The founding of the Gabba Greyhound Racing Club at the same ground as Brisbane’s hallowed home of Test cricket – Woolloongabba – would prove to be one of the great success stories of post World War 2 Queensland sport.
Openly laughed at by many as being doomed to failure, no night greyhound racing had been run in Brisbane since 1928, when greyhounds raced under gas lights. The 1928 Gabba meetings were subjected to strict government regulations and no bookmakers or betting was allowed. Up to 20 races were run on a program with prizemoney ranging from 2 pounds ($4) to 5 pounds ($10) for feature events. The meetings featured greyhounds chasing a mechanical lure known as a tin hare.
Novelty events such as hurdle races, with monkeys being used as jockeys, were put on for crowd entertainment. However the lack of betting meant the concept was doomed to failure. Of that demise one publication later wrote, “No doubt the vested interest was too strong (thoroughbreds) and was able to persuade the government not to encourage the sport”.
The modern day Gabba Greyhound Racing Club was formed on March 17, 1971. A Brisbane Alderman, Clem Jones was the inaugural President of the Club. In later years, Clem Jones would write himself into the history books by becoming the longest serving Lord Mayor of Brisbane.
The first Secretary/Manager of the Gabba Greyhound Racing Club was John Hicks. He had resigned his employment as press secretary to the Deputy Premier, Sir Gordon Chalk, to take up his Gabba position. John Hicks continued in his role for over a decade of Gabba operations – leaving in 1982 to manage a suburban TAB in Brisbane at Coorparoo for two years. He then spent the following six years as Chief Executive of the Queensland Harness Racing Board.
On April 6, 1972 the first race meeting – consisting of nine races – was held, but controversy dogged the project in the run up to the Gabba opening. Crowds of up to 6,500 came to see the trials. On two separate occasions “saboteurs” tried to disrupt proceedings at the $1.2 million greyhound racing complex, by cutting the rope that ran the lure. A Brisbane daily newspaper of the time – the Telegraph – reported on 24.3.72 that the President, Alderman Clem Jones, ordered “police patrols and caretakers with watchdogs to stand guard over the track at night”.
Now with beefed up security in place the unbridled success of opening night shocked even the club’s administrators. A huge crowd of 11,500 turned up and the restaurant with a seating capacity of 400 was booked out. It was standing room only and huge crowds became the order of the day.
The first race run at the Gabba was called the Sir Gordon Chalk Opening Stake after the man who had cut a ribbon at the winning post to officially open the track. The race was won by Jafferine (black bitch Benjamin John – Tamerina) in 33.42 for trainer G.S.(Stan) Cleverley. When Irish Korina won Race 8 on the same program, it gave Stan Cleverley a double on the evening.
John Hicks told me recently “42 bookmakers attended opening night. Of those 42 we invited 4 from interstate. Sydney bookmaker Bill Waterhouse was invited and came”. (Bill Waterhouse would in later life become embroiled in the Fine Cotton ring-in at Eagle Farm on August 18, 1984). John continued by saying “we had 36 bookmakers here for at least 6 years and when I left in 1982, we were down to 24”.
Upon the resignation of John Hicks in 1982, Ken Norquay took on the role of Secretary/Manager until 1986 when inaugural course broadcaster Mick Cox returned as Secretary/Manager. Mick passed the baton to Bob Lambert who was with the Gabba club until closing night and then Bob stayed on at the new Albion Park headquarters – in the same role – until his resignation in 2002.
Mick Cox had been the popular race caller at the Gabba from opening night and his race calls were broadcast live to Brisbane radio station 4BK. His signature statement in his race calls of “wouldn’t beat my German Shepherd” – to describe a short priced favourite going nowhere in the run – was a sure death knell to punter’s hopes of that greyhound’s chances.
The Gabba Greyhound Race Club was a pioneer in introducing many new ideas to the racing industry. Other race clubs – across the three codes – later followed suit. They were the first race club in Australia to trial free admission. They bucked the national trend by allowing women to become members and also introduced on-course child minding facilities to the course.
The Gabba Greyhound Club had to go metric soon after opening and on New Year’s Day 1973, greyhounds were to be forever subsequently weighed in kilograms – pounds were gone. The distances also changed and yards became metres and the Gabba would then run with four distances – 420, 558, 704 and 895 metres.
The track record for (610 yards) 558 metres set on opening night by the invited Paul Cauchi’s New South Wales trained visitor Ragsie (Roman Earl x Fairbairn Lady) wasn’t broken until 9/5/74, when Top
Simbi ran 32.58, but 7 days later Top Simbi broke his own record when running 32.50.
To the day the Gabba closed, Top Simbi was regarded as the most acclaimed greyhound to ever grace the track.
