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Handsome Jack: A whizz-kid's Story
Published in Australia
Fiction - Fiction - General, Drama

Print: 978-1-922261-67-0
ePub: 978-1-92221-68-7
Mobi: 978-1-922261-69-4

Date of Publication: 30 Nov -0001
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Handsome Jack: A whizz-kid's StoryContains Adult Content

Jeff Hopkins

Published by Indiemosh

Find out more about Jeff Hopkins: | Twitter


The ‘Whizz-kid’ is Jack Burton, a boy from the Goldfields’ town of Kalgoorlie, who wants to be an apprentice jockey. Almost jokingly, Jack’s father ‘Boy’ Burton, suggests that career path, and then has to stand back and watch his son’s introduction to the world of thoroughbred horse racing, which is both dynamic and dangerous.

Featuring in the passing parade of characters from the Sport of Kings are the Stewards, who make and enforce the rules, and the cheats and criminals who try to bend and break them. There is also the state’s biggest owner-breeder, and a range of horse trainers; some who are just starting out, others who are struggling to survive, and one who is making a comeback at 71 years of age and relishing getting ‘another chance’.

Into that ‘heady’ mix are thrown a crusty newspaper Editor and his young protégé, the staff of a chemical analysis laboratory, private investigators, lawyers and two brothel Madams, from opposite sides of Australia, who have very different attitudes, agendas and perspectives on life.

Towering above all of that are the horses, which all have their own unique stories. Named after popular songs, playwrights and a surfing beach in South Africa, they all have one thing in common. They have the courage to run fast, and do so, especially for apprentice jockey, Jack Burton, the ‘Whizz-kid’. 

Chapter 2 Breaking In

According to the Racing and Wagering Western Australia agreement, which he and his father had signed, Jack Burton’s four-year jockey’s apprenticeship, with Goldfields’ trainer, Ray Ratcliffe, began officially on the first of January. As that was the New Year’s Day holiday Jack didn’t move into Ray Ratcliffe’s stable complex until the 2nd of January. Jack was informed that the stables were called ‘Baccarat Lodge’ after the champion racehorse, of that name, that Ratcliffe had trained in his early years in the racing game. He was also told that nowadays it was simply called ‘The Lodge’.

Jack was shown his accommodation in the apprentices’ rooms and was a little taken aback by the primitive nature of the facilities. Everything was designed for communal living with beds arranged in dormitory style and the toilet and open showers area providing little or no privacy. Each apprentice had a wardrobe beside his bed, but Jack had no time to unpack before Ray Ratcliffe appeared and instructed him to follow him into the stabling area.

The stables were extensive. There were loose boxes either side of a long central corridor and Jack quickly saw there were ten numbered boxes on one side suggesting that the stables could accommodate at least twenty horses, and when he checked the other side, he saw he was correct as the box numbers from eleven to twenty were displayed. By comparison with the apprentices’ rooms, the horses were housed in relative luxury. The gabled roof had opaque panels allowing plenty of light to be diffused

throughout the area. The smell was foreign to Jack, but it was a fresh one of clean straw and polished leather. It filled the young boy’s nostrils and he breathed it in with an initial pleasure.

In the distance a large set of sliding doors was open and Jack could see the exercise yards through the open doors. Even from far away he could see that they too were well constructed and maintained and the sand, by contrast with everything else in the Goldfields was not ferrous red, but looked like white beach sand. Jack wondered at that as he followed Ray Ratcliffe to the eastern end of the stables, next to the sliding doors. They stopped at what appeared to be an office area. When they reached this zone Ratcliffe stopped and turned to face Jack.

‘Alright, strip off down to your jocks.’

Jack was nonplussed and hesitated before querying the instruction:


‘It is not such a good beginning to question the first instruction I give you, lad. I give the orders, you obey them. That is how the trainer and apprentice relationship is designed to work. Now strip down to your ‘undies’ and be quick about it.’

Jack did not hesitate. He removed his boots and socks and then unbuttoned his shirt and put it beside his boots. He dropped his jeans and stepped out of them and then stood up tall facing Ratcliffe with his arms hanging loosely at his sides. Stable hands in the area paused in their tasks to focus on the new boy and were impressed by what they saw.

In his sixteenth year, Jack Burton was a handsome young man. Stripped down he was lightly framed, but wiry and strong. He had light brown hair which was cut fashionably above the ears and fell loosely onto his forehead. He had concentrated brown eyes that were focussed, and at times piercing, and his thin lips always seemed to be on the point of a smile, but it rarely materialised. Jack was smooth skinned, with just the hint of wispy hair on his chest. He had square shoulders and long arms and his hands were large and looked like they could produce a vice-like grip. Ratcliffe was quite impressed by the boy standing in front of him and he took a moment to do his own assessment then he said:

‘Now jump on the scales over here.’

Jack had not previously noticed the large set of platform jockey scales that stood next to the office area. He had seen something like them before in the arcade of a department store, when his father and he had made a trip to Perth. He vaguely remembered an attendant offering to weigh anyone who walked by. Indeed, this set of scales had come from just such a location. Ratcliffe had purchased them at a disposal sale and brought them back to Kalgoorlie in a horse float. The base of the scales was of machined steel painted black and the pedestal and the metallic casing of the huge round dial were red in colour. The actual weight scale was in gold and black lettering on a white background. The graduations were in imperial pounds and ounces, but had smaller markings inside the imperial measurements, that were in metric numerology. Inscribed in bold black letters in the centre of the dial were the words ‘Toledo Scales’.

Jack stepped onto the platform and it moved underneath him and then the large needle swung around the dial and assessed his weight. The trainer waited for the needle to settle.

He read the dial aloud:

‘Seven stone, two pounds, two ounces in the old, forty-six kilograms in metrics. It is a good starting weight for an apprentice. Do you eat normally to maintain that weight?’


‘It’s the first time I think I have been weighed properly, Mr Ratcliffe.’

‘Really! From now on, you weigh yourself every day. Always do it stripped down like you are now, and record your weight in the apprentices’ record book in my office. I will show you where it is later. Now over here.’

Jack moved to an apparatus next to the scales which he recognised as a machine to measure height.

‘Feet on the plaque, back straight against the pole.’

On his bare feet and back both the plaque and the pole were cold to the touch. He straightened his back and Ratcliffe manipulated the sliding guide down onto Jack’s head. Once again, he read the measurement out aloud:

‘Five feet six inches’ imperial, that’s one hundred and sixty-five centimetres tall. You have the height and weight to be a jockey at this stage. How old are you?

‘I will be sixteen in June.’

‘Well let’s hope a growth spurt or a weight problem doesn’t cut your career short.’

‘Will I get dressed now?’

‘Not yet lad, we have only just begun. Follow me.’

This time they walked out through the sliding doors and into the exercise yards. Jack felt the sting of the morning sun on his bare shoulders and wondered who would be watching him parade around the stables in his underwear. Ratcliffe led the way into a small yard, covered in soft white sand, and as Jack entered the enclosure he felt his bare feet sink into the pliable material. It was a good sensation. In the centre of the yard was a forty-four- gallon drum mounted on an axle that was slung between two ‘X shaped’ trestles. Jack had no idea what this was. Ratcliffe

manipulated a lever attached to one of the trestles that seemed to act as a brake on the drum and gestured as he said:

‘Jump aboard. It will be your first ride at Ratcliffe’s stables. We call this a spurboard.’

