A jockey's son remembers racing stars of yesterday

DOWN every street there’s a story waiting to be told.

And you get to meet some interesting people while rambling down memory lane.

Take Novocastrian Col Chaston, now almost 95 years old, who rang Weekender to chinwag, not about his sporting life, but rather about an old blacksmith, past racing eras and forgotten heroes of the turf.

“My late father Albin Chaston was born in Scone in November 1889. He became a jockey in what I regard as a great age of horse racing,” he said.

“My father’s first race was at Scone, at Satur Racecourse. I suppose it’s gone now. He started racing probably when he was 15 years old and retired about 1921, I believe.

“I once contacted Wallabadah Jockey Club up the Hunter and discovered dad had a five-year riding career up there between 1915 and 1920. He knew a lot of jockeys and I learned their first race meet was in 1852. You wouldn’t credit racing was that old up there, would you,” he said.

And the more he spoke, the more you glimpsed into a “golden era of racing” coming after World War I austerity, followed by the 1930s Great Depression and stretching into the start of World War II in 1939.

Horse racing was sometimes the only form of entertainment in a cash-starved society. Places like Wallsend even had their own racecourse (1880-1930), being one of 13 Lower Hunter race venues, including small pony tracks, which gradually died out.

One of the only places equine immortals of the 1920s and 1930s are recalled today is out at suburban Maryland. Here, a cluster of streets carry famous racehorse names of a bygone era. There’s Tulloch, Bernborough and Beauford avenues, plus Carbine Close and Rogilla Close while Archer Crescent commemorates the very first winner of the Melbourne Cup.

And if some horse names aren’t familiar, maybe they should be. The famous Newcastle-trained chestnut gelding Rogilla, for example, was regarded as the “Coalfields Champion” between 1932-35. It was described as the “wonder horse” of the 1930s it seems, with 26 wins from 70 starts.

A decade earlier, the star racehorse was New Zealand gelding Gloaming, especially for four spectacular clashes with champion Newcastle racehorse Beauford.

“Dad rated him the best thing going,” Chaston said.

“This old framed picture I have here at home calls Gloaming ‘Australasia’s Wonder Horse’. It lists up until 1924 some 62 starts. Gloaming recorded 52 wins, came second place nine times, he never ran third and was only unplaced once when caught up in the barrier and never ran.

“He raced up to nine years of age. No disrespect intended to today’s champions, like Winx (22 consecutive race wins so far) but I suspect there might have been stiffer race competition around back then.”  

(Gloaming raced on for another year - to 1925 - and is now acknowledged with 57 wins from 67 race starts.)

But the initial reason Col Chaston rang Weekender was remembering an article I’d featured last year about famous Newcastle farrier J.E.(Ted) Boadle and an exquisite miniature set of blacksmiths tools and a mini forge (pictured), all cleverly made from the nails he used to shoe his horses.

When Boadle died in 1952, all the flags at Broadmeadow racecourse that Saturday flew at half-mast as a sign of respect.

 “I knew him well. Boadle lived opposite us in Lille Street, New Lambton. Trainers used to walk their horses there from Broadmeadow for a feed of grass on what was called, ‘Sketchley’s Paddock’. There were only about three or four houses existing around there then.

“For years I also had a souvenir pair of horseshoes [from Boadle]. One was a steel training shoe while the other was an aluminium racing shoe. I think they were from a Melbourne Cup winner, name beginning with P, who’d come from Maitland. 

“After my father quit horseracing, he got a job on the trams. He used to drink with well-known former Newcastle jockeys [Albert] Shanahan and Jim ‘Tiny’ Mahoney at the ‘Blue Roof’ pub which used to be called the Tramways Hotel. I suppose it’s the same one called the ‘Greenroof ’ in Tudor Street, Hamilton now,” Chaston said.

Shanahan, who died in 1949, rode upwards of 1000 winners, including back-to-back Cup winners Piastre (1912) and Posinatus, an 80/1 shot (in 1913).

“In wartime 1940, with dad long retired and good racing equipment scarce and in high demand, he allowed me to sell his racing gear. He had a great saddle and fine, high leather racing boots,” Chaston said. “A year or so later he went to the races and came back pleased. ‘I saw all my riding gear again today’ he told his son.

One of the racing characters of the period was The Junction-born jockey Jim Pike who steered the legendary mount Phar Lap to victory in the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

“A story told about Pike’s apprenticeship was that people made him sit on the course fence while they threw mud at him to get him totally used to riding in the wet and mud,” Chaston said.

A story told about [jockey Jim ] Pike’s apprenticeship was that people made him sit on the course fence while they threw mud at him to get him totally used to riding in the wet and mud.

Col Chaston

The gaunt-faced Pike was also reported to be a friend of an infamous port identity who he’d bailed out of financial problems caused by gambling.

“He was a terrific-looking individual who’d walk down Hunter Street with his arms wide open, probably as a joke. People would get off the footpath, out of his way. No one was game to challenge him in case he might probably later ‘shanghai’ them onboard ships,” Chaston said.

Col Chaston didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, but instead became a railways coach builder and involved in cycling, especially as an administrator. A Life Member of the Newcastle League Cycling Club, he and fellow club stalwart Jim Sandford have a perpetual trophy named in their honour.

Both are credited with saving the Newcastle Velodrome in Chatham Street, Broadmeadow back in the early 1980s.

Back in 1976, Newcastle’s 200-metre concrete lap circuit was hailed as the world’s best small outdoor track. Built as a labour of love by volunteers, the track was originally built up to a height of four metres by spoil taken from a mine in Blackbutt Reserve.

But the final word on former jockey Albin Chaston should go to his son, Col. “I’d like to show you more about dad’s riding career, but I’ve only got a few photos and his small saddle cloth from 1918 left now,” he said. “Mum burned all his records, his scrapbooks, because she didn’t like him riding.”