Top Simbi was born one of a litter of five on March 3, 1971 and was a white and brindle son of 1969 Melbourne Cup and Vic Peters Memorial Classic winner Milimsimbi and the broodbitch Susie Voile. Bred by Cyril Channels at Telegraph Point in New South Wales and raced and trained by Bert Kennedy in partnership with his long time friend Bill Brideson, Top Simbi won 20 of his 24 Gabba starts. On three other occasions he was placed and the only time he was unplaced he fell during the running of the race. His best wins at the Gabba were in races like the Autumn Trophy, Lord Mayor’s Cup, Springtime Cup, Gabba Sprint Championship, Exhibition Trophy and the Bacardi Rum Trophy. Taken to Sydney’s Harold Park during his career, he proved he was not just a Gabba dog by winning an Invitation Stakes and the As You Were Trophy.
Top Simbi amassed about $23,000 prizemoney in his career and was retired to stud in 1975. Whilst he threw winners at the Gabba and other tracks, he was deemed disappointing at stud and never produced any progeny that could remotely replicate his own racetrack career.
Top Simbi’s 558 metres track record stood for some years before the Peter Rayner trained Iron Hawk broke the record when he clocked 32.39 in 1978.
The first full financial year of operations (1/7/72 to 30/6/73) revealed astounding betting turnover. The total betting on Gabba greyhound meetings in those 12 months totalled $22,358,297, consisting of $15,392,812 bookmakers, $2,031,169 on course totalisator and $4,934,316 off course at TAB outlets.
The average crowd in the first year of operations was 5,500 but the introduction of late night shopping in 1978, had an adverse affect on crowd size. Not to be denied, the Gabba Club decided to open the gates for free admission one night on the 26th June 1980. Again the response was overwhelming with more than 7,000 people attending and the massive on course betting turnover totalled $799,554.
The Gabba Greyhound Club had its first triple dead heat on 7/12/1972 when three greyhounds Sir Mullaway, Dino’s Chance and Black Karo couldn’t be separated by the judge. That became only the second triple dead heat in Queensland greyhound racing history – the other being on 9/1/1964, when Ma Parra, Breakout and Waitawhile Lady dead heated at Brisbane’s Loganholme track (long since closed).
Many incidents occurred at the Gabba over the years and John Hicks noted many down for posterity. He recorded the track having three individual male streakers run onto the track on 25/7/1974, 6/3/1975 and 1/1/1981. He also recorded the greyhound Joy Of Salome being tackled by a member of the crowd on 19/8/76. A subsequent failed attempted tackle was made on the greyhound Darling Kate in 1979 near the 558 metres boxes, which John hadn’t noted. In all five instances police apprehended the lawbreakers.
The Gabba hosted three National Sprint and four National Distance championships in its history. The winner’s of the three National Sprint finals were firstly via Victorian Bowetzel in 32.70 seconds (1977) and then two Queenslander’s, Madonna Lee (32.73 – 1982) and Dancing Gamble (32.89 – 1988). The four National Distance titles were won by Victorian He’s Some Boy (42.09 – 1973), Dotie Wilson from New South Wales (41.66 – 1975) and Queenslander’s Kirsty’s First (41.65 – 1986) and Just A Charm (41.45 – 1991).
QUEENSLAND GREYHOUND OF THE YEAR
Many champion greyhounds earned the title “Greyhound of the Year” for their wonderful racetrack deeds.
From inception, the greyhounds to earn that accolade were:-
|YEAR||NAME OF DOG||BREEDING|
|1973||Top Simbi||Milimsimbi – Susie Voile|
|1974||Top Simbi||Milimsimbi – Susie Voile|
|1975||Coorparoo Flyer||Solar Blaze – Crimplene|
|1976||Kabisa Gem||Thunder Lane – Georgie Fair|
|1977||Rebel Attack||Pied Rebel – Swanky Doll|
|1978||Solar Beach||Solar Blaze – Royal Deb|
|1979||Gallant Anne||Tivoli Chief – Riveria Moss|
|1980||Miss Perlita||Eddy Barry – Blue Perlita|
|1981||Final Dream||Ungwilla Lad – Paradise Peg|
|1982||Glanzend||Castleisland Lad – Tekatana|
|1983||Pewter Frost||He’s Mystic – Denise Linley|
|1984||Rustic Venture||Tangaloa – Pretty New|
|1985||Amanda Flash||Waverly Supreme – Our Pantomine|
|1986||Kirsty’s First||Ungwilla Lad – Katie’s Disco|
|1987||Pretty Fearless||Pretty Short – Fearless Payout|
|1988||Dancing Gamble||Riviera Tiger – Dancing Damsel|
|1989||Musical Maestro||Pretty Short – Stagebrush Sal|
|1990||Cool Marvel||Dark Pretender – Nation’s Copy|
|1991||Wallowa Flash||Acacia Park – Flash A Coin|
|1992||Elusive Odie||West Cape – Elusive Osti|
The feature race on the final night of Gabba racing was aptly called the Goodbye Gabba Trophy and was won by six lengths by Worth A Packet for Bundamba mentor Don Gammon who trained greyhounds right up until his untimely passing at an Ipswich Greyhound Club meeting in April 2005.
