By TERRY WILSON
AS a younger man Steve McGrath always had plenty of opinions after he discovered a passion for greyhound racing when he lived in Rockhampton.
He caught the dogs bug after watching the opening night of greyhound racing at Callaghan Park in the central Queensland city.
The night’s racing was televised live by the local station and so began McGrath’s association with the industry, which he subsequently became a part of as both a steward, then club secretary manager.
Now 59, McGrath is heading the resurrection of the Tweed Heads Coursing Club at a new venue near Chinderah, just south of the New South Wales border where the club has purchased 32 hectares of land and is now in the early stages of getting everything approved, which McGrath concedes will be a significant task.
The move for the THCC came after the club sold their old Border Park land, right on the border at Kirra, for $16 million.
Chase sits back and talks to McGrath about his life in dogs and his high hopes for dog racing back in the northernmost part of New South Wales.
Chase: How, where and why did it all begin in dogs for you?
SMc: I was living in Rocky (Rockhampton) and just been married and the first greyhound meeting was at Callaghan Park and televised live by the local Channel 7. Back then the track was inside a sand galloping track and a trotting track. I watched them live on television and that sparked my interest in greyhound racing. I was 22 at the time.
Chase: Was it long before you started venturing out to the regular Thursday night races, remembering that at the time all Queensland dog races were on Thursday night?
SMc: I worked for a bloke named John Doyle. He used to run a Mazda dealership – and still does. Anyway, I’d go to the races and I’d be his runner and have bets for him while he had a drink and a smoke with his mates. Those days they used to have 13 or so bookmakers.
Chase: So off you went and you were pretty intense about things because we understand you were not backwards in coming forward when it came to giving out some advice.
SMc: Being young I used to have a mouth on me and I’d sometimes give the committeemen some advice. Not the stewards because I was not that stupid. But I gave it to the committeemen because they were the ones who employed the stewards.
Chase: So you soon found yourself on the opposite side of the fence and joined what you’d probably have called ‘the dark side’ back then?
SMc: One day, and I’m pretty sure it was Graham Maher who was on the Rockhampton committee and he said to me that if I knew so much and thought I could do it better why don’t I have a go?
I did about six months later and became a casual steward.
Chase: You had a bad accident at home one day. Tell us about that.
SMc: In 1981 I received burns to 40 per cent to my body and spent four months in hospital. My wife was cooking chips and the oil in the frypan caught fire and exploded all over me, my hand, my arms, my legs, my face.
Chase: It is good that you recovered from that, but not long after you were off for a new adventure in the game in Brisbane?
SMc: On September 9, 1986, I started working full-time for the Greyhound Racing Control Board under Neville Parker and Max Mason. My first race meeting was at the old Southport track in Queen Street and was on a Wednesday afternoon. I advanced to deputy chief steward in the late 1990s and I eventually pulled the pin in 2006. That was when I replaced Hughie Clarke as Secretary Manager at Border Park and Harry Pledger was then chairman of the club. I became Secretary Manager in April, 2006, and I have held that position ever since.
Chase: Then came a most disappointing couple of decisions that hit both trots and dogs hard.
SMc: The trots closed first about 2002, then the dogs on December 5, 2016.
Chase: Were you saddened by that?
SMc: Not really because I knew Border Park needed a lot of money spent to refurbish it and bring it up to a suitable standard. What saddens me is the amount of time it took to find a parcel of land suitable to start the next chapter in the history of the TWCC.
Chase: Tell us about the amount of time and energy spent in getting to this stage – keeping in mind there is still a long, long way to go.
SMc: It was a lot of work. Conducting due diligence on numerous parcels of land, meetings with numerous ministers for racing, numerous ministerial advisors, numerous people who told us they can help to achieve something and the numerous times you never heard another word from them.
Chase: What if the deal falls through? What could happen then?
SMc: The land over the border we have bought on unconditional terms. If there is not a track go-ahead we’ve still got the land. And that is land has been designated to be sand mined, so that would be an option. The land is the asset. What was the asset at Border Park? The land! They originally bought land for Border Park for 4500 pounds and we sold it for $16 million.
Chase: What was the worst part about being a greyhound steward?
SMc: The worst part was having to take people’s licences and privileges away. But at the end of the day there is a rule book that must be adhered to and you’re there to fulfil it. Stewards don’t make the rules, they’re there to enforce them.
Chase: Could you have been a touch pedantic about rules at times?
SMc: As a person once told me rules are there for the guidance of blind-hearted fools. And open to interpretation by everybody that ever reads.
Chase: You would have had some running battles with a number of trainers. Are there many you can recall?
SMc: One of the best running battles I had was with the late John Edwards. He would never agree with what stewards did. He always said we got things wrong, that we’re blind. And I always said one of my biggest ‘rivals’ for want of a better term, was the late Dave Brett. He used to have some good advice most of the time, but I knew him from back in my Rockhampton days. I went to visit Dave when he was ill and his parting words to me that day were that every time I make a decision and I get a feeling like a knife in the kidneys, he said that would be him letting me know I got it wrong.
Chase: You’ve seen a lot in the industry. Which moment stands out for you?
SMc: The most memorable thing was Ron Ball and Flying Amy. I still think she was the best thing that happened to greyhound racing for decades. They used to have Channel 10 interrupt their programs to cover her races when she went south. She brought the sport back into the national limelight and she put races beyond doubt within a couple of seconds. She was a phenomenal, marvellous little bitch so was obviously the best greyhound I’ve ever seen.
Chase: Now it’s on to the waiting game at whatever the new complex will be known as. Are you convinced it will all come together?
SMc: We’ve got a big task in front of us to achieve what we want to achieve. It will not be easy but if you give up on things you’ll never achieve. The idea is to have two race meetings a week, but that will have to be achieved through a heads of agreement with Greyhound Racing New South Wales. And I have no idea what the complex will be called. Most likely it will remain as Border Park, but in these days of corporate sponsorships and naming rights it will be anyone’s guess.
Chase: What is the funniest thing you’ve seen at a race track?
SMc: I was at Capalaba one day … we dropped a rubber snake over Dogsy’s (race caller Paul Dolan) shoulder when he was calling the race. We had to pull the microphone socket out because he started going right off.