolan
For people involved with greyhound racing in northern New South Wales and south- east Queensland, exciting times lie ahead.
There’s the Grafton redevelopment under way. Tweed Heads recently announced a new home. And the Greater Brisbane track at Yamanto near Ipswich is, step by step, coming to fruition.
Thanks to the immediacy and convenience of communication nowadays, photos of the Grafton project can be easily accessed. That’s going to be a real flash place when the $4.6 million work is completed some time next year.
If you have ever raced at Grafton, do you have a particular memory of the place? I reckon many would say, at the famous July carnival, that huddling around the fires in the numerous 44 gallon drums to try and thwart off the bitterly cold night time weather would be a standout. They were a Godsend!
I vividly recall attending one meeting during the 1992 Grafton July carnival. I had a share in a bitch named Walkabout Billie, trained by Michael Zammit for businessmen Rob Cusheri and John Barker, Ipswich GRC stalwart Chris Williams and myself. She was a cute, small-in-size black and white coloured bitch whose kennel name was Pee Wee due to her colour.
‘Group one Mick’ suggested that Pee Wee had enough ability to be set for the big maiden during the July carnival. He drove down for the heats, which she won, but reported that the trip from his property at Beenleigh to Grafton was a nightmare due to roadworks. He was dreading making the drive for the final the following Friday.
A plan was hatched to charter a light plane and fly to Grafton and that happened. I had never been in a light plane before and was terrified of the idea. But I bit the bullet and went along. At Brisbane’s Archerfield Airport, we boarded a small plane. Included among the passengers was Pee Wee and another runner Mick had nominated for the night.
Despite the plane being very noisy, the two greyhounds quickly did what greyhounds do best – they slept. I grinned and pretended that I was enjoying the flight. At one stage, the pilot swapped seats with Chris Williams who thought it was fun playing pilot. Yeah, right!
We landed safely at Grafton Airport. Well, the pilot did, not Chris! It was more like an air strip than an airport. We made it to the track in plenty of time for the Friday twilight meeting.
The racecaller was Darren Flindell. Nowadays, you hear Darren’s dulcet tones from the Sydney thoroughbred tracks. He has come a long way since Grafton.
Walkabout Billie ran third in that maiden final and picked up $1,000. Mick Zammit’s other runner also ran a place, so the $600 cost of the plane was more than covered. After the meeting it was straight back to the air strip for the return flight to Archerfield.
At the track, after calling a race early in the night thanks to Darren’s kind invitation, I threw down several of what trainer Dennis Reid used to refer to as Dr. Toohey’s medicine. These, of course, were cans of Toohey’s New beer. That gave me the strength to endure the flight home.
For many, Grafton’s memories include wall-to-wall race meetings, an untold number of bookmakers and, of course, those fires. But for me, it was the plane trip. And guess what? 28 years later, I have never set foot in such a plane again, and never will!