RON Murphy often claimed he was the oldest working bookmaker in the world- and no one would argue. They wouldn’t dare!
Not even the Guinness Book of Records, who believed him - but insisted on statutory declarations from recognised racing bodies before they would publish it.
But Ron Murphy didn’t have the time to” dig up” all that info, and besides, he confided to friends “they’re all dead and gone- the blokes and club secretaries I used to deal with”.
And, sadly, so too is Ron.
He passed away In Winton hospital last week after a rich and colourful history on race tracks all over Queensland. Actually 138 of them all up- plus some others over the border in NSW as well.
Ron never got to see his last wish granted. He wrote his last ticket, (and recorded it in his ledger as well) before Guinness finally got around recognising him as the oldest and longest serving fielder in the entire universe.
Ron fought ailing health in the last couple of years but still had plans to be at Oak Park again this year. He was one of the four bookies in Oak Park’s closed ring, and hadn’t missed a meeting for 20 years.
He worked at Ewan last September, which according to his clerk was one of the worst disasters in recent years for the much travelled bookie.
The one who used to catch the bus from Winton to work the Beaudesert meetings many years ago. He was known on every racecourse between Brisbane and Birdsville. From Cooktown to Koorinyah. From Longreach to Laura and every whistlestop in between.
Yet, after living such a frenetic life for so many years, Ron Murphy died a lonely man. With little but his cherished memories, a dream to make the Guinness Book of Records a battered set of betting boards and a weary old Holden car he left his mate, Charles Wootten at Prairie-his long time travelling companion and clerk.
Charles spoke to Ron every week. His last call was three weeks ago and he said the old fella was still thinking of Oak Park this year.
“His mind was strong and active, but his body was worn out. Officially he died of pneumonia, but that covers a lot of ailments.
“I personally think Ron had decided he’d simply had enough”, Charles said.
And he had certainly done enough.
He began his career in Brisbane in the late 50s and was considered “big enough” to be offered a coveted position on the rails at the city tracks. But he refused preferring to work in the paddock ring.
Ron Murphy worked the gallops trots and dogs before heading to the bush in the 1960s.
“He saw the writing on the wall for bookies. He believed the big days were over” Charles said.
And so right he was. Ron saw hundreds of his colleagues come and go over the years- saw many tossed to the waste of racing’s wilderness in the days before superannuation. In racing parlance Ron Murphy was if nothing else a true stayer, with a lightning-like mind and he knew every trick in the trade.
Ron went west for a while and became a “gentleman farmer” on the Longreach side of Winton. But that wasn’t to last and he began life as a wandering bookie- and many times worked as a one man band.
He spruiked as he took the bets and collected the cash. He wrote his own tickets and put them in his ledger. He changed the odds on his board, and paid out-sometimes literally!
The one thing he hated more than a favourite winning was officialdom- and was known for his many raucous outbursts in the ring with colleagues, punters and stewards alike.
Yet he was more often the gentleman polite and courteous, though he had a low tolerance for incompetence and things he “didn’t think was right”.
Ron Murphy had an amazing life. And there are stories abound of his exploits on and off the track, many unfortunately unrecorded.
On one occasion he was heading overseas. He drove to Brisbane where his car was broken into and his passport stolen. It prevented him from boarding the plane and the airline refused a refund of his fare. Ron sued them and seven months later got his money.
Oddly all his cash in US dollars was also in the car- but the thieves obviously didn’t want it or didn’t know it was legal tender.
Ron picked up the bundles – all of it- from the gutter.
Hoofnote: Ron’s prized place in the betting ring at Oak Park next month has already been assigned. Cairns bookie Helen Price (daughter of the legendary Stan) will call the odds on the stand that for 20 odd years was the domain of Ron Murphy - bookie extraordinaire.
An unforgettable man: a true Lord of the Ring.
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