Up until a few weeks ago it would be fair comment that the Turkington family from up at Pilton on the Darling Downs would be the envy of many. Current owners Gary and Phoebe Turkington are both well-known and respected thoroughbred racing indentities across the length and breadth of Australia. Gary is the fourth generation of his family to operate what is Queensland’s oldest family operated thoroughbred stud – Wattle Brae – which has been in the Turkington family for over 100 years. For her part, Phoebe came into Gary’s life after having had a distinguished background in the media. They’ve always been an innovative couple, not frightened to try new ideas to assist their stud’s success. In fact 15 or 16 years ago when I canvassed numerous racing entities to put their business on this brand new technology called the Internet, it’s no secret that most openly laughed at me and thought the idea was ludicrous and would never work. Not so the Turkington’s, who could see merit in the idea – and so it came to pass that they led the way in the thoroughbred breeding industry in Australia by being the first stud in the nation to advertise on the world-wide web. Today it’s hard to imagine our world without the Internet. Apart from their leading role for their industry nationally in that regard – closer to home Gary Turkington has also had additional involvement at a senior level in thoroughbred racing via having spent time on the respective committee of both the Thoroughbred Breeders Queensland Association and the Toowoomba Turf Club.

Along the way Gary and Phoebe Turkington lovingly welcomed three daughters to share their world at Wattle Brae Stud and like all others on the land they’ve had to overcome the usual problems that beset all people domiciled in rural areas – such as drought, flood and fire. They accept that’s simply part of life and goes with the territory. But by any fair assessment, in racing parlance, the Turkington family has gone from bolting to being under the whip in just a few short weeks. They lost their resident stallion Court Command. He died on the operating table at a veterinary clinic where he’d been taken, due to a colic attack. As if that wasn’t bad enough at the start of the 2103/2014 breeding season, they also recently went within a whisker of losing their 16-year-old daughter Paris.

I asked Gary Turkington if he’d document what happened to Paris in a recent horrific accident that made national headlines, as the family struggles to come to terms with their precious daughter’s dilemma and Gary said, “Paris went into a party in Toowoomba (on Saturday evening 24 August) to more like a gathering than a party, with maybe 15 or 16 kids there. It was a farewell for one of their mates who got accepted into the Queensland Institute of Sport in Brisbane and he’s only 15. They’re a really good bunch of kids, so they went to this party and because they were mostly 15 and 16YO’s it finished at midnight. They had a little brasier at the back of the house, which had some coals in it and because it was in Toowoomba the night was nice and cool. The fire was actually put out and one of the 15YO kids found a bottle of metho and most of them had gone inside and were starting to leave. Paris and her mate Matt (Richards) were sitting out near the fire and this kid came out with the bottle of metho and got a bit in the cap and flicked a bit of metho onto the fire and the witnesses are saying what happened next is what can happen with any inflammable accelerants – it (the fire) jumped back into the bottle and he dropped the bottle on the ground and this two-litre bottle of metho exploded on the ground and a fireball hit Paris and Matt and gave them severe burns all down the front. Paris was taken by ambulance to the emergency ward of the General Hospital in Toowoomba where they called us and we came in at about 2 o’clock on the (Sunday) morning just before the State Emergency Service helicopter airlifted her down to the Royal Brisbane Hospital intensive care unit where she’s been for the last 24 days – in an induced coma. To date she’s had eight operations for skin grafts on lots of parts of her front and she’s in a very stable condition. The first of the skin grafts have all healed very well and we’re looking forward to her being transferred over the next week or two out of there when they finish the procedures into the Burns Unit of the Royal Brisbane Hospital, which is one of the best burns units in the world. It’s become one of the best Burns Units in the world because a lot of the victims of the Bali bombings were flown to Brisbane and Perth and the government at the time decided that if there was ever going to be a horrific accident with (terrorist) bombings and that, that they were going to have to get used to treating people with burns and stuff, so they’ve put a lot of money into it and it’s absolutely first class and both Phoebe and I couldn’t be happier with the service there. It’s just a tremendous facility.”

