When his eyes closed for the last time late last Friday night, the Brisbane racing industry lost a wonderful ambassador with the passing of Herbert Francis (call me Wayne) Wilson who, given the wonders of modern medicine, was taken far too early at age 66.

Since his passing, it’s been well documented how Wayne Wilson cut his teeth at calling races in Gladstone as a 12-year-old boy in 1960, prior to his coming to Brisbane to work for radio station 4BC in 1969, slap bang in what could be deemed to be the halcyon days of Brisbane racing, in an era when there was fierce competition among Brisbane radio stations that all wanted to broadcast thoroughbred and harness racing. Night trotting had just kicked off in September of 1968, only months before Wayne Wilson arrived in town – and it had an unbelievable and immediate impact with a huge public following. Throw that venue in with gallops venues at Eagle Farm, Doomben, Albion Park, Bundamba and the Gold Coast and there was certainly plenty of racing action to keep the young Wilson chap occupied and off the streets.

Wayne Wilson was promoted into the role of senior racecaller at 4BC following his mentor Vince Curry passing away far too early at the age of 54 in February of 1983. To that end, it’s amazing to reflect on the parallel of events that happened in the life of both Vince Curry and Wayne Wilson. Firstly, both men were regarded as the best in their field and each called Brisbane racing for around three decades. Secondly both men successfully raced horses that were trained in Toowoomba by the late Jim Atkins. Vince Curry’s best horse was undoubtedly Half Scotch which Atkins put the polish on. Wayne Wilson’s filly Do You Remember won the Listed McDougall Stakes at Eagle Farm in 1988, just five years after Vince Curry’s passing. And thirdly, now sadly both men have passed away far too early as a result of cancer. In an extraordinary twist, Vince Curry’s predecessor at 4BC, Ron Anwin had also died at just 51 years of age in 1960. One could be forgiven for thinking the job was jinxed. What would be the odds of losing three men who were all at one point in their lifetime the senior broadcaster for a considerable period of time at the one radio station at ages 51 (Anwin), 54 (Curry) and now 66 (Wayne Wilson)? A million-to-one and drifting?

Whilst Wayne Wilson had an obvious passion for racecalling, his love of thoroughbred racing extended way beyond his race calling – to the breeding industry. He struck up a long lasting friendship with Colin McAlpine from Eureka Stud at Cambooya, between Toowoomba and Warwick and when Do You Remember was retired from the racetrack of dreams, Eureka Stud was her home. For six consecutive years from 1991 to 1996 inclusive, Do You Remember was led into the stallion mating barn at Eureka. Put to their then leading stallion, Semipalatinsk, in her first two years at stud, Do You Remember foaled a flashy chestnut colt that grew up to be called Kildangan and a brown filly, which raced as Remember Romance. For his part Kildangan won six races and ran eight placings, whilst Remember Romance was a two-time winner. Do You Remember was then served by Raise A Stanza and the resultant colt, that raced as a gelding named Affirmation, won twice whilst contesting bush races, far from the madding crowd. Again mated to Semipalatinsk in her fifth season at stud, Do You Remember produced Dasvadunya and he won two races also. Mated to Eureka stallion Puissance in the 1995 breeding season, Do You Remember’s resultant progeny raced as Vainqueur and he won five races and ran five placings in 15 career starts. Do You Remember then went to Glenlogan Park’s Distinctly North, before Wayne Wilson and his wife Sally teamed up in a breeding partnership with then Noble Park Stud, Beaudesert, owners Peter and Wendy Moran sending Do You Remember to their resident stallions – Rocket To Mars one year and Mossman the next. Simulator was Rocket To Mars son and he won four races, whilst Obliviator, which won a couple of Cup races at Goondiwindi was arguably Do You Remember’s best progeny. He won 12 races and ran 20 placings from 72 starts and earned $98,505. So whilst Do You Remember was a prolific winner getter, she didn’t produce any offspring to match her black type ability.