Gingerly, Jack straddled the drum and the rough, rusted surface dug into his naked inside thighs.

‘Now put your hands on your head and grip the drum with your knees and ankles.’

Jack followed the instructions without question and then Ratcliffe released the braking system and the spurboard rotated suddenly to the right and Jack was deposited in the yielding white sand. A burst of laughter erupted from the open sliding door area as the stable hands, and two other apprentices enjoyed the show, recalling, in the process, their own first experience of the notorious spurboard.

‘Get up and back on the spurboard, lad.’

Jack got up slowly and dusted himself off. He was embarrassed and a little humiliated by the other boys laughing at him. However, now this was simply a physical challenge and Jack had never shied away from one of those in his life. Ratcliffe applied the brake and Jack scrambled back on gripping with his knees and ankles and then placing his hands on his head. He saw Ratcliffe move to release the brake and he braced for the spurboard to lurch to the right and he prepared to compensate. He did, and for a moment he had equilibrium. To Jack’s disappointment, his compensation had been too much and this time he tumbled off to the left. Another peel of raucous laughter erupted. Ratcliffe turned on the mirth filled group and shouted.

‘Get back to work, you layabouts. This is not a show for your entertainment. Go!’


Before he had finished his sentence, Jack was back astride the spurboard and without the shock of the brake release to confuse him he steadied for each rotation and compensated accordingly. Much to Ratcliffe’s surprise the boy was in control at his third attempt.

‘Now take your hands off your head and push them forward towards the front of the drum, but don’t try to hold onto it. Just keep your hands and arms forward about an inch above the spurboard’s surface. Jack did as he was told. He became slightly unbalanced as he removed his hands from his head and again as he stretched his arms forward, but he did not fall into the sand.

‘Not bad, lad, now see if you can hold that position until I get back.’

The rusty spurboard dug into his thighs, knees and ankles and his back, shoulders, arms and hands ached as he held the uncustomary position. Constantly anticipating and adjusting for any slight movement in the spurboard just aggravated Jack’s discomfiture. He knew this was a physical and mental test and he had no intention of failing again. For what seemed an eternity, Jack held the pose and then, at last, Ratcliffe appeared through the sliding doors rolling himself a cigarette. When he was beside the spurboard he stuck the roll-your-own into the corner of his mouth and lit it.

‘OK lad, you can sit up now.’

As he said this he jammed on the braking device and the spurboard was stable as Jack sat up on it.



‘Dismount near side.’

Jack guessed this was to his left-hand side and close to Ratcliffe, and as he wasn’t rebuked when he did so, he thought he must have got it right. When he stood in front of Ratcliffe, trickles of blood were running down his legs from his inside thighs and his knees and ankles were scratched and showing tell-tale signs of beginning to bleed.

‘Collect your clothes, and go and have shower in the apprentices’ room. You will find a first aid kit in the bathroom area. Clean up those cuts and scratches and apply some antiseptic cream to them. Then get into some working clothes and muck out stalls fourteen to twenty and put in new straw and fill the water troughs. By then Mabel Grace should have something for us to eat.’

Jack noted there was no praise for his efforts or sympathy for his suffering. Ratcliffe was a hard man and this was going to be a testing lifestyle. While he was in the shower both the other apprentice jockeys, Clint Hall and Gareth Moloney, found excuses to make their way into the bathroom and check out the new boy’s ‘credentials’ while he was fully naked. They said nothing, but were clearly impressed.

Jack found the ‘mucking out work’ demanding, but he derived a certain satisfaction by doing it well. Just as he finished, horses arrived back from exercise yards and morning trackwork and filled up the freshly cleaned boxes. Jack looked admiringly at the thoroughbreds and wondered what it would be like to be astride one of them and riding trackwork with them. He was highly motived by that thought, which was interrupted by the clanging of a bell at the house. Without really knowing, Jack assumed this was the signal for lunch and so he went to the bathroom area, washed up and headed up to the house.

The eating area was an annex to the main house. Like much of the rest of the house and stable complex that was ‘Baccarat Lodge’, with the significant exception of the apprentices’ area, this was beautifully constructed. It featured laminated timber arching beams and a high ceiling with skylights allowing floods of light to cascade into the room. The tables were beautifully handcrafted in polished wood and benches, made of similar material, either side provided the seating. Jack wondered who had taken the trouble to do all of this? The food service area was done in highly polished stainless steel and the smells that wafted from the kitchen beyond were inviting.

It was cafeteria style service. The three apprentice jockeys and several stable hands were there for lunch and so was Ratcliffe and a well-dressed middle-aged man who Jack later found out was the Veterinarian, Dr. Seamus Caitiff, who had been the consulting Vet. at the Ratcliffe stables for many years. In the future Jack would meet him again in less congenial circumstances, but for now he seemed quite a jolly and friendly man.

The two tables were called up in turn and Mabel Grace Malone made her first appearance at the serving window. She was a former shearers’ cook, but had tired of trooping all over the outback and had settled in Kalgoorlie. When Ray Ratcliffe’s wife died suddenly he advertised for a stable cook. Mabel Grace couldn’t believe her good fortune and she applied for, and got the job. She didn’t want to live at the stables, preferring to stay in her own home which was nearby. That suited Ray Ratcliffe ideally and the two negotiated a working arrangement which had progressed satisfactorily for nearly a decade. There were occasional arguments over wage increases and budget restraints, but Mabel Grace knew she could just walk away if things didn’t work out, and so did Ratcliffe, and he was keen for that not to happen.

The top table consisted of Ray Ratcliffe, Dr. Caitiff, and the Stable Foreman, Ray Ratcliffe Junior, who everyone called

‘Junior’ to differentiate between him and his father. The other person at the first table was Johnny Lewis, the leading and most experienced stable hand. This table was served first and received a substantial and wholesome, if plain, plate of food each. The second table which comprised the other stable hands and the three apprentices were served last and Jack, as the new boy, was the final one of these. When she handed Jack his plate, Mabel Grace refused to release it and fixed her gaze on him:

‘So, Jack Burton, you want to be a jockey?’ ‘That is the plan.’

‘Well you’re the best-looking apprentice we have had here in my time.’

Jack actually blushed, and Mabel Grace continued confidently, having gained the upper hand in the exchange.

‘Any weight problems, or special dietary requirements?’

‘Not that I know of, Mrs.?’

‘Call me Mabel Grace, everyone else does.’

With that Mabel Grace heaped Jack’s plate with generous portions of everything that was on offer.

‘Let me know if the weight goes on too quickly, and I’ll cut your meals back accordingly.’

‘Thanks, Mabel.’

‘It’s Mabel Grace, Jack Burton. That is how I like it.’

‘Thank you, Mabel Grace.’

‘Manners too, as well as handsome as all get out. I hope you can ride, because you are going to break a few hearts if you can!’

