Features Australia

Dishlickers’ delight

29 December 2016

3:00 PM

29 December 2016

3:00 PM

‘The world has gone mad. Donald Trump is president of the United States and now Reverend Fred Nile is strolling around Wentworth Park with a glass of Scotch in his hand!’

That was the quip from a wag at the greyhounds when Wentworth Park staged its ‘thank you’ night in recognition of media and political figures whose criticism forced the Baird government to ‘backflip’ on its proposal to ban the sport.

Fred Nile, the Christian Democrats senator, came out against the ban from day one, even attending a 3,000-strong rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park, where a petition protesting the ban, containing 30,000 signatures, was presented to the NSW parliament.

At the November 26 recognition night, entry was by a gold coin donation with proceeds, along with revenue raised from an auction of sporting memorabilia, going towards research into motor neurone disease. Among the memorabilia items was a framed montage of Australia’s most famous cricketers, including the late Stan McCabe. Danielle Swain, the young wife of Sydney’s leading greyhound trainer Dean Swain, mentioned to Fred Nile that the cricketing legend, who played 39 tests for Australia, had been her great uncle. In a classic illustration of how the ban had drawn varied people together, Fred Nile’s $390 bid saw him collect the cricketing piece, which he promptly presented to Danielle Swain as a gift.

The NSW Government’s proposal, which had been due to take effect from July 1, was correctly called out as ‘elitist’ by people like Professor Percy Allan, former secretary to the NSW Treasury and a past president of the Greyhound Racing NSW board, Aboriginal leader and ex-national president of the Australian Labor Party Warren Mundine and Mark Latham, former ALP and federal opposition leader. The elitist assertion was richly deserved, as while greyhound racing accounts for 22 per cent of TAB turnover, compared to only 13 per cent for harness racing, it is the most affordable for participants and, accordingly, the sport of choice for so-called ‘battlers’.

A bumper crowd at WP heard from Luke Foley, leader of the NSW Opposition, 2GB’s Ray Hadley, the most vocal critic of the ban, Sky’s Paul Murray and Chris Kenny, Daily Tele reporter Miles Godfrey, the Australian’s Samantha Hutchison, yours truly and Phil Donato, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate who had just won the Orange by-election – which had been held by the National Party since 1947.

Luke Foley, who had written his ‘Dishlickers Diary’ for this magazine, delighted the gathering when he said: ‘You might be illiterate, but you know how to fill out a ballot paper.’ (A reference to the slur cast upon the sport’s participants by a Baird minion who advised the Premier they had ‘low literacy.’ That, of course, preceded the shock result in the Orange by-election).

Hadley related how he had begun his career behind the microphone by calling the races at Appin greyhounds, a non-TAB track south of Sydney. ‘I was driving a taxi for a living but thought broadcasting the Appin dogs might somehow give me a leg-up into radio,’ Hadley recalled. ‘My pay for calling a dozen races every Saturday was $36.50 so after a while I asked the track manager, Jock McDonald, for a pay rise. Because he saw me arrive in a taxi each week he refused, saying “if you can afford to take a taxi all the way to Appin you don’t need the money”. When I explained that I actually drove the taxi he relented, and I got an extra five dollars a week.’

Also drawing cheers from the gathering of greyhound owners, trainers and breeders were Chris Gulaptis (member for Clarence) and Kevin Humphries (Barwon), two of three Nationals who crossed the floor in defiance of their leader Troy Grant’s enthusiastic support of the Baird ban. Apologies came from other invitees such as Alan Jones, hospitalised after a back operation, Katrina Hodgkinson, the member for Cootamundra who also crossed the floor, as well as Daily and Sunday Tele columnist Miranda Devine, Warren Mundine, and Rowan Dean, who as editor of this magazine had campaigned strongly against the ban from the get go. Devine, incidentally, has expressed interest in buying a greyhound. ‘If for no other reason than to stick it to the animal rights ratbags,’ she told me.

Greyhounds have been an integral part of Sydney’s social fabric since Australia’s first mechanical lure race meeting was held at Harold Park, Glebe (then called Epping Raceway) in 1927. Yet the Baird government decided to outlaw the sport on the strength of a report by Justice Michael McHugh, since widely discredited, which outlined a litany of bogus claims concerning animal cruelty.

After animal rights’ activists, with the collaboration of the ABC, planted hidden cameras on NSW’s greyhound trial tracks for several months, just three people were convicted of live baiting. Yet on that basis, another 4,400 greyhound enthusiasts were to be deprived of their hobby and in most cases, their livelihoods.

Many stood to lose homes and properties, with the Goverrnment acknowledging the possibility of suicides being real enough that it promoted, via its Greyhound Racing NSW website, contact numbers for Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

What especially outraged participants was a YouTube clip, filmed in April, two months before the McHugh inquiry was finalised, where thoroughbred racing boss Peter V’Landys told a group of racehorse breeders that the NSW Government intended to ban greyhound racing.

When Professor David Flint interviewed me for his internet show Conversations with Conservatives, he recalled how Sir Robert Menzies had proclaimed that a tenet of the Liberal Party was that ‘forgotten’ people should be protected. According to Professor Flint, Menzies was referring to those with no political connections, who did not have the backing of big business, and had no trade union muscle behind them. ‘Greyhound folk fall precisely into this category and they must be safeguarded,’ Flint added.

But while Mike Baird has declared his government will not proceed with the ban, the Coalition has not yet implemented the required repeal legislation.

Dog racing participants continue to ‘walk on eggshells’ with Alan Jones telling me: ‘Greyhound folk need to be extremely careful. I don’t trust these people.’ (the NSW Government).

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