Of all the horses he called in many thousands of races over the decades, Wayne Wilson had a special spot for a horse with a family connection that he never even called in a race – Eye Liner. Trained by his uncle, Jack Wilson, it is simply a fact of life that Queensland and indeed Australian thoroughbred racing will never see another like the filly. She set an Australian record by winning nine straight races as a two-year-old and she lumped massive weights up to 10 stone 12 pounds or 69kgs. Can you imagine the uproar in the modern era if a handicapper anywhere gave a 2YO an impost of 69kgs? You’d have every do-gooder around Australia criticizing the sport. And included in her nine straight wins, Eye Liner went to Sydney and beat their best in what is now the Group 1 Champagne Stakes, albeit the race is now run at 1600 metres and was 1200 metres when Eye Liner won it.

Wayne Wilson’s services were sought by the print media and his opinion was aired regularly by RadioTAB. I remember he was on David Fowler’s “Monday’s experts” show one day last year and the topic being covered was how funding was progressing for a new Albion Park grandstand, or similar. Wayne Wilson was pleased that he was able to extract some what he called on air “exclusives” out of David Fowler, after some in-depth questioning, which would have made a Queens Counsel at a high profile murder trial happy.

Wayne Wilson also wrote a column on racing for the weekly free publication of the Bayside and Northern Suburbs Star newspaper in Brisbane. And he wrote a popular column for Practical Punting outlining what was happening and what needed fixing in Brisbane racing, whilst also giving their readers some horses that he thought could be followed for profit.

But it was at his chosen career path – racecalling – that he shone. He was clear and concise with his calling and he had a good eye in a photo. Yes sure he got the photo wrong in Don’t Play’s 1989 Stradbroke, but where’s a racecaller that’s never made a stuff-up? It just goes with the territory. His Albion Park harness calls were wonderful and his thoroughbred calls were, in the main, excellent. When six horses hit the line as one in, from memory, an O’Shea Stakes at Eagle Farm, Wayne Wilson called first to sixth placing correctly. That was freakish. Most people couldn’t even work out what horse had won – let alone name them all – in the right order. Some were critical of his Melbourne Cup call of Media Puzzle, others weren’t. Like happens to you, or me, or the bloke over the road, or the woman that lives around the corner, some liked Wayne Wilson and some didn’t. That’s life – as they say “it’s impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time”.

Wayne Wilson wasn’t a comedian racecaller of the ilk of Bert Bryant, but then again, after they made Bert Bryant they threw away the mould. Wayne Wilson wasn’t a Ken Howard, who would have a horse “finishing at a hundred miles an hour out underneath the roses” and yet that horse still got beaten four lengths when you picked up the paper and checked beaten margins the next morning. Wayne Wilson was what I’d call “a no frills clear and concise racecaller”. Current Sky Channel racecaller Alan Thomas didn’t start calling Brisbane races until 1993, some 10 years after Wayne Wilson, but from 1993 to 2010 inclusive, both men attracted huge listening audiences on Sky Channel and RadioTAB respectively. As a punter, how can you ever trump having two top racecallers on duty for 17 consecutive years? In short – you can’t.

In the 66 years that he graced our planet there’s one day in the life of Wayne Wilson that stands out like a beacon in Moreton Bay on a stormy night for me personally. It was a Friday morning in June of 2003. In those days – before I got banned for writing the truth here – I used to get interviewed on RadioTAB, on an “as and when” basis during the year. The Queensland Oaks was being run the next day at Eagle Farm. By chance, RadioTAB chief interviewer, Steve Hewlett, rang me and asked me if I wanted to come on the radio that morning. I told him that the odds-on favourite in the Oaks the next day, a Kiwi filly called The Jewel, couldn’t win. Most listeners probably thought I was mad. Wayne Wilson and his close friend Bart Sinclair were doing a RadioTAB studio segment later that morning. Wayne Wilson said on air, “Phil Purser says The Jewel can’t win the Oaks”, to which Bart Sinclair replied “Who (the hell is Phil Purser) she’ll be winning”. Wayne Wilson immediately retorted with, “Phil’s entitled to his opinion – a difference of opinion is what makes the world go round”.