Jack blushed again and turned away to see most of the faces, on both tables, grinning at him with leers he really didn’t comprehend. Later he would. Only Ratcliffe wasn’t smiling, he was too busy eating and concentrating hard on what Dr. Seamus Caitiff was saying ‘sotte voce’ into his right ear. 

Chapter 9 Opening Day

The day after the hosing incident, Mabel Grace came out from behind her stainless-steel serving area and sat down beside Jack at one the dining tables. Jack froze, but was relieved when Mabel Grace produced a set of catalogues and an order book.

‘Just one more thing I do for you young men. I have to order your new gear for your first day of race riding. New riding boots, which size?’


‘New helmet, standard size, you are not a big head yet! A one kilo safety riding vest to replace that ‘shabby’ thing you have been getting around in. Finally, two new pairs of silk riding breeches. These will have your name embroidered on the thighs. What name do you want the punters to know you by?’

‘I really haven’t thought about it.’

‘You could just be Jack Burton, or J. Burton if you would prefer that. You could go for initials some riders do that. You would be JB. Do you have a middle name?

‘Charles after my grandfather, that was ‘Boy’s’ father’s name.’

‘That would be JCB. It’s a bit too much like a piece of construction equipment, for my liking.’

‘I think I would just like to be known as Jack Burton.’

‘I agree. I will write the order up and phone it through. The cost will all come out of your wages, you do realize that?’


‘Oh, does it? OK!’

‘They usually take about a week so you will have them in plenty of time for Opening Day.’

‘Thanks, Mabel Grace.’

‘Oh, and don’t freeze every time I try to talk to you. The stories that you’ve heard simply aren’t true. Besides if I was that way inclined, it would have happened a long time before now, handsome Jack!’

In the week before the opening day of the new season at the Kalgoorlie Boulder Race Club, excitement in the Goldfields’ town was building. Trainers who had spent the summer months racing their horses at Esperance Bay, Albany and Mount Barker now started shifting their charges back into their home base stables. Some horses, which had been poor performers in Perth, during the Ascot season, now found themselves transferred to Kalgoorlie trainers to get another chance of making the grade.

Big Kalgoorlie based stables, like those of Ray Ratcliffe at ‘Baccarat Lodge’, now stepped up their intensity as they prepared for opening day. For Jack Burton the week began, when a large cardboard box was delivered to him. The postal details indicated that it came from the Racing and Wagering Western Australia official suppliers in Perth. When he opened the box, it was a treasure trove of all the gear Mabel Grace had ordered.

There were two pairs of white silk riding breeches, which had his name embroidered down the left-hand thigh in striking copperplate script. A new one-kilogram safety vest and racing skull cap were included, but the ultimate gift was a brand-new pair of size eight riding boots. A covering letter explained that this was the standard issue of new gear, when an apprentice received their Certificate III licence to ride in races. The cost of the equipment would be deducted from Jack’s fortnightly wages paid by his employer and a tax invoice was attached listing the cost of all the items. A riding whip could be ordered when the Stewards gave their approval for the young rider to use one in races. In the meantime, he must ride without carrying a ‘persuader’. For Jack the box of equipment simply solidified his believe that his great adventure was about to begin.

Stuart Tiller at ‘The Kalgoorlie Miner’ was also excited by the prospect of the new racing season and he thought a follow up article on the swimming sensation, Jack Burton, might be a good idea as he prepared for his first day of race riding. To this end, Tiller went out to ‘Baccarat Lodge’, and requested an interview with Jack on the eve of his new career. He was greeted by Ray Ratcliffe, who listened to the request and then gave an emphatic answer:


The negative response was delivered with such venom that Stuart Tiller was left flabbergasted and without a story. When he returned to the newspaper’s office and reported the events at ‘Baccarat Lodge’ to his editor, the usually crusty, Bob Sanders, felt his news’ nose twitching:

‘I wonder what Ratcliffe is up to that he doesn’t want any publicity for his new boy?’

‘I don’t know, Sir. He was rude and dismissive with me.’

‘Right, well there is more than one way to get a racing story. Take your camera out to the racecourse on Saturday and follow this Jack Burton’s every move. Take lots of pictures. If he rides like a four-kilo claiming apprentice, on his first day, and finishes last in all his races, then we will just report on the start of a new career for the boy who made such a big splash in the pool.’

‘And if he succeeds?’

‘Then you have got the big story. We will go with the ‘whizz- kid’ line again and run that money shot of him coming out of the swimming pool alongside him returning to scale on his first race winner.’

‘Let’s hope he rides as well as he swims.’

‘OK, if he does, then we want maximum exposure. We will see how Ratcliffe likes that? I’ll give young Truscott a ring at ‘The West Australian’. He started with us here at the ‘Miner’ and now he is one of the racing writers down there. I’ll give him a heads up on the Jack Burton story and, if everything does turn to gold on Saturday, he can run your article in the ‘West’ as well. That might make Ratcliffe think twice about his ‘closed door’ policy.’

A sense of anticipation was also building at the much smaller stables of Sheila King. After working strongly throughout the week, Cherry Cherry’s blood count was the best it had been since the colt came into Sheila’s care. She confided in Aly:

‘You know I think Sonny might be able to win his maiden on Saturday.’

Aly just made a gesture of crossing her fingers and then said.

‘Are you still going to let Jack Burton ride him? It will be his first ever ride in a race. Perhaps if Sonny does have a realistic chance of winning, Mr. Douglas might prefer a senior jockey was given the ride.’

‘I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed as Jack had done all the work on the colt, and he goes so well for him, that that would be the logical way to go. What do you think?’

‘I think you should ring Tony Douglas and discuss it with the owner. That is the way I would do it.’

‘Good thinking. I will ring him today.’Shelia King got hold of Tony Douglas in his office in the city and his Personal Assistant put her straight through once she had explained the nature of her business.

‘Sheila, how lovely to hear from you. No doubt you are excited about opening day at Kalgoorlie on Saturday.’

‘Very excited, Tony. I have entered your colt, Sonny, in the maiden. It will be the second race on a six-race programme.’


‘Oh, haven’t I told you. That’s the stable name we gave the colt.’ ‘How did you get from Cherry Cherry to Sonny?

‘Long story, short. Cherry Cherry reduced to Cher, but a colt can’t have a female nickname so we named it after Cher’s husband Sonny Bono

Tony Douglas was excited. This was music from his era. ‘

The husband and wife team who gave us ‘I Got You, Babe’, a huge hit.’

Tony Douglas sang the tag line down the phone and Sheila realised the state’s biggest owner-breeder could also sing.

‘Let’s hope Sonny can be half as successful.’

‘Tony, I want to put a four-kilo claiming apprentice, who will be having his first ride in a race, on the colt on Saturday. What do you think?’

‘Well as the colt has a row of duck eggs alongside his name as his form line, I don’t think it will be too much of a handicap. What will that bring his weight down to?’

‘He has been handicapped at 55 kilograms so with the claim he will carry just 51 kilograms.’

‘Luxury weight. Who is this apprentice?’ 


‘His name is Jack Burton and he is a second-year apprentice with Ray Ratcliffe.’

‘And can he ride?’

‘He has done all the work on the colt and won a trial on him a week last Friday.’

‘Cherry Cherry won a trial?’

