By Brad Kingsbury
VETERAN Pakenham Racing Club committeeman Ron Carroll is from the old school – literally.
Ron crossed the state from his home in the western districts of Victoria to take up his first teaching post at the Pakenham Consolidated School 54 years ago and never left the area.
Now almost 74, Ron is well known in the community and highly respected throughout local racing, an industry he quickly learned was a huge part of life in West Gippsland.
“My first day at the school was the start of term on the first Tuesday in February,” he recalled.
“The first Wednesday turned out to be Pakenham Cup day and my boss, Charlie Hicks, announced to everyone that tomorrow would be a ‘race-day timetable’.
“That meant that all the kids would be well home on the buses early, before the traffic, and of course we all went to the Cup.
“It was all done very officially, but we always got there a bit earlier than we probably should have. It was great fun really, but that was the importance placed on the day by everyone. It was the normal thing.”
That was Ron’s first Pakenham Cup and, except for one year when he was in New Zealand, he has not missed one since.
Ron’s passion for horse racing grew from his childhood going to the races with family and friends in the 1940s and 1950s and that extended to a lifelong dedication to the ‘sport of kings’ at Pakenham.
“I had a country background from the Koroit district and that’s where I got into racing. I used to go to Warrnambool races and have sixpence each way on horses with the bookies as a kid. They had no trouble taking the money I can tell you,” he chuckled.
“Coming to Pakenham, while I knew there was a racecourse there, I didn’t know any more about the area at all really. I came here for a year or two and have been here ever since.”
Ron has seen many changes, both locally and within the racing industry over the time he has been involved, with Pakenham race meetings in bygone days boasting three rows of bookmakers and hosting huge crowds.
Those race days were events and Ron witnessed the characters and the side shows like the illegal post meeting two-up school that created the unique atmosphere of the day.
“More people would come to the races by train than they do these days and you’d walk across to the station and there would always be the two-up school going,” he said.
“I remember I had 10 shillings on the ground one day and there was a call from the back ‘righto you blokes’ and we all had to bolt because the coppers had arrived to break it up.”
His interest in racing has led to breeding and owning horses and Ron rates his first winner at the local New Year’s Day picnic meeting as one of his major highlights of his time.
By Brad Kingsbury