JOCKEYS: Mervyn Maynard and Darby McCarthy

My father gave me the love of racehorses. Apart from the political side of our family, sport has played a crucial part in lifting up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the struggles and creating opportunities to thrive.

Research By Professor John Maynard on Episode 1

Randwick racecourse. Royal Randwick as it is widely known and alongside Melbourne’s Flemington the two most famous courses in Australia and two of the most famous courses in the world.

I have been coming to Randwick since I was a young boy in the 1950s. In the 70s and 80s I saw some of the truly great champion racehorses like Luskin Star, Manikato and Kingston Town race here. I met famous trainers like Tommy Smith at Tulloch Lodge. Bart Cummings signed a yearling sale book for me when I was aged only eleven. Bart was something of a hero for me at the time and even more so his great champion Galilee winner of the Melbourne, Sydney and Caulfield Cups in 1966.

Clearly my connection to this place was through my father Merv Maynard alongside Darby McCarthy two Aboriginal jockeys who have been inducted into the Aboriginal Sports Hall of Fame.

Both my father and Darby McCarthy were blessed with the riding skill and beautiful soft hands to encourage horses to ‘run like the wind’. They were in partnership with the animals they rode and as Darby reflected to me some years back ‘it was all due to the beautiful horse’s mate’.

Peter St Albans

Before I discuss the careers of my father and Darby I take time to reflect on another rider Peter St Albans. St Albans won the 1875 Doncaster Handicap and All Aged Stakes here at Randwick aged only twelve and the next year he won the 1876 Melbourne Cup on the same horse Briseis when aged only thirteen. For a long period of time in the 1970s to 1990s there was much speculation by scholars and racing historians that Peter St Albans was in fact Aboriginal and had been taken in by Victorian trainer James Wilson as a lost ‘waif’ or orphan. Others raised the idea that St Albans was in fact the illegitimate child of the trainer and that his mother was a servant at the trainers property. St Albans later became Peter Bowden taking the surname of a labourer on Wilsons property who alongside his wife raised Peter as one of their own children. In recent times the idea of St Albans being Aboriginal has been challenged by journalist Max Presnell and racing historian Andrew Lemon both in collaboration with descendants of the Bowden family. From the Bowden families’ perspective, they are firmly not Aboriginal and for me there is no question about that. They are adamant that he was not a waif but the legitimate son of Michael and Catherine Bowden. The Bowden family stated that the reason for the use of the name St Albans was the need to disguise his age because he was too young to ride in the Melbourne Cup being only twelve. But countering that there was no restriction at all on the age of jockeys at that time. There are records of the period where some very well-known riders were aged only ten, eleven or twelve. The descendants of the Bowden family now state that in fact Peter was Michael Bowden Jnr. The simple reason for this appears to be that they have documentation on Michael but nothing on Peter. Historian Andrew Lemon in his well-researched study supported the Michael Bowden theory as put forward by the Bowden family through a probate file in relation to a family dispute over Michael Bowden Snrs estate. In this file Michael Bowden Jnr is recognized as a deceased trainer and Lemon not unreasonably concludes that this is the evidence that Michael and Peter are one and the same person thinking there was only one jockey/trainer in the family.  Sometime back I unearthed a newspaper account that reveals that Bowden a former jockey and stable hand for James Wilson had setup a training establishment in Adelaide in 1882 having originally gone over with a group of James Wilson’s horses as a horse handler. This Bowden states in the press that his famous brother Peter St Albans was going to take up the position as stable jockey. Michael is the only possible candidate to be the other jockey trainer in the Bowden family. He was clearly not a top rider like Peter and probably did not ride for long before turning to a role as a stable-hand and later trainer. If this is the case it again opens the question who was Peter St Albans?

As I concluded in my most recent book Aborigines and the Sport of Kings whilst not claiming that Peter St Albans is Aboriginal I am stating that the identity of the man remains an unsolved mystery. What is indisputable is that Peter, whatever his identity may prove to be, was an outstanding jockey. His story remains a crucial one in the annals of Aboriginal racing history, and he remains forever unequivocally tied to the Bowden family.

Merv Maynard had a very difficult early young life. His father Fred Maynard was a very outspoken early Aboriginal activist fighting for justice and equality for Aboriginal people. Merv’s father was under constant police surveillance and threat. The family were targeted for ‘special attention’ including threats against Maynard’s young children. This is confirmed through my father recalling that at the age of five or six he and another young Koori boy were picked up by the police and taken to Canterbury Police Station. The time spent in the police station terrified Merv to the extent that he recalls it as the most frightening moment of his life.

Merv Maynard would have a very long career as a jockey riding from 1949 to 1994. He rode internationally in New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia riding more than 1500 winners including group and listed winners in four countries. He rode in the 1952 Melbourne Cup and rode for high profile owners like Sir Frank Packer, the Sultan of Jahor and American millionaire Wall Street investor John. De Blois Wack. My father rode a number of big winners at Randwick including the AJC Shorts Handicap and AJC Cannonbury Stakes and was beaten in a photo finish in the 1951 Epsom Handicap. My fathers most famous connection with Randwick occurred in 1952 when as a young nineteen-year-old he won the first Queens Cup. It is a fascinating story. In 1952 Princess Elizabeth, had married Prince Phillip and was on her way to Australia via South Africa on her honeymoon and one of her engagements in Australia was to attend a race meeting at Randwick where she would present the trophy to the winner of the King’s Cup. Whilst in South Africa the Royal couple received news that the King had died and they returned immediately to England cancelling the Australian visit. The King’s Cup was renamed the Queen’s Cup and my father won the race on outsider Salamanca. The race itself was considered a match race between the two champion racehorses of the time Hydrogen and Dalray. My father had different ideas and stole the race:

As Maynard approached the long Randwick straight he let loose on Salamanca racing to the front, a tough seasoned stayer carrying the featherweight of 45.5 kilograms. Jockeys Keith Nuttal and Darby Munro on the two champion horses had been playing a cat and mouse game with each other and were completely caught by surprise. Salamanca set sail for the post, leaving the others with far too much to do.