‘Yes. He was pretty impressive as well.’

‘In that case let this Jack Burton ride him. Incidentally what price are they betting in early markets?’

‘Sonny opened at six to one, but he has drifted to ten to one in the latest markets.’

‘I don’t suppose he could win the maiden, could he Sheila?’

‘His blood count is the best it has been and he is working strongly.’

‘What distance is the race?’

‘1100 metres.’

‘Right, well I shall certainly be watching. I will be at Ascot on Saturday so I will see it on television from there. Oh, and thank you, Sheila. When I sent the colt to you it was the last throw of the dice. He cost me a lot of money and has been a big disappointment so far. If you can win a race with him it would be something.’

‘We will be trying hard on Saturday, Tony.’

‘Good on you, Sheila, and good luck to Sonny Bono and Jack Burton. I’ve got to go now.’

Tony Douglas took a call on another line and when he concluded that business, he sat back in his leather office chair and tapped his fingers on the desk to the rhythm of the Sonny and Cher hit tune. Then he picked up the handset of the telephone and used the speed dial to get his long-time turf advisor on the line.

‘Ken, it’s Tony Douglas.’

‘Hi, Tony what’s the go?’

‘Kalgoorlie, Saturday, second race, a horse called Sonny Bono.’

‘Hang on I’ll just check. Sorry, Tony, there is no starter called Sonny Bono in race two.’

Tony Douglas snapped out of his thought haze and corrected himself:

‘My mistake, Ken. The horse’s racing name is Cherry Cherry.’

‘Yep, got it. Kalgoorlie race two, number four, Cherry Cherry. A four-kilo claiming apprentice, Jack Burton, is listed to ride. It’s drawn one at the barrier, and with the claim, will carry 51 kilograms.’

‘What price are the corporate bookmakers offering in early markets?’

‘Let’s see. Sportsbet 10/1, Ladbrokes, 10/1. Ah, here we are Betfair 12/1.’

‘How many in that maiden field, Ken?’

‘Eight listed, one with no rider allocated. Could mean it is a likely scratching. Let’s say seven starters on the day.’

‘So, pay one and two only.’ ‘That would be the situation.’

‘No real value in an each-way investment then. The horse will have to run first or second to get a collect.’

‘Straight out is probably the way to go. Is this Cherry Cherry one of yours?’

‘Yes. Redoute’s Choice out of one of my Jeune mares.’ ‘Bred in the purple, Tony.’

‘But hasn’t run even time in four starts so far. That’s why I sent him to Sheila King in Kalgoorlie. He is on his last chance.’

‘Do you want me to place a bet for you, Tony?’

‘I do, but keep it quiet, Ken. Spread the bets around. Try not to get anyone suspicious that it is me backing the horse.’

‘OK, I’ll do that and see if we can average 10/1 or better.’ ‘Good man, Ken.’

‘How much do you want on, Tony?’

‘Ten thousand dollars to win.’

‘What? A colt who has four zeros alongside his name, with a four-kilo claiming apprentice having his first ride in a race. Wouldn’t you prefer to donate the $10,000 to your favourite charity instead?’

‘On the nose, Ken. I’ve just got a funny feeling about this.’

‘OK, you’re the Boss.’

The opening day of the Kalgoorlie season is held on a Saturday in the early weeks of April. There are usually only six races and all conducted over short course distances. Two maiden races over 1100 metres were listed, then a Class 1 over 1200 metres, a Class 3 over the same distance and the longest race of the day over 1300 metres is for the more seasoned gallopers at Class 5 grade. Jack Burton would have three mounts on his first day of race riding. He would partner Cherry Cherry in the second race for Shelia King and then he had two rides on horses trained by Ray Ratcliffe; Sedgewick in the fourth over 1200 metres and finally Christopher Marlowe in the last race over 1300 metres.

The day dawned bright and sunny, but cold, as was usually the case in Kalgoorlie. The Racecourse manager rated the track as a Good 3 based on the penetrometer reading he took. Trackwork went ahead as normal in the early morning and horses were given their final gallops before the track was cleared and the race day preparations began. Racing and Wagering Western Australia Stewards had flown in from Perth, the caterers were already hard at work preparing food and beverages for the afternoon patrons and Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) staff were testing new betting machines that had been installed only in the last week. Traditional bookmakers, much fewer in number, than in the halcyon days, of the legendary big betting rings at Kalgoorlie, were setting up their stands in the grandstand undercroft.

The public-address system was tested and the veteran race caller, Jonathon Solomon, who had commentated on races at Kalgoorlie for decades had already done a phantom call. This was to familiarise himself with the course changes since last season, and particularly the treacherous angle from the broadcast box to the finishing line, which had brought even Jonathon Solomon undone once or twice. His commentating trainee, Marcus Neville, had also done a warm up call. He would call race 3 as part of his education. Jonathon had selected this race for Marcus as it only had five runners and would be an easy first up assignment from the point of view of memorising colours. Jonathon Solomon had great faith in young Marcus Neville. He was the son of a small-time trainer in Kalgoorlie and had a good knowledge of racing and horseflesh. He was also a good clean caller with a natural quick wit that made his calls entertaining and good listening. Jonathon anticipated that Marcus would take over from him on a full-time basis probably in the next year or so, bringing to an end the career of one of the most colourful and easily recognised voices in West Australian Racing.

The interstate pay-per-view television channels had been on course for several days setting up their cameras in stewards’ towers around the course, and in the main grandstand. Most of these cameras were unmanned and remotely operated, but two cameramen did have control of the cameras in the grandstand. The television coverage was controlled from an on course outside broadcast van from where a Director selected pictures from the various cameras and beamed them via satellite to the Sydney studios of Sky Racing in French’s Forest. From there the broadcasts went around Australia and into outlets in Hong Kong and Singapore, who often had race meetings scheduled at the same time, and took the Kalgoorlie coverage as just another meeting for punters to bet on. Stuart Tiller was the only representative of the print media on course that day, and he was acting in the dual role of photographer and newspaper reporter.

The entrance gates opened, and the patrons arrived, in big numbers as opening day was always something of a social event. All was in readiness, however there was a major anticlimax. An ageing racegoer collapsed before the start of the first race and had to be rushed to hospital in the oncourse ambulance. Racing could not begin without an ambulance being on course, so all races had to be put back one time slot, a delay of nearly forty minutes, until the ambulance returned. It threw television schedules into chaos as they had to rearrange their coverage. For all the trainers and riders, it just heightened the tension on the first day.

Finally, the first race was run and won by the favourite, and everyone was content that the Kalgoorlie racing season was underway once more. In the jockeys’ room before the second race Jack donned Tony Douglas’s silks and looked spectacular in the gold jacket with the purple striped sleeves and gold and purple quartered cap. He weighed out and walked into the mounting yard where Sheila King, bubbling with excitement, greeted him. Sheila had employed a strapper for the colt and he

was walking around in the pre-race parade, a little on his toes, but causing the girl who was strapping him no problems at all.

‘Hello, Jack. Excited?’

Jack didn’t know how to respond. He felt just as he had done when he walked out onto the swimming pool concourse before the swimming championships. However, he didn’t want to appear too nonchalant so he eventually replied.

