After my mates have battled the early morning peak hour traffic from Springwood for an hour and a half to travel just 20km to the Geebung Polo Club they arrive at 7.30am and we’re off to Deagon for the Racing Queensland Annual Meeting.
It pisses down rain on the way, and as we drive Rob Heathcoate’s new state of the art Eagle Farm stables leased at Australia’s highest priced rates from the BRC are flooding, although we will not discover this until well after the Annual Meeting has been done and dusted, along with the industry participants who have attended in.
Thanks to my brilliant back-street navigational skills borne of long local knowledge we arrive early, sign in and enter the room we have been directed to where the meeting will be held, but take just 2 steps past door and stop as if frozen by a bad guy’s laser.
The room we have just entered is the Racing Queensland board room, and the only non-audio visual furniture inside is a long, expensive looking table with a lectern at its end that is surrounded by 12 very plush padded leather seats.
My colleagues are from the South Side of the Vegas River, and thus by definition a little slow, so while they stand rooted to the spot like spotlit rabbits waiting for some authority figure to tell them whether to sit or stand I shout ‘You Beauty!’ and dive into the chair nearest the speaker’s stand and once I’ve planted my Bunger Boy arse into the luxurious leather I beckon them over and they join me, and soon the grandstand side of the boardroom table is filled by a racing writer and a whole bunch of dogs folk from the boonies.
It’s socialism in action, and Lenin and the bright young boys from back in the days of the Revolution would have been proud of us.
The crowd files in but I don’t really notice them because the hash cookie I ate on the way’s just starting to kick in and for a moment or three the room’s spinning and I lose a couple of minutes of time, but then the doors snaps open and Whirlwind flies in with ET in his wake and I snap to attention.
Whirlwind is Racing Queensland Chairman Steve Wilson, the stockbroker, entrepreneur, businessman, investor and leader of the Southbank anti-revolution that usurped the poor and replaced them with the rich and came up with one of most unusual inner-city developments in the land, a wonder zone filled with dark and light and wonder and despair 100 hectares full of unresolved flood problems.
Without fanfare or delay Whirlwind plonks his papers down on the lectern and makes the introductions. The snotty nosed little schoolboy to his left who looks like he’s just got out of bed and has forgotten to shave his bum fluff is ET, Eliot Forbes the Desert Vet turned Apple Isle racing boss turned Racing Queensland CEO.
Dale Cartwright the dogs industry representative who I later learn avoids local industry representatives like the plague is in the room and says hello when introduced. That is the first and last word we hear from Cartwright all meeting long.
Board member Sandra Dawson has made the trek from North Queensland to attend which gives her a huge tick and whole of kudos from me, and she smiles and waves as Whirlwind reads out her name and welcomes her. Dawson is a well-dressed, pleasant seeming person and I immediately warm to her, although the depth of my affection is never tested because she too remains silent for the rest of the meeting.
The Racing Queensland Board Member representative for the trots Margaret Reynolds, a long-time Kevin Seymour employee, supporter and stooge is nowhere to be seem.
The Thoroughbred Industry’s board representative Mark Sowerby – who not a soul among the the thousands of racing people that I talk to has ever met – is also conspicuous by his absence, and there is no Nifty Nev or Whimpey Dave either. In fact these is not a single solitary person in attendance from the gallops industry despite that code’s ongoing issues with governance and the Eagle Farm track, and the fact that the meeting is being held within 15 minutes drive of the metro thoroughbred nerve centre.
Given the lack of industry turnout I am starting to wonder if the gallops folk aren’t starting to deserve what they get, then I remember that it’s still 8 in the morning (I’ve lost track of time because I haven’t been to bed) and that most racing folk are still finishing up their morning’s work and because they are committed to animal welfare and trying to make a living out of meagre prize money checks the horses come first.
Most of the management team are present and, after I had snaffled the front row seats at the board table and geed on the dogs and trots people to take the rest, they are standing or sitting on hastily procured temporary seating in the back room.
