Paul Dolan: From The Caller’s Box

LOTS of things happened in the world in the year 1972.

USA president Richard Nixon visited China and that upset Russian president Leonid Brezhnev. Upsetting the Russians, does that sound familiar?

Despite the Vietnam War not going the way of America, Nixon was re-elected with 60 per cent of the vote.

Sadly, there were ongoing bombings in Northern Ireland. And at the Munich Summer Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinians.

Closer to home, Gough Whitlam was elected as Australia’s Prime Minister. The Australian of the Year was Shane Gould. If you’re too young to know of her, she was a swimmer and a damned good one.

Australia proclaimed equal pay for women.

You can add to those significant 1972 events the night greyhound racing commenced at Brisbane’s Gabba on Thursday, April 6.

Fifty years later, the Brisbane GRC is about to stage a celebration race night, at Albion Park on Thursday, April 14, which is the night before Good Friday.

In the early 1960s, I used to accompany my mother to horse racing meetings in and around Brisbane. Night harness racing commenced at Albion Park in 1968 and we would go there too. As would several thousand people. Brisbane didn’t have a lot of night-time entertainment at that time and Saturday night at the trots was THE place to be seen.

Then came the idea for greyhound racing under lights. The Gabba was chosen ahead of Lang Park (now known as Suncorp Stadium), largely due to the influence of Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones. He saw the construction of a greyhound track and new facilities at the Gabba as a much-needed upgrade to Brisbane’s home of cricket. Jones became the first president of the Gabba G.R.C.

A couple of trial sessions at night were staged prior to the opening meeting. I went along and recall that about 3000 people were there. There was drama when the lure broke down one night and the trials had to be cancelled.

There was no such hiccup when racing commenced. Around 11,500 people were packed around the unusually shaped course, where you were always close to the action. It was an amazing spectacle. Not only do I remember the crowd, but the buzz in the under-cover betting ring was so exciting. All told, 44 bookmakers were in attendance, some on the ‘Fig Tree’ Hill near the 420 metres start and some at the ‘Scoreboard’ Hill which was near the home turn. There were also some bookies next to the Queensland Cricketers Club on the Vulture Street side of the arena.

The very fast and colourful commentaries by the track’s inaugural racecaller Mick Cox intrigued me. Later on Mick gave me a ‘leg up’ into calling greyhound races and we became really good mates. Mick passed away in 2008 and is a worthy inductee into the Racing Queensland Hall of Fame.

There were nine races on that opening night, each over 558 metres.

The first was won by Jafferine, trained by Stan Cleverley in 33.42. Then followed wins by Sir Mullaway (Tony Reidel) 33.96, Nijinski (John Reimer) 34.15, Mitten Toes (Mick Talty) 33.23, Time And Tide (John Reimer) 34.55, Ragsie (Paul Cauchi) 32.76, Silent Drive (E.Waye) 33.82, Irish Korina (Stan Cleverley) 32.98, Kaismer (Lionel Brown) 34.30.

Jaffrine’s race was worth $400. Mitten Toes and Ragsie’s were worth $1000. Other races carried prizmoney of $300.

John Reimer and Paul Cauchi are still with us. Others perhaps, are still alive, I’m not sure.

The Brisbane club has chosen Easter Thursday as the night for the gala 50th anniversary celebration.

“We normally get a good crowd on that night,” said CEO Luke Gatehouse. “However, the Brisbane Lions will be playing Collingwood at the Gabba that night so we will be competing with that.”

How quirky. A Gabba greyhounds celebration at Albion Park up against a Gabba AFL game.

There won’t be 7000 people at the anniversary meeting. Not even 3000. But it’s sure to be a night for many people to tell some great stories about their opening Gabba night experience. Also a bit quirky is that greyhound racing commenced at Angle Park on April 20, 1972, a fortnight after the Gabba. GRSA is planning a suitable anniversary too.

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