‘I’m looking forward to it. The colt looks well. Is Mr. Douglas here?’

‘No, he’s at Ascot in Perth today. He will be watching on television.’

Jack scanned the mounting yard clearly looking for someone. ‘Where’s Aly?’

‘She has gone to have a bet on Sonny.’

‘Really? How much is she putting on?’

‘Ten dollars each way for herself and twenty-five dollars straight out for me so I can pay your riding fee and give you a little ‘sling’ if you win.’

Jack gave his thin-lipped grin, but again it didn’t manifest itself into a smile. The Clerk of the Course gave the instruction:

‘Mount up please, riders!’

Stuart Tiller snapped a series of digital shots as Jack Burton was legged up into the saddle on Cherry Cherry. Jack took the colt onto the track and gave him a good preliminary without asking the horse to go at any more than a good canter. Behind the barrier, Jack felt Sonny getting excited, but he was the first to load in barrier number one and once he was in the gates he settled down well. The other six starters made their way into the gates and in what seemed a blur to Jack, the instructions:

‘Last one coming up riders, be ready’ And then from behind the starting gates: ‘All clear!’

Then the deafening sound of the gates crashing back, and far from being startled, Cherry Cherry jumped straight to the front. Jonathon Solomon described it as:

‘Bounding out of the gates like a scalded cat.’

Jack took a firm hold and monitored the colt’s stride and breathing. He could hear the other six horses behind him, but he didn’t dare to look back as Ratcliffe had told him he would get a ‘crack across the arse with a whip’ if he ever did that in a race. At the turn, Jack held the colt’s form, and fully expected another horse to loom up on his outside to challenge, but there was nothing. In the straight Jack kept anticipating a challenge, but when he got to the ridge and there was still nothing, he thought ‘well here goes’ and he gave Sonny a kick and the colt changed gears, like a good horse, and fairly savaged the line. In the commentary box, Jonathon Solomon put his usual amusing spin on it.

‘Sweet for the picking and cherry ripe on the day, Cherry Cherry goes down to the line to win by four lengths hard held.’

Solomon called the names of the other runners in order and then announced that this was Jack Burton’s first ride in a race and he had a winning percentage of one hundred. When Jack brought the colt back into the mounting yard there was warm applause for the young apprentice, successful at his first try.

Sitting having lunch in the ‘Flying Colours Restaurant’ at Ascot Tony Douglas was glued to the television monitor at the end of the table and when the race was over, he caught the eye of the drinks’ waiter and said:

‘Two bitterly cold bottles of Moet and Chandon for the table and bring fresh champagne flutes, please.’

‘Certainly, Sir.’

In Kalgoorlie, Stuart Tiller fairly blazed off as many shots of Jack Burton dismounting, being hugged and kissed by a tearful Sheila King and then getting a second round from her daughter, Aly. Tiller photographed all of this and knew that there was a ‘money shot’ in among them somewhere. He started imagining what a ‘by line’ in the ‘The West Australian’ would look like and he had no doubt that Bob Sanders would use the ‘whizz- kid’ headline just as he promised to do.

Jack weighed in and ‘Correct Weight’ was signalled. Aly collected a hundred and forty-five dollars for her ten dollars each way and then presented her mother’s winning ticket to the bookmaker who had bet her fourteen to one, two points over the odds. At the time, he had called to his clerk:

‘$350 to $25 on Cherry Cherry, luxury odds for a very pretty punter.’

Aly thought that might be an inappropriate sexist remark even for an old-school bookmaker, but she happily accepted the extra odds and took the ticket with a suppressed smile. When she collected the $375 for the win, the bookmaker was not in such a chirpy mood.

In the fourth race, Ratcliffe legged Jack Burton up onto Sedgewick and said:

‘We’ve backed this old boy for plenty first up. Do everything we have done in training. Hold his form around the turn and then steer wide in the straight. Kick off the ridge on the crown of the track and don’t let the ‘Moose’ stop before the post.’

Jack followed Ratcliffe’s instructions to the letter and although the old galloper was stopping close to home he won by a head and ‘Baccarat Lodge’ had landed its first plunge of the season. Stuart Tiller was scribbling furiously. This was getting better and better. He deliberately angled the camera to get a shot of both the elated jockey and the trainer, who he now concluded he didn’t like very much, and got just the contrast in expressions that he was seeking.

In the final race of the day Ratcliffe told Jack that Christopher Marlowe, having his first run since the 2000 metres of the Esperance Cup would probably find the 1300 metres distance far too short. He did temper his lack of confidence by saying:

‘Sometimes stayers can sprint well after a freshen up, so just monitor his stride and breathing and if he is not struggling coming to the turn, see what he can do in the straight. If he can’t keep up before the turn, don’t knock him around, just give him a quiet run along.’

Jonathon Solomon gave one of the most memorable calls of his long career when he described the last race on opening day. He noticed that Christopher Marlowe had missed the jump, but then he saw through his 10 x 50 binoculars that the old gelding was weaving his way through the field under the guidance of the apprentice jockey, Jack Burton. On the turn the veteran galloper was still well back, but as they topped the ridge in the Kalgoorlie straight, Solomon caught sight, out of the corner of his binocular’s field of vision, of Christopher Marlowe taking giant strides down the outside. This vastly experienced doyen of race callers sensed what might be about to unfold and what the significance was going to be for the apprentice rider. He mentally prepared what he might have to say.

When Christopher Marlowe dashed up, lunged at the line, and won by a neck from the second placegetter. Jonathon Solomon spat out the following in rapid fire commentary:

‘And Christopher Marlowe, like his famous namesake, writes another scene in his long play book, and apprentice, Jack Burton, rewrites the record books having won at all of his only three rides in races. A treble for Burton. A day for the ages in riding ranks.’

Even Marcus Neville, standing behind Jonathon Solomon in the broadcast box, had a broad smile on his face at the way his race calling mentor had expressed the final stages.

Bob Sanders, the Editor of ‘The Kalgoorlie Miner’, who been a guest of the Committee on opening day, took the stairs two at a time as he raced down to ground level to catch his protégé, Stuart Tiller. Breathlessly he said to the cadet reporter:

‘Well you got the big story, and then some, and I image, by the number of pictures you took that you have more than the ‘money shot’ as well. Get back to the office and write it up and I will come in later and we will pick the best shots to compliment the article.’

‘Yes, Sir!’

‘I think I will ring Scotty Truscott at ‘The West’ and give him a ‘heads up’ that we are sending him a big article, with pictures to match. I am sure they will publish it in their racing pages. We will go for a front page on Monday in the ‘Miner’. I think the headline will be: ‘The Kalgoorlie Whizz-kid’. It is an appealing story and I am sure everyone will love it.’

‘Well maybe not, Ray Ratcliffe!’

‘I think even Ratcliffe will be hard pressed to snarl at this one, particularly after the kid rode two winners for him today. The successful ‘plonk’ on Sedgewick would have put him on good terms with himself.’

‘Let’s hope so.’

‘Ratcliffe is the least of our concerns. Priority number one is to structure a really good article and complement it with excellent pictures. So, what are you waiting for, son? Get to it.’