At that Ipswich meeting he had kennelled a greyhound, but didn’t come to get it out for the race despite calls over the public address. The dog was declared a late scratching and Gammon was later found to have suffered a fatal heart attack in his car. In an amazing occurrence Gammon also trained the last race winner at the Gabba – Pretty Boy Buddy – a litter brother to Worth A Packet (Worth Doing x Prize Packet), giving him victory in both the feature race and the last race at the Gabba.
Pretty Boy Buddy had a neck to spare when the judge called a halt in a time of 33.37. Both Worth A Packet and Pretty Boy Buddy were owned by Gammon’s partner Ann Richie.
John Reimer had the distinction of being the only trainer to taste success on both opening and closing night at the Gabba.
On opening night he won with Nijinski and Time And Tide whilst on the final night the Gabba raced he trained three winners. He was successful with litter sisters Tokyo Deville and Tokyo Capers as well as Opal King.
Incredibly all three of Reimer’s final night winners shared the same parentage (Pretty Short – Tokyo Princess) but Opal King was from an earlier 1988 litter.
Albert (Bunny) Hewton was one of only two members (the other being Jim Neary) of the inaugural Gabba Greyhound Racing Club committee to be still there on closing night. As at 2005, he has been serving on a greyhound committee for 39 consecutive years, having started with Loganholme club in 1966. When that track closed he served at Beenleigh and Capalaba, before taking on his role when the Gabba opened. He was a foundation committee member at Albion Park when that track replaced the Gabba.
The man who drove the lure for the entire duration of the Gabba track was Jack McDonald. After 20 consecutive years of driving the lure for every greyhound that ever looked through a muzzle on the track, Jack McDonald declared, “the (track) record breakers keep up their blistering pace for the entire race. Champions do the same thing. They never slow up even on the turns. The average dog steadies himself into turns, champions don’t”. Jack McDonald went to drive the lure at Albion Park when that venue took over from the Gabba, before he resigned in 2005.
Although there were still 20 years to go on the existing Gabba lease, the government offered greyhound racing an attractive proposition to relocate to Albion Park. The Gabba Greyhound Racing Club held its last race meeting on 4/2/1993 in front of a farewell crowd of 4,500 and Brisbane night greyhound moved to Albion Park, to share its home with the already established home of night harness racing.
Upon the cessation of greyhound racing at the Gabba, the grounds were re-developed and became the joint home of both Sheffield Shield and Test cricket and the Brisbane Bears AFL club – the latter subsequently changing there name to the Brisbane Lions.
The once weekly night meetings of the Gabba have now been replaced by two nights at Albion Park each week. It is fair comment that the grass track at the Gabba would not have withstood the amount of racing that today’s sand tracks can handle. Most of the racetrack crowds and bookmakers that created the atmosphere have long since gone, as television brings the races live into our homes in the modern era. For the tens of thousands of us who were privileged to have our health and geographical proximity to be able to regularly attend race meetings at the Gabba, the venue served to leave pleasant and indelible memories, in our minds, for the rest of our lives.
They talk about “the good old days” and few would argue that most of the time we are better off today with all the mod cons. However I make no secret that if they could re-create the “good old days” of the Gabba they would still pack them to the rafters once again. We’d all back a few that “wouldn’t beat my German Shepherd” and a few fighters that would have been better off down the road at Festival Hall on the under card to Hector Thompson – but we wouldn’t have changed it for the world – because we are a long time dead.
THOSE TEN RACES AND THEIR RESULTS ARE:
|1991||No It’s Not||32.32|
|1986||Has To Be||24.42|
|1985||Flag The Fawn||33.12|
|1990||Rocket To Tubrid||41.68|
|1987||Fifi She’s Not||32.61|
|1988||Run Baby Run||33.22|
|1991||I’m An Angel||32.76|
|1984||Branded A Lady||53.99|
|1980||Wings Of Steel||32.92|
|1981||Call Me Roscoe||32.84|
|1986||(Jan) Sharyn’s Vogue||33.08|
|1986||(Dec) Fifi She’s Not||32.61|
|1988||Fifi She’s Not||32.61|
|1989||Son of Ella||32.63|
An enormous amount of unpaid time and effort went into bringing this story to readers and lovers of greyhound racing. I wish to publicly thank the inaugural Secretary/Manager of the Gabba Greyhound Club – John Hicks – for supplying photography and entrusting me with many rare racing photos and news snippets which were one offs.
I also thank sincerely inaugural Gabba committeeman Bunny Hewton who gave freely of his time over many weeks, often at short notice, to help check his historical records against mine thus ensuring that the information concerning RACE results is correct.