When his eyes closed for the final time last week, the Queensland harness racing lost a man whose amazing ability to research and write stories will live on throughout the annals of time. Raymond Bruce Lowndes passed away in Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital last Thursday at the age of 70 but his legacy is readable each day in the wonderful series of harness racing books he researched and penned.

In his 2003 published book, in an “About the author” segment, it was advised of Raymond Lowndes that he was “born in Brisbane in 1945, started work in March 1961 and after a short stint in the Army in 1965, he began a thirty-year career in the public sector with the last ten in the Human Resource Development field. He started his own business in June 1995 as a private training consultant in the same HR field and travels the State providing interpersonal skills courses in both the private and public sectors”.

I’ve worked out two things are very hard yakka in racing – one is tipping – and the other is selling racing books. Needless to say Raymond Lowndes wouldn’t have died wealthy as a result of his book sales as I don’t know an Australian based author of racing books that ever has. It is, put simply, a labour of love.

In what was arguably his most popular book entitled, “From Kedron to Albion Park – A pictorial history of trotting in Queensland 1880-1968 Book Two 1950-1968” (pictured) Raymond Lowndes noted on the back cover, “This is the second of two books on the history of harness racing in Queensland and begins in 1950, and takes us to the opening of Albion Park in September 1968. Covering the busiest two decades in the sport’s history, it reviews all of the clubs which raced, together with stories of over 160 personalities and is complemented by over 500 photographs”.

Oops stop right there – it was those three words and two numbers, namely “160 personalities” and “over 500 photographs” where Raymond Lowndes talent shone like the Evening Star in the night sky. You see he didn’t distinguish between the big time or small time trainer or participant. In his eyes they all had equal standing. And here’s a sample of names he threw at readers to prove that. He wrote in the aforesaid book, “But mostly, this book is the story of horsemen and horsewoman and families who to this day support the code. Individual stories of people like Dr Max Poulter, Sam Paterson, Anita Zahnow, Harry Pledger, Jack Vorpagel, Charlie Buckler, The Schapers, Doug Short, Reg Larsen, Bernie Higgins and Bob Nelson, Otto Stephan, Charlie Kaehler, Doug McMillan, Charlie McDeed, Joyce Scott, Arthur ‘Stinger’ Rae, The Manzelmanns, Jack Brownson, Lorraine Ellis, Seymour Gomersall, Wally and Jack Rix, Dudley Lucas, Clarrie Bullimore, The Wurzbachers, Les Edwards, Bobby Hunter, Stan Tappenden, Kevon and Scotty Glendon, Sam Zammit and Trevor ‘Bijo’ Dwyer are featured throughout the pages”.

The back page of the book was adorned with a photo of Curly Adios, driven by a young man named Sam Zammit, winning the first ever race at Albion Park under lights on 7 September 1968 at 7/2. For the record, Ray advised that Harleray clocked in second at 33/1 and Victory Command was third 5/1, in what was undoubtedly one of the greatest days of racing across all three codes in Queensland in the twentieth century.

The amount of research that Raymond Lowndes undertook for his harness racing books must have been mind boggling. From a personal perspective, his work fascinated me, to the point whereby I arranged to meet him at his unit at Sherwood in the western suburbs of Brisbane one day, over a decade ago. At that meeting I offered to have my IT people construct a website for him so that his books could be advertised on the wonder that is the world-wide web. I even offered to pay for that website’s construction. He thanked me for the offer, but explained that there was no financial gain for him in having orders come in one at a time for his books, as he had to get the publishers of his books – Kwik Kopy – to do up each book individually as an order would come in, so after paying them to do that, there was very little profit margin in the book, as he couldn’t increase the costs of the books after their launch to cover the laborious task of one copy being printed.

But nevertheless buoyed on by the success of his first book which was published in 1999 entitled “50 Years of trotting at the Brisbane RNA Show – 1948 to 1998”, he then wrote “From Kedron to Albion Park: A History of Trotting in Queensland, 1880-1849. Book One” in 2003 and followed that up with “From Kedron to Albion Park – A pictorial history of trotting in Queensland 1880-1968 Book Two 1950-1968” which was published in 2003. Later on he wrote, amongst others, a terrific book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, entitled “Stormy Water – Queensland’s first star under lights”, which as the name implies was all about the wonderful Coy family Warwick trained pacer that won at long odds-on, on opening night at Albion Park. Stormy Water went to Albion Park opening night as the star attraction coming off wins in both the Redcliffe Derby and the Rocklea 2000 earlier in the year. He was unbackable in Race 3 on opening night, starting at the prohibitive odds of 6/1 on, but the big crowd didn’t care. Every man, woman and child watched in awe as the horse dubbed “Queensland’s best pacer” won by 20 yards (about 18.5 metres) with Doug Coy steering. The sport of harness racing had just come of age and incredibly 14,000 people attended opening night at Albion Park on 7 September 1968, just one month after a new Premier named Joh Bjelke-Petersen had taken office. And 60 bookmakers fielded on opening night. Imagine that – 60 bookmakers – sadly that 60 became zero a long time ago at the same venue and the 14,000 attendees isn’t even 140 today, yet for some strange reason, some think that we still go okay, but I guess the power of positive thinking allows all sorts of delusional thoughts.

Raymond Lowndes wrote in his second book that there were harness tracks at “Redcliffe, Southport, Rocklea, Maryborough, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Gympie, Warwick, Dalby, Boonah, Mackay, Charters Towers, Townsville, Cairns, Innisfail, Ayr and Tweed Heads”. Sadly in 2016 there are but two TAB tracks remaining in Queensland – Albion Park and Redcliffe and a non-TAB track at Marburg.