Stuart Tiller actually dashed for the exits, keen to get to the office and start typing. It was his responsibility to record, for posterity, one of the most memorable opening days in the recent history of the Kalgoorlie Boulder Race Club, featuring the unprecedented feat of an apprentice jockey, the Kalgoorlie Whizz-kid, Jack Burton. 

Chapter 22 At the Winning Post

Max Blight’s flight from Kalgoorlie touched down around 5:30 p.m. and he was at his desk in his office an hour later. He rang Sam Grainger and asked her to come into the office. He was going to put together the final report on the Jack Burton case and anticipated he would be needing her help. They had a brief conversation about how Sam’s meeting with Christine Strempel had gone, and Sam told Max she had already written a report on that encounter and would bring it with her. As an afterthought, Sam asked if Max had eaten anything, and when he replied in the negative, she said she would bring some take away food in with her.

Then Max phoned his Personal Assistant, Lana, at home and asked if she could come back into the office.

‘We are going to need your exquisite word processing and collating skills tonight, Lana. We are putting together the final report in the Jack Burton case.’

‘I will be there as soon as I can, Mr. Blight.’

‘Thanks, Lana.’

The team assembled in the conference room at Max Blight and Associates and started to make a plan. Max quickly realised they were going to need Robbie’s DVD of the CCTV evidence, so planning was briefly interrupted while Max phoned Robbie.

‘Robbie, it’s Max. Can you make ten DVD copies of the CCTV evidence in the Jack Burton case?’

‘Too easy, Mr. Blight. When do you need them?’

‘As soon as possible, Robbie. I want to include them in the final report.’

‘What format will the report be in, Mr. Blight?’ ‘Spiral bound, I imagine.’

‘Then you will need ten copies of the DVD in individual plastic presentation folders to be spiral bound into the report.’

‘If you say so, Robbie.’

‘I can do all that here at home, Mr. Blight. How long will you be at the office?’

‘It could be quite a long night here.’

‘Too easy. I will bring them in as soon as I have finished.’

‘Thanks, Robbie.’

Max now turned to the two women sitting around the conference table.

‘Right, what is our plan?’

Sam suggested.

‘A ‘Janet and John’ summary page so that everyone who reads the report will get a quick overview and not get confused or bogged down by all the reports and documents.’

‘Good. I think that should be followed by a time line of events as the crime was perpetrated, the aftermath, and the detailed chronology of our investigation.’

Lana was now thinking about the presentation of the report. She suggested.

‘The narrative of the report should also be linear. I can insert tags into that narrative to cross reference documents, reports and

transcripts of interviews, which we will include as appendices or attachments.’

‘Excellent. I will dictate the updated ‘Janet and John’ and then the linear narrative.’

‘I will get my laptop and word process from your dictation, Mr. Blight.’

‘And I will lay out all the material we have on the table here and identify and number them for Lana’s tags.’

‘Good. You will also need to photocopy all the documents for ten copies of the final report.’

‘I’ll do that progressively as I number the documents.’

Lana left the conference room to retrieve her laptop and Sam started laying out papers on the conference table. Max sat with his hands on his head, staring at the ceiling as he tried to put his thoughts in order. When Lana returned, and set up at the end of the table, Max was ready.

‘Let’s start with the ‘Janet and John’ precis.’

Max started dictating and Lana’s fingers flashed across the keyboard. Every so often she would pause, query a word or phrase and read it back in context, then suggest an alternate form of expression. Listening in while she spread documents on the table, Sam also made a contribution.

‘Now for the time line.’

Lana switched to an excel file as it would be easier to format dates, times and events into a spreadsheet. Sam left off her document work and sat beside Max as he dictated the time line. In this case Sam’s input was invaluable, particularly the details of meeting Jack in Newcastle. When the time line was finished, Sam picked up a bundle of pages and headed for the photocopy room. Max put his hands on his head again and once more staring at the ceiling started dictating again.

‘Now for the linear narrative.’

Lana switched back to the word document and started typing. Sam arrived back just in time to reveal the number she had given to the first document reference and Lana tagged it into the linear narrative. This is how the work continued. They were going at such a pace that Max called a halt and suggested coffee. They all agreed and during the break Robbie arrived with the DVD’s. They had printed labels on the front of each disk and Robbie demonstrated how the individual plastic sleeves could be incorporated in the final spiral bound report. Everyone was impressed. Robbie stayed for coffee and then headed home. The work resumed at a slightly less frenetic pace than before.

When Max was satisfied, he had dictated the story accurately, and Sam had numbered all the material and made multiple photocopies, Lana sent the documents she had typed to the printer and returned with three copies of the printed documents for each person to proof read. Corrections were made and some numbering was adjusted and retagged and then Max said.

‘OK, print that off Lana and Sam and I will collate.’

Lana joined in the collating process and they circled the conference table picking up pages and adding them to each report. When the first pile was complete, Lana took it and went out to her own office as Max and Sam kept collating. Lana returned with the first spiral bound copy of the report on the Jack Burton investigation. It had a straight forward cover which was protected by a stiff plastic protective sheet. Everyone paused to admire it and the realisation of what they had achieved, in such a short time, started to sink in. Max left Sam and Lana to finish the collating and spiral binding and sat down to read the full report for the first time. When all the copies were bound, the other two did the same and a satisfied silence, punctuated only by the sound of pages turning, settled over the conference room.

When everyone had looked through the report, it was Sam who broke the silence.

‘It’s good, Max.’

‘Congratulations, Mr. Blight. I think everyone will be pleased with your efforts on behalf of this young man.’

‘Our efforts, Lana. Thank you to you both.’

Now Max gave the final instructions.

‘First thing in the morning, have two copies couriered to Mr. and Mrs. Brewster. They were, after all, our original clients. A copy and a spare to Timothy Pigeon’s chambers and one by priority air freight and courier to ‘Boy’ Burton in Kalgoorlie. I will take a copy and a spare to the Stewards at Racing and Wagering W.A. as soon as their offices open in the morning. Just in case the stewards are a little ponderous in their deliberations, I will drop copies off at Police Headquarters. As soon as they realise what we have uncovered, I think they will want to move very quickly.’

Max Blight examined the faces of Sam and Lana and realised he had asked a lot of them and he added.

‘If you both want to take tomorrow off, feel free. In fact, take tomorrow and Friday off and have an extra-long weekend. You have worked really hard and deserve a break.’

‘I will take some time off when Jack Burton is back in Western Australia and cleared to ride again. Having met him and sensed his suffering, I want to see this right through to the end.’

‘Same here, Mr. Blight. There are couriers to book and after that I am sure there will be lots of people who will want to get in contact with us tomorrow. We also have some other arrangements to make as well. Like Sam, we will have a break when all this is over.’

‘Thank you very much. Now go home and get some rest.’

‘You do the same, Max.’

The next morning things moved quickly. Colin and Martha Brewster received their copies of the report after trackwork and breakfast, and sat together at the kitchen table reading and sharing items of interest. Timothy Pigeon QC saw the report on his desk when he arrived in his chambers. He read the ‘Janet and John’ summary and the timeline, and then called in a junior lawyer and told him:

‘Read this and then prepare an application for an appeal in the Jack Burton case. Include as much detail as you need from this report and request a reopening of the case on the basis of new evidence having come to light. Get it over to RWWA this morning if possible.’

