BACK in the dim dark ages (the 1960s), I worked for a time on Brisbane’s former afternoon daily newspaper, The Telegraph (now a long time defunct).
Not without reason, it was regarded (in journalism then) as Brisbane’s “bloodsheet”, for it operated on what was a shoestring, compared with its much more prestigious Big Brother, the Courier Mail.It had less than half the staff of the Courier (with which it shared premises and production facilities at Bowen Hills) – and it had much less than half the time to produce its daily edition of “The Rag” than the staff at the Courier.
In fact, its journos started work at 7/7.30am and the Tele’s first edition was sold on the streets (in nearby Fortitude Valley, and Brisbane’s CBD) by 1-1.30pm. This was quite a feat, requiring maximum effort (and speed in producing advertising and editorial copy) from a pretty tight team who, as the saying goes, “knew their onions”! Many of the staff – like me – came from country journalism initially and cut their teeth in the harder world of bigcity journalism on the much-loved Tele. It was the “people’s paper” of Brisbane – and was regarded as (almost) the journalistic Bible for the metropolitan racing industry….the flat track races, the trots and the dogs.
Coming from the country, as many did, the writers and sub-editors were well versed in the nuances (and knowledge of “form” required) in the racing game……most of them, that is. I was one of the exceptions.
What I knew about horse racing, then, could be written on the back of a stamp, with a felt pen! Joining the sports reporting section was regarded, then, as one of the select appointments and there was considerable competition for a spot there.
I served for a time on the subs’ desk ( with journos who generally knew their stuff when it came to sporting parlance and what was appropriate, acceptable and accurate when it applied to racing, especially. I was pretty well versed in most sports, and in what was required in the proper reporting of it….but with racing reports, I was like a duck out of water. But I got a rude awakening, and a very hurried lesson in racing “form” when I was enlisted urgently, one day, to turn out some TIPS on that day’s racing in Sydney.
My initial response to the editor, John Wakefield (an avid racegoer and punter) was to scoff and to reply “You’ve got to be kidding!” He wasn’t …..And John wasn’t one to scoff at, I found.
“Just get on with it, son”, I was told. “Whiffler’s Tips haven’t arrived from Sydney, so you’re Whiffler today…..if you want to stay here and go into Sports. You’ve got one hour!”
A couple of the subeditors gave me some advice on how to go about it, concentrating on the standing of the horses’ jockeys, the form of the horses over their last 4 or 5 starts over the same distance, and the weights carried by them, on that day. So I set about the task in a daze, full of enthusiasm (to keep my job) but with little knowledge of racing to back it up (and “back it in”).
The result was outstanding, and no-one was more surprised than me. I picked five winners, two seconds and a third; I had picked the field! John Wakefield was ecstatic, I was just amazed…and I begged him “Don’t do that to me again, please.” Ah, the memories!!