NOT too many knew him as Alan William Townsend. But a legion of racing fans around the Mackay area – and beyond – knew him simply as Pee Wee. A character of great renown both on and off the tracks for more than 50 years. From Callaghan Park to Cairns’ Cannon Park – and all race tracks in between.
The leviathan (a thing that is very large and powerful) punter, and an utterly fearless bookmaker, was laid to rest at the tiny sugar town of Mirani on Friday. He was 75 and the tributes and stories of the former railway porter, cane cutter, punter, owner, and bookmaker and above all a devoted family man and passionate gardener flowed freely.
Even the one about the school teacher who took him back home to his mum on his very first day of school (he was just four-and-a-half) and told her to “use the strap freely and bring him back next year”.
Pee Wee’s love affair with horses began at a young age when his father, Bill, bought him a pony. Horses were an integral part his life from that day on. He quickly graduated from ponies to racehorses and one time decided to build stables behind his Mirani home. The building inspector turned up and told him he couldn’t build stables – it was against the local building code.
“I built a chook house,” pleaded Pee Wee.
“Well, I hope the chickens run faster than your bloody horses,” replied the building inspector as he rode off.
In the early 60s Pee Wee was a cane cutter earning 20 quid a week but on Saturday he was at the races betting in thousands. He loved the early two-year-old races, particularly Melbourne, where in those days favourites had a good winning record. His long time clerk and devoted mate Paul Goldston told mourners that he was known to have $200 quid on a favourite with all 20 bookies at the Mackay trots one day.
“That equates to about $10,000 – not a bad bet for a cane cutter.”
In February 1965 he married Veronica Baker and after the wedding (it was a Saturday) he told her he had to dash around to his grandma’s house in Schaeffer Street to collect “something”.
On arrival, and en route to the railway station for the train to Cairns, he put his hand in the letter box with much trepidation. And with great relief found an envelope bulging with $50 notes.
Earlier in the day while on his way from Mirani to the church Pee Wee had called into Ooralea racecourse and gave a mate $200 (it was money meant for the honeymoon) on Time and Tide in the Newmarket with instructions to drop the winnings off at Grandma’s. It beat the favourite Ripa in a photo finish but Pee Wee didn’t know until he plucked the envelope from the letter box… and Veronica didn’t know until long after the honeymoon.
Pee Wee often stated with a wily grin: “Time and Tide waits for no man.”
A brave bet, nonetheless.
He took up bookmaking in the early 70s and immediately made his mark. Paul recalls one day at Ooralea, there were more bookies than punters for the first southern race and Pee Wee decided to create a bit of action among a seemingly disinterested crowd. So he pushed the price of the first Melbourne favourite out to evens on a 4/6 call. Then he wound it out to 6/4 against and got every quid on the ground. Then he listened to it win by four lengths!
“The pay-out queue stretched half the length of the straight, but Pee Wee just stood there smiling as he paid out.
“He did the same thing in the next race – blew the favourite out to entice the punters (and get enough cash in the bag to pay the winners) and fortunately it was beaten. So was the next favourite and after losing $10,000 on the first he was back square by the fourth.”
Paul Gordy was his jockey and described him as the most fearless owner he had ever ridden for in a long career.
Pee Wee had a horse named Right Blend that had only just won a maiden, but was hell bent on winning the Johnstone River at Innisfail, against the pleadings of his jockey and trainer Albert Campbell.
Pee Wee insisted on the horse starting and backed it for a fortune.
It went down narrowly to Herb’s Dream.
“I don’t know how much he would have won that day. But it as a fortune,” said Gordy.
There are stacks of stories to tell but sadly not all with happy endings. For the past 15 years or more Pee Wee has sat in the pubtab at the Shamrock hotel on Nebo Road on racedays having a few bob on his fancies.
He kept track of the racing game and his many old associates – jockeys, trainers and bookies, big names and small, right to the end. His health wasn’t the best but his memory never faltered and until they announced “Correct Weight” at the Mirani (he always called it Sesame Street) Nursing home last week, Pee Wee was still reliving the stories of the glory days, the highs and lows of a game that he truly mastered – at least for a time – “when he flew like a bird”.
YOUR scribe had correspondence during the week from former Rockhampton Jockey Club chairman Justin Doyle.
As I recall, Justin was as very much hands-on as chairman when Bob Bentley called the tune at RQ. He admits to several barneys with old Bob – “but we never held a grudge”.
“He had a lot of great ideas and the model he put in place at Rockhampton is evidenced today by the RJC’s financial viability.”
He went on to say that Townsville missed out because the club was at loggerheads with Bentley.
“Townsville placed its faith in Kevin Dixon long before his reign as QR chairman. And then had a falling out with him.”
And, importantly he said one of the greatest assets for Rockhampton is it’s on-course stabling.
“The RJC stabling facility provides many positives including cash flow and a solid horse population to maintain good sized fields.
“I strongly advocate that the TTC consider on course stabling, especially now that new infrastructure funds are to be made available by government.”
However while the former O’Keefe committee was strongly committed to the much-needed facility the current attitude at Cluden is apparently “On course stabling will never happen.”
Well, just what do you say?