He then rang Max Blight and Associates and Lana told him Mr. Blight was out and about this morning delivering reports to appropriate parties.

‘No doubt he is. Please congratulate him on his report, Lana. Tell him I am in court all day from 10:00 a.m., but I have got one of my people working on an appeal application. I will pick up the threads later this afternoon.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Pigeon, I will make sure Mr. Blight gets the message.’

Max Blight walked into RWWA as soon as the office doors opened and requested a meeting with the Chief Steward. Within minutes he was in that man’s office and he presented him with his Jack Burton report.

‘I think you might find this interesting.’

Max sat down and watched the Chief Steward scan the first page blurb and the time line and then flick through the rest of the report stopping occasionally at significant pages. Finally, he looked up with a somewhat sad and apologetic look on his face.

‘Oh dear, we seem to have a clear case of a gross miscarriage of justice on our hands here.’

‘I think you do.’

‘Who has seen this report?’

‘Mr. and Mrs. Brewster were our commissioning clients. I was obliged to show them the report in the first instance. Timothy Pigeon QC is preparing an application for an appeal and the reopening of the case. You should have that soon, and a copy is winging its way to Jack Burton’s father as we speak.’

‘Do the press have anything yet?’

‘No. I thought you might like to brief them once you have decided on your way forward.’

‘Thank you for that, Max. We will need a little time to consider your report in full, get Mr. Pigeon’s application, and then I think we will need to call a press conference, or at the very least issue a press release, in which we announce our intentions. Have you informed the police?’

‘I wanted to get Jack Burton’s situation sorted first. I will deliver copies of my report to Police Headquarters after I leave here.’

‘No doubt they will want to bring Dr. Caitiff and this girl, Christine Strempel, in for questioning.’

‘No doubt!’

‘Thanks, Max, for your courtesy in coming to us first. This will be difficult for us and RWWA as we try to unscramble this egg, and get Jack Burton’s disqualification overturned. I suspect


Timothy Pigeon QC will be looking at compensation claims as well.’

‘I haven’t spoken to him yet. All that lies in the future. We have to get Jack to return from the eastern states and back in the saddle. That is my priority.’

‘I will make it ours as well. How soon do you think young Burton will be able to return to Western Australia?’

‘We will aim to get him here over the weekend.’

‘Then we will brief the press tomorrow and convene a special stewards’ inquiry on Monday.’

When Max heard that outline he was happy and left to drive to Police Headquarters and hand his report to the Detective Inspector who had handled the Ray Ratcliffe case.

‘Boy’ Burton received his copy of the report when he came home to his railway worker’s cottage for lunch. He read the ‘Janet and John’ summary and wasted no time telephoning Mrs. Anne Brown’s boarding house in Newcastle. Mrs. Brown took the call personally and told ‘Boy’ that Jack was on Merewether Beach. She added that there was good surf running and she expected Jack would be out at the break for some time to come. ‘Boy’ told her that it was an urgent matter and then Anne Brown, using her distinctive skill set, extracted the bulk of the story from ‘Boy’. She undertook to go straight down to the beach and give Jack the news.

No sooner had she put down the phone than Anne was on her way. She was a woman on a mission and when she was in this mood some of her acquaintances had unkindly called her ‘the perfumed bulldozer’. She was across the car park and down the stairs onto the beach before she realised she was wearing high heels. Anne briefly chastised herself for being such a fool in such a hurry, and took off her heels and walked in stockinged feet across the soft sand and through the surf wash towards the point break, where she knew she would find Jack.

Anne spotted Jack waiting for the next set of waves and signalled expansively for him to come in. When Jack spotted her on the beach he could hardly believe his eyes, but Mrs. Brown would not be there for no reason, so he took the next wave and surfed in, picking his board up and sliding it under his arm as he jogged through the surf wash. When Mrs. Brown focussed on Jack coming out of the water; the wet hair, the water-beaded tan, and the elegant line of red board shorts, with a gold hip band, made her briefly wish she could turn back time. She quickly dismissed that thought, which belonged to another era and told Jack that ‘Boy’ had telephoned and what had been conveyed to her.

Jack’s overwhelming reaction was one of relief. Then that morphed into excitement as he and Mrs. Brown walked back along to the beach to the stairs leading to the carpark. Back at the boarding house, Mrs. Brown went for a cigarette and a change of clothes in that order. Jack rang ‘Boy’ who had been sitting by the phone waiting for his call. He had already told the people at the railway yards that he was not coming back after lunch as he had urgent private business.

‘Dad, it’s, Jack.’

‘Hi Jack, no doubt Mrs. Brown has told you the news.’

Jack wanted his father to tell him all the details and ‘Boy’ was happy to do so. He read Jack crucial parts of Max Blight’s report and father and son shared a few special moments of laughter and one or two tears. Then ‘Boy’ told Jack he needed to get back to Western Australia as soon as he could. Jack told his father he would talk to Mrs. Brown and make the necessary arrangements. He thought he could probably fly to Perth late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

‘Ring me with the details, Jack. I won’t be able to meet you at the airport, but I will let Mr. and Mrs. Brewster know you are coming, and I am sure they will want to pick you up.’

‘Thanks, Dad.’

After donning a new outfit and shoes, Mrs. Anne Brown went into full ‘D9 Caterpillar’ operating mode.

‘I will make all the arrangements, Jack. You just get yourself packed up and ready. It is probably too late to do anything tonight, but we must be ready to get going first thing in the morning.’

Anne Brown rang her contact at the travel agents in Newcastle and got Jack on the Friday lunchtime direct flight to Perth. She didn’t even blink at the cost, gave her credit card details, and then used thousands of frequent flyer points to get Jack an upgrade to business class. On a roll, Anne rang Frank, the mechanic, who looked after and garaged her red, double six, 1990 Daimler convertible and requested that he give it the ‘once over’ and deliver it to her boarding house first thing on Friday morning.

When she purchased the house at Merewether Beach, the double garage formed part of the conversion that became her downstairs apartment, so there was nowhere to house the Daimler. Anne was not going to park it in the guest’s parking area out the front, so she asked Frank to keep it at his garage. As she rarely drove these days, it proved to be a good arrangement. With a client like Mrs. Brown, and a car like that to look after, and show off, Frank didn’t hesitate. At the conclusion of the telephone conversation he confirmed he would be there at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.

While Jack sorted through his things in his room, Anne rang the Merewether Beach Surf Shop and asked them to deliver a surfboard bag. Quite precisely, she described the size and shape of Jack’s board.

‘What colour would you like, Mrs Brown?’

‘Do they come in pillar box red?’

‘Sorry, only blue or grey.’

‘Blue then. I have never been fond of any shades of grey!’

She spent the rest of the afternoon trawling through her extensive wardrobe searching for the right outfit to wear on the drive to Sydney on Friday morning. When Jack was informed of all the arrangements Mrs. Brown had made, he tried to explain that she didn’t need to go to all that trouble.