His book gives an historical insight into the number of harness racing horses and licensees that were around in July 1958 via this statement from Page 33 of Part 2 of his book which will make past and modern day racing administrators of the sport of harness racing cringe and reflect as to where the once great harness racing industry went wrong. Raymond Lowndes wrote, “On the positive side however, in delivering the good news in the Second Annual Report, in July 1958 (President of the Trotting Board of Queensland) Max Poulter stated ‘the number of registrations have doubled from the previous year, with 1,280 horses registered (in Queensland) and 254 licences issued to drivers and trainers. There were 33 (standardbred) sires registered and 68 foalings notified’”. But it was no doubt with a great degree of sadness that Raymond Lowndes penned the following statement on Page 27, “In 1951, there were a staggering 115 Show Societies in Queensland annually staging trotting events, in 2002 the number had dropped to 17”. (Editor’s note: And there was a time between 2002 and the present day when “insurance costs” were blamed for that number dropping from “17” to zero – albeit now there are a handful of shows that have allowed harness racing to return).

Raymond Lowndes book gave an interesting insight into where the trainers and drivers of the champion pacers would go to race their horses, in a bygone era, they were happy to take the horses to the people, thus allowing the general public to see champions of their era racing at their local track. He noted all of Hondo Grattan, Paleface Adios and Gammalite raced at the Tweed Heads track, whilst South Burnett champ Wondai’s Mate raced in Maryborough.

And if women think they suddenly came of age when a female jockey won the Melbourne Cup in 2015, they should think again. Raymond Lowndes featured a photo of “noted lady rider, Rona Fass on record holder Koala Dillon, 1939” on Page 137 of his Part 2, just 76 years before Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup. Or 64 years ago “champion lady rider who was just as adept in the gig, Ilma Walker, driving Pretty Jewel at the Mount Gravatt Show (in Brisbane), 1951” on Page 21. And 45 years ago his research revealed that there was the “Inaugural Ladies Final at the Brisbane RNA in 1971”, the same year that a special “Ladies Race Presentation” was made at the Ipswich trots to each of women drivers at the time – “Lorraine Poole, Anita Zahnow, Linda Schonauer and Lesley Bastin”. And needless to say Raymond Lowndes had even found photos of all those events to back up his text. And in the same era – on a nearby page – there’s a great photo of “Adios Amigo and Bob Jackson after breaking the Boonah track record in 2.2.7, early 1970’s.” Both Bob Jackson and Adios Amigo have departed this life, but those of us who were privileged enough to be here to witness the early years of Albion Park night trotting remember the duo well. In fact Adios Amigo ran second at 4/1 in the final race on opening night at Albion Park to the Alf Phillis driven, even money favourite Chev Vonne. Adios Amigo lived to the ripe old age of 33 years in 1992 – and saw out his days, just up the road from where Washpool Lodge is located today at Aratula.

And there’s no shadow of doubt that Raymond Lowndes research makes it easier for people like myself to write stories. You can bet “London to a brick on” that he would have thoroughly enjoyed researching the life story of the great North Queensland pacer Cane Smoke. In an abbreviated version of what he wrote in his book, Raymond Lowndes stated, “In 1981 Brian (Manzelmann) was in Sydney with mate Charlie Pearce, they’d gone to Rooty Hill to have a look at some horses and his attention was taken by one particular animal which Charlie described as a $250 ‘dogger’. This ‘dogger’ was owned by Charlie and Tod Sloan. The unnamed 5-year-old had been broken in, gaited but never raced and Brian asked if he could give him a go. So ‘Smokey’ as Charlie’s son Shawn had named him, went north to Mackay. Brian recalled, ‘We had to give him a proper name and I kept thinking about all the smoke from the cane farms for six months of the year, so I decided to call him Cane Smoke’”. Raymond Lowndes went on to advise his readers, “Cane Smoke finished racing in 1992 and in a career which spanned 11 years, he won one in every three races he contested. His amazing record shows he won 123 races, was second 73 times and third on 74 occasions. He also holds the record for the number of wins in the season, 34. He broke two minutes in Townsville on 14th December 1985 when he ran 1.59.46, where he held the track and class records for three seasons. He also held records at Mackay and Rockhampton. In his career, the gelding only raced at four tracks, those (three) previously mentioned and Albion Park where he won and ran second in two starts. Cane Smoke also broke Paleface Adios’ record of 109 wins, and his total of 123 is an Australian record which still stands to this day. Cane Smoke died on the 2nd of August, 1995”.

From a personal viewpoint, since my 48-year involvement in the racing industry began via calling the trots as a 12-year-old kid in Maryborough, standing next to the late Stan Tappenden, whose biography incidentally Raymond wrote in Part 2 – I’ve never been fortunate enough to meet any other man who was a walking encyclopaedia on the racing industry, like Raymond Lowndes was. Sadly he has departed this life, but his name and his research will live on as long as the harness racing industry in Queensland and indeed Australia survives. It goes without saying that “the harness racing industry owes him an eternal debt of gratitude for his extraordinary contribution”.

Raymond Lowndes funeral is at 2pm tomorrow, Thursday 21 January, at the Chapel of Centenary Memorial Gardens, corner Wacol Station Road and Wolston Road, Sumner. The funeral director is Metropolitan Funerals Toowong on (07) 3870 1044.

I haven’t had time to do it up for today’s story, but for tomorrow, courtesy of Raymond Lowndes books – and to pay tribute to the man on the day of his funeral – I will reproduce here the full results of the opening night of harness racing at Albion Park which appeared on Page 613 of one of his books.

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