Gai Waterhouse: Why I followed in my father's footsteps

My dad, Tommy J. Smith, was one of Australia's most widely recognised and greatest horse trainers. I am an only child and my memories of him are very vivid. He was always in the papers or on the phone speaking to the prime minister, the NSW premier and horse owners. He managed 150 horses, and publicly was a bloke at the top of his game, with a dynamo personality. At home, I recall a very quiet man.

When I was a kid, Dad would ride me out on the pony from the centre of Randwick. He would take me to Coogee Beach and to hunt for duck eggs in Centennial Park - I later figured out he was the one placing the eggs around. He was a very active and loving man who died in 1998 at the age of 81.

After losing my father, I never thought I could adapt to life. I threw myself into the thing he loved so much, which is the track. I did eventually get over losing him, but it took a long time.

My mother, Valerie, always cooked the meals and was very supportive of us both. She was very strict and would use her feather duster to give me a whack. It was her way, or else. She kept me on the straight and narrow.

Mum came to live with my husband Rob and myself, and our children Kate and Tom, after Dad died. She would say, "I used to be Tommy's wife and I am now Gai Waterhouse's mother." She got along with Rob like a house on fire. She died at the age of 91 in 2008.

When I was 12, the Beatles came into my life. Dad knew how much I loved them and my parents took my girlfriend and me to their concert at Sydney Stadium in 1964. We had front-row seats. I was delirious from excitement. The screaming was so loud.

My first kiss happened at a party playing spin-the-bottle when I was about 11. I remember the guys were very enthusiastic to be there and thought the game was the best thing since sliced bread. I thought it was marvellous, too.

I got a job at Grace Bros department store in Bondi Junction when I was 14. My dad instilled this ethic in me to always work hard, no matter what you did in life.

I had my first serious boyfriend when I was 15. His parents would take me to the football. He was a lovely man and we dated for six years. I always preferred the company of a boyfriend to being alone.

I would dream of being invited out by the most handsome men, but I never was. I had to realign my tastes to someone who was much more achievable. The golden boys I liked turned out to be spoilt rotten by their parents, got the girls too easily and were a sham. Not one of those boys from my youth ended up being successful. But back then, they looked like the guys who had it all.

After graduating with a BA from the University of Sydney in 1975, I went to London for 2?? years to focus on my acting career. Dad never understood my desire to be an actress. He thought it was a silly job with no money in it. I was in the Doctor Who series The Invasion of Time and also did modelling for an East End coat company

Later, Australian actor John Bluthal took me under his wing while we were in a theatre show in Canada for three months. He was a fabulous mentor who helped me deal with a difficult drunken actor we were working with at the time.

When I got back to Australia in 1977, I gave up acting and fell in love with Dad's profession. I rode the horses and couldn't get enough. The more I studied under Dad, the more I wanted to learn.

John Singleton had a celebrity TV show in the late '70s - it was corny and substandard - and he asked me to find people to come on it. I asked bookmaker Bill Waterhouse, Rob's father, but he told me he was off to America and suggested I invite his son instead. But the show's producers turned Rob down and said they wanted an actor.

I had to break the news to Rob. He told me not to worry and asked me out. He thought I was a real kook but eventually we started dating and from that moment I realised he was different to anyone I had met. That was in 1978 and we have been together ever since.

When I brought Rob home, Dad said, "You've finally brought a decent bloke in." Rob is a very deep, learned and intelligent person. He craves knowledge and is also unbelievably supportive of me. He can be as quiet as they come and then something will upset him and I have to back-pedal. I hate him being upset, so I always know when to apologise.

I work in a very male-dominated sport surrounded by men. I like their company and think more like a man. That's probably also due to being an only child and around my dad so much.

I look at problems and solve them more like a man, too. I'm a mother and grandmother and I love female company, but I have always found being around men quite easy. I like the way they think and the way they get things done.

This story Gai Waterhouse: Why I followed in my father's footsteps first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.