‘I could have caught the train to Sydney and got a taxi out to the airport, Mrs. Brown.’

‘Nonsense! I gave Samantha Grainger an undertaking I would look after you and I will be doing that right up until the time you get on that plane to go home.’

‘At least let me pay you for all the expenses you have incurred.’

‘If you pay me back, it is simply a fee for service, and God knows I have had enough of those over my lifetime. No, Jack, this is my treat, when no money changes hands it is for love only.’

‘Mrs. Brown!’

‘Don’t think I haven’t thought about it, handsome Jack. Cher knew all about it when she sang: ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, but alas, like her, I can’t.’

‘Cher, you mean the singer who married Sonny Bono?’ ‘That’s the one!’

‘Sonny! Cherry Cherry. Now, I have a future with him, again.’

‘You have lost me, babe.’

‘He’s a horse. A red chestnut entire. It is a long story.’

‘Save it for the Daimler tomorrow morning, we will have lots of time then.’

Frank, from Frank’s Auto Services, delivered the Daimler at 7:30 a.m. He said he had given her a lube and oil change, done a safety check and filled the tank with fuel. His apprentice mechanic, who had followed the Daimler to Mrs. Brown’s boarding house, gave Frank a lift back to the garage. Jack loaded his single suitcase into the spacious boot of the red car and propped up his surfboard, in its new blue surfboard bag, in the back seat. When Mrs. Anne Brown appeared, she was in an aubergine pants suit with a matching scarf over her head and tied under her chin. She wore an extraordinary pair of driving sunglasses. As Anne got into the driver’s seat, Jack slid into the passenger’s seat beside her. Mrs. Brown’s next door neighbour, the ‘cat woman’ as she was known, let the sheer continuous curtaining fall back into place and turned to her husband and said:

‘That Brown woman is at it again. She is off with a surfer boy, this time, who looks young enough to be her grandson. No doubt she has an immoral weekend planned. That woman has no shame!’

‘Perhaps it is her grandson, dear!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Chuck! She has never married, I do know that much about her. Let’s note the time. I want to record this in the log.’

Anne Brown turned on the radio and as the Daimler carried them out of Newcastle and south onto the M1 highway they listened to music only. At Central Coast, they stopped for a well presented full English breakfast and apart from Anne questioning Jack about his diet and whether he had to watch his weight, there was just general conversation about the weather, the journey home, and the things he was looking forward to.

When they set off into the second leg of the two hour and ten- minute drive to Sydney, Anne turned off the radio and asked;

‘OK, my young friend, we still have over an hour on the road so that is time enough for all the ‘long stories’ I haven’t heard yet.’

‘What do you want to know?’

‘Everything! Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out.’

Falteringly, at first, Jack related his life story to Anne Brown. When he reached a difficult section Anne’s knuckles whitened on the steering wheel and she found the Daimler was rapidly picking up speed. However, when the good times were relived, she relaxed and simply enjoyed the ride as the tale was unfolding. Jack started talking about how the other apprentices at ‘Baccarat Lodge’ had teased him and called him a ‘cherry boy’.

‘Do you know what that is, Mrs. Brown?’

‘Oh, you bet I do! Have you rectified that situation in recent times, Jack?’

‘No, I am still waiting for the right girl and hopefully the best possible moment.’

‘Good boy! Sex for money is just business in the working week. Sex for love is like a perfect weekend away.’

‘I have never thought of it in those terms.’

‘You weren’t ever tempted to visit a prostitute and pay to get the monkey off your back?’

‘No! Some of my friends did. Where I lived in Kalgoorlie there was a big red-light district.’

‘Hay Street?’

‘Yes. Do you know it?’ ‘I have heard of it, Jack!’

They drove on. In Sydney, the Daimler negotiated city traffic with the ease it handled the open road and the red convertible with the blue surfboard bag propped up in the back seat attracted a few second glances. At the airport, Jack unloaded his surfboard and suitcase while Anne pressed the button to get the retractable canopy to return to its closed position. Then she locked the Daimler and gave it a loving pat for its performance today. They made their way into the departure lounge and Anne suggested to Jack that he immediately check-in his baggage. Travelling on a business class ticket, not even the surfboard caused any problems.

With an hour before the scheduled departure of his flight, Anne suggested a light brunch in the coffee shop and that is where they went. This time it was Jack’s turn to prompt Mrs. Anne Brown into relating her life’s journey. She was reluctant to start, but soon warmed to the task and when Jack’s boarding call came he was disappointed that the story of love and loss, boom and bust, sex and scandal, calamity and ‘another chance’ had to be truncated well short of completion.

‘Another chance; you talked about that. My mentor, Mr. Brewster, is big on that. He says ‘another chance’ is what everyone craves in life.’

‘Mr. Brewster sounds like a good man. Not that I have ever owned any racehorses, but if I did, I think I would want Colin Brewster to train them and you could ride them, Jack.’

‘You never know, Mrs. Brown, owning gallopers might be part of your future. It might be just another chance!’

‘You better believe it, beautiful boy, and don’t you dare waste yours!’

With that Mrs. Brown gave Jack a warm embrace and kissed him on both cheeks for luck.

‘Now off you go and never look back!’

Jack never saw Anne Brown again. He didn’t even know she had died a year later from inoperable lung cancer. He certainly never read the obituary that appeared in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ soon after death. The journalist, who edited the obituaries’ pages was drawn to the huge number of death notices that appeared for Anne Brown. They seemed to have been posted by people from all walks of life, and were so genuine and affectionate in noting Anne’s passing, that he asked his sub- editor if he should research Anne Brown and write a short obituary for her. The crusty old sub-editor just laughed and suggested he get down to archives and ask for the Anne Brown file. He warned the young journalist that the obituary would not be short.

When the journalist had read and researched Anne Brown’s life he wrote an article that was so good the sub-editor dropped it on the Editor’s desk and simply said:

‘Read this!’

The Editor did. He loved it, for a number of reasons, and published the obituary as a feature article on page four with a delightful archival photograph of Mrs. Brown in her prime. The article was given the headline ‘Call Me, Madam’, and related the life and times of Sydney brothel owner, Anne Brown, who had been at the centre of one of the biggest, sex, drugs and corruption scandals of the late 1970’s. The subsequent investigations had wide political implications. The article went on to say that Mrs. Brown had retired as a brothel Madam, and

in later life ran a very upmarket boarding house near Merewether Beach in Newcastle. She had never married and her substantial estate was estimated to be worth many millions of dollars, most of which went to children’s charities.

Later when Mrs Brown’s estate was lodged for probate there was sufficient interest for people to look at the specific legacies. Only one attracted furious speculation. The former brothel owner had allocated a quarter of a million dollars for the purchase of two thoroughbred racehorses. The will specified they were to be colts, and should be sent to Perth to be trained by veteran trainer, Colin Brewster. Despite extensive research no one could establish any connection between Mrs. Anne Brown and Colin Brewster. It seems that they had never met.

When Jack flew into Perth he was greeted at the airport by Colin and Martha Brewster. They drove him back to their stables and had a small celebratory dinner that night. Jack was quizzed on his time away, but as usual he gave few details and glossed over his time at Mrs. Brown’s boarding house. 

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