My father proudly received the accolades of the crowd at the presentation made by the Governor General. His only disappointment and something he would echo many times over the years was that ‘if only the King hadn’t died he would have met the then Princess and later Queen Elizabeth’. Forty years later the Queen was coming to Australia for a Royal visit that included a visit to Randwick for the races and fortieth running of the Queens Cup. Out of the blue my mother took a call that said it was the Premiers department and that they had received notification from Buckingham Palace that the Queen had requested that she would like to be introduced to Merv Maynard the winner of the race forty years before. My mother thought it was someone pulling her leg and was a joke and hung up the phone. Bob Charley a good friend of the family and at the time the AJC Chairman then rang my parents to say the invitation was in fact true. So, in 1992 my father was introduced to the Monarch. The Royals are keen and knowledgeable racegoers and were amazed to know that at the age of sixty my father was still riding. He would retire finally in 1994.

Meeting the Queen was a highlight but he held his induction to the Aboriginal Sports Hall of Fame as his greatest achievement. My father’s recent passing has left a huge gap in our lives but his achievements and inspiration will stay with us forever.

The life and times of Richard Lawrence ‘Darby McCarthy can be truly regarded as the quintessential ‘rags to riches’ story. Darby McCarthy was born at Cunnamulla one of twelve children. Darby later reflected ‘he was not from the top end of Cunnamulla either’. The family lived under a tin lean to with a garbage tip on one side and the sewerage outlet on the other. But McCarthy’s incredible skill in the saddle would eventually take him all the way to Chantilly in France where he lived in a mansion complete with a French maid and a chauffeur driven car. Darby McCarthy would ride for some of the richest owners in the world including the Rothschilds, Wildensteins and Prince Ally Khan. He would party with movie stars like Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Lee Marvin and Rock Hudson. He would win some of the greatest races in the country including the AJC Derby, AJC Epsom, AJC Tancred Stakes, Brisbane Cup, Doomben Ten Thousand and 3 Stradbroke Handicaps. Darby would later battle weight problems, racing officials and personal problems that would see his career nosedive through the 1970s. He would make a number of short-lived comebacks but could not regain his once lofty position as one of the greatest riders in the country.

I can remember I had a picture from a newspaper stuck to my bedroom wall of Darby getting out of a Rolls Royce at Royal Ascot for English Derby Day. George Moore had insisted taking Darby to Moss Brothers of Regent Street in London tailors and famous for suit hire. So, this picture sees Darby alighting from the Rolls Royce in top hat and tails.

Darby was certainly the jockey for the swinging sixties a time of incredible social and political global change. Vietnam, civil rights in the United States and suddenly Aboriginal issues gaining media coverage with Charles Perkins and the Freedom Rides, Gurindji walk-off at Wavehill, 1967 Referendum and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Darby McCarthy’s older brother Ted was also a great rider. He was given the nickname ‘Scobie’ in reference to another famous jockey Scobie Breasly. Scobie McCarthy the elder brother had been prevented from riding any further east in Queensland in the 1950s than Dalby through a colour bar. Thankfully by the time Darby came through it was somewhat more relaxed and his god given talent ensured he could not be stopped. Darby was also confident, proud and not afraid to speak out. A newspaper editorial letter highlighted a reader complaining about reporters continually referring to Darby as Aboriginal. McCarthy himself made reply to the letter in the press:

I think the man is sincere and trying to be fair but he misses the whole point. If any newspaperman wants to do me a favour he can call me an Aborigine as often as he mentions my name – because that is what I am, and if I am going to be a success it is important that I be known as an Aboriginal success.

He famously won the AJC Epsom and Derby on the one afternoon at Randwicks AJC Carnival in 1969. In one golden afternoon McCarthy won the two premier events the AJC Derby on Divide and Rule and in the very next race rode Broker’s Tip to victory in the AJC Epsom. McCarthy rode Divide and Rule a treat, being placed beautifully throughout and enjoyed a travel-free-passage.

The gates opened and from 18 draw, whack I’m one off the fence first time past the winning post and guess what horse pulls its nose up on my inside and alongside my horses girth. Darb, Darb’. ‘Yeah George (Moore), he hangs in George’. So I went down the hill and round the corner. ‘Darb, Darb, yeah I know your there George’, and up to the mile post, mile turn and George dropped back a little bit and I’d moved to around third. So, I’m just sitting there and had a little lunch and a smoke and we go past the railway side and I just went click, click and we won the race by four lengths.

The victory in the Epsom on Brokers Tip was even more impressive. Trapped in a tight pocket McCarthy forced a passage hooking out from behind four runners to charge down the outside and snatch victory from Roy Higgins on Alrello. Darby McCarthy would reflect to me:

            Brother I’ve been right up on top and I’ve been way down there at the bottom. And, baby believe me, it’s a lot better being up.