I asked Gary what’s happening with Wattle Brae Stud given the breeding season is in full swing and he said, “Ian (Brady) has been running everything at Wattle Brae. He’s been my manager for 14 years. He knows what to do with everything, but Phoebe and I have been in hospital every day beside Paris, as even though she’s in an induced coma, she still comes out of it and it’s good to know that we’re there with her to try and calm her down and make sure that she’s not scared. Like she’s only 16 and her older sister Romy, who is 18 and is in her second year at the University of Queensland studying Business Commerce, has skipped a few lectures and skipped a couple of weeks at Uni, so that she can take a turn at hospital to be with Paris.”

Asked what the long term future holds for Paris and what on-going costs are going to be involved, Gary pondered for a while before replying “The hospital have told us that Paris will be in Brisbane for probably 12 months for physiotherapy and treatment for the burns. She’s going to be in hospital for at least another three months and it’s going to cost a fortune. She’s also going to miss a year at school so she’ll have to get special teachers and that’s going to be very expensive. The long term prognosis is good, but you’ve got to do what they tell you. You’ve got to do all the stuff and not just suddenly go home after they let you out of hospital, because if you don’t get the massages and you don’t get the burns treatments done properly you’ll have scarring. It’s a whole programme they put you into.”

Answering the question as to whether his daughter would have permanent facial scarring for life, Gary said, “We don’t know and they (specialists) don’t know, they can’t tell. Everyone heals differently and they think she won’t, but later on there’ll probably have to be plastic surgery and that sort of thing.”

Gary Turkington paid special tribute to the youngsters who attend The Glennie School in Toowoomba by saying, “the fundraising idea was instigated by the kids from The Glennie School and in particular the Grade 11 students there. All of our three girls have gone to The Glennie School and all started going there from Grade 7. Our youngest daughter Freya, who is 14, is currently going there. She’s in Grade 9 and Paris is in Grade 11 there. The kids in Grade 11 wanted to do fundraising and the fundraising is not about anyone else in our family except Paris and Phoebe and I are there to help out. For instance on the fundraising night in Toowoomba (12 November) we are trying to get a doctor from the Royal Brisbane Hospital to attend and address those present, as we want some of the funds raised on the night to go to the burns unit as well. We want to have some good come out of all this. You know we need to educate people about the dangers of fires and accelerants. It’s conceivable that if we spent a million dollars on educating the young people about the dangers, that we could save $10 million in hospital bills. And it’s not even all about the hospital bills. Look at all the grief of the victims and their families that you can’t put a dollar figure on. There are currently 18 burns victims in the Hospital burns unit and it’s estimated that three-quarters of them could have been avoided.”

This Media Release was issued yesterday by family friend David Goss in respect of the upcoming fundraiser reads:


The Glennie School and The Toowoomba Turf Club are combining to host a fund-raising dinner in aid of a Trust Fund that has been established for Glennie student, Paris Turkington.


Special guest speaker will be Peter Moody who will tell the story of Black Caviar, Australia’s favourite race horse. The dinner will be held at the Toowoomba Turf Club on Tuesday 12th November at 7.00pm.


Paris Turkington, who recently suffered severe burns to her body, faces a long, slow and hard battle on the road to recovery. It is hoped that the dinner, along with auction items, will provide significant funds for the Trust Fund, to aid her recovery.


Tickets can be booked from 20th September by contacting the Glennie School on 46888888 or via the Glennie School website:


Cost: $190 per ticket or 1,900 for a table of ten – payment required at time of booking.


For further information about the evening, or to offer auction items, please contact David Goss on (07) 46393359.


Today on there is the second montage of photos from Doomben last Saturday. On there’s the story on an Australian stallion siring the second 2YO winner of the new season in New Zealand, as well as the new breeders initiatives for harness racing in NSW are outlined, whilst on Brad Bishop looks at Victorian racing.

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