As they are being introduced I notice that leading Greyhound trainer and industry representative Michael ‘Mick’ Zammit, a long time mate of mine who I got wet for waiting outside for him to arrive, has finally lobbed in and is standing to the side of the RQ executives near the door. I later learn that heavy traffic and rain has turned Mick’s journey into a two and a half hour one way trek, which shows how passionate he is about the industry and how much he actually cares.
I don’t pay much attention to the RQ execs as they are introduced, other than Mary Collier, which is probably because she is much younger than I expected and acutely attractive in an unexpected way. Hetty Johnston avows that I’m a misogynist so I note the appearance of Ms Collier just so that the multiple-fail wannabe politician can continue under the delusion that she is a prescient judge of stage-written character and believe that she is correct.
There are no racing journalists present which is both a surprise and an abject disappointment. The first at the Gold Coast doesn’t kick off until after midday so there is no excuse for the Bantam, Racin’ Nathan, Ben Dorries or Obie not to be there, and I am wondering what pressing engagement the quartet may have at 8 o’clock on a Thursday morning that could be more important than the future of the industry that they are paid to cover from a news and information perspective, but my thoughts on the matter don’t go any further because Whirlwind kicks off and starts talking.
This is Whirlwind’s first Annual Meeting with a full year in the job under his belt and big things are expected of him but he disappoints early, for the report he is delivering is read directly from the statutory authority’s annual report, and makes no mention of post-30 June events such as the ongoing Eagle Farm track debacle, the rumors surrounding the purchase of a property at Yamanto for a greyhound (and quite possibly harness) track, the CEO’s pumped up CV, the swirling allegations of widespread race fixing and the arrests, and the buzz topic of the past 2 years Animal Welfare.
There’s not a word about any of them, just a whole lot of self-congratulatory waffle about the Racing Queensland turnaround that would leave anyone not schooled up on the accounts actually believing that these blokes and birds running the control body had done anything other than Eliot Forbes to utilise his rudimentary skills in cooking books to make a simple asset revaluation and a $10 million drawn down loan look to the innocent like a $20 million financial turnaround.
He’s not fooling anyone in this room.
Whirwind doesn’t know it quite yet but there’s a whole lot of brains in among this mob of average-appearing sans-suit working class punters who have braved the traffic and the rain to attend an 8am meeting that was clearly deliberately scheduled for a time that would disencourage the punters to attend, and is being held in a suburb that Racing Queensland’s own commissioned studies show is 50 miles away from the main identified harness and greyhound racing centres in the South and West.
The Chairman finishes his rambling address and invites questions from the floor, and suspecting that there is a degree of apprehensiveness among the industry participants present about going first I jump to my feet to set the tone of the morning and show the rank and file that its okay to have a crack by declaring it game on.
“G’day Whirlwind!” I cheerfully declare as the 2nd hash cookie kicks in. “I’m Archie Butterfly, how the hell are you all on this fine morning?”
Time stands still for about 3 seconds as Whirlwind stares at me and ET glares malevolently, which if you could see how short and weedy the Desert Vet is would have drawn a smile to your face as it did mine.
In that brief pause you could have cut the air with a knife, but being the polished performer that he is old Whirlwind quickly recovers his mojo.
“Welcome Mr Butterfly” he snarls politely. “Many of us are aware of your writing and your views”.
‘Cracker Whirlwind’ I reply happily.
“Now son tell me, why the f*ck did ET jump into the election fray and support the LNP?” I say, and if Forbes had a gamma ray gun I would have been vaporised and lying in a heap of ashes on the floor.
Heh, hey, hey I thought to myself.
This prick’s bitten the hook and I’ve got him right in the middle of my palm.
Now all I have to do is get over the top of Whirlwinds and chuck a spinning wedge in between them.
But the Chairman’s sharp and I’m two hash cookies and a gallon of goon to the wind.
It’s not going to be an easy task.
But I’ve got Dogs and Overs on my side, or by it anyway, and the latter’s made a handsome living on the professional punt for the past 30 years in the face of all sorts of adversity.
I haven’t surrounded myself with success by accident, and reach out and touch him for luck.
To be continued