Oaks day arrived the next day and The Jewel ran an odds-on favourite. Luckily for me Zagalia beat The Jewel home in a close finish. Thank God for that. It’s no fun in this caper making an absolute mug of yourself. Then bugger me dead, the protest siren starts wailing across Eagle Farm. There’s a protest – second against first. After what sounded like an eternity, the protest was dismissed. I caught up with Wayne Wilson some weeks later and I shook his hand and thanked him for going into bat for me. He didn’t need to say anything publicly that day. And what’s more, I’ve never forgotten his words in the 11 years since. And I even made a special trip to the races seven years later, on the day that he retired in 2010, to again shake his hand and to personally deliver him a special thank-you card and gift.

I remember another day vividly. The year was 2007. I asked him if I could go to his home and drop some of my books off for him and some of his friends. We agreed on a time and day and upon my arrival I was amazed at how generous he was with his time. There was no rush on his part as we discussed all things racing. Then he took me on a guided tour around his home and explained the significance of all the racing photos on the walls. He was like a kid in a lolly shop and I was enjoying all the wonderful confectionary that was on display. Should have taken my camera – a Japanese tourist on the Barrier Reef couldn’t have had the fun that I could have. I took notice in later life and noted that Wayne Wilson was just as happy talking to the battler as the multi-millionaire. Nathan Tinkler is a quiet and shy man when he’s at the races. When he was doing race interviews for the Brisbane Racing Club after he’d retired from racecalling, Wayne Wilson even got to interview Nathan Tinkler one day in Brisbane. How the hell did he achieve that momentous feat? Another bolter just got home in Brisbane racing that day. That sort of ability set Wayne Wilson apart. There was no question that Wayne was good for racing and racing had been good for him all his life.

It’s no secret that I’m despised by many people in racing around this country and I accept that life is not a popularity contest, so it doesn’t unduly faze me, but over the years there has been a heck of a lot of friction between myself and the Brisbane Racing Club hierarchy. In a bygone era, only as recently as a few years ago, we rarely saw eye to eye, even on such topics as to whether the sun would even rise in the east. I was talking to Wayne Wilson in the enclosure at Eagle Farm one race day. There was only he and I there – a race had finished and the rest of the people had fled the enclosure. We would have stood out like the proverbials. There was so much friction between myself and the race club that I didn’t want Wayne to be seen talking to me for ages, so I said to him, words to the effect, “Wayne you don’t have to stand here and be seen with me if you don’t want to”, to which he replied, “I’ll stand here with you all day”.

It’s a fact that Wayne Wilson would sometimes email me, or conversely I would email him. The contents of most of those emails are, as another long retired harness racecaller, Ron Egerton would say, “as safe as the National Bank”, but suffice to say Wayne’s last email to me was only a few weeks ago. I’d put a photo of long retired Clerk of the Course at both Brisbane thoroughbred and harness meetings, Ron Corvi, and the great pacer Paleface Adios up on the website. Wayne saw it and sent an email to me advising that the photo brought back wonderful memories to him.

You see Wayne Wilson was his own man and he’ll leave a legacy to many people and I’ll be one of the many lucky people whose life was enriched via meeting him. In an industry where if you have a differing view to the masses, you are despised for being some sort of misguided misfit, he was not judgmental. In fact he was inspirational – and was happy to pass on his sentiments to a nobody like me, that “a difference of opinion is what makes the world go round” and “I’ll stand here with you all day”.

Whilst I sincerely hope that World War 3 never comes to our planet, if it does, I want to be in the same trenches as Wayne Wilson, for in the face of almost certain defeat he would be guaranteed to remain calm and focused, whilst sensibly thinking things through, as to what the next strategic move should entail. And I’ll tell you something else – when I was in the trenches with him, at least I’d know that I wouldn’t die from friendly fire and in the incestuous world of thoroughbred racing, there’s a lot of people that I most certainly wouldn’t put the same degree of trust in.

In racing parlance, Wayne Wilson was a stayer of Makybe Diva proportions. Like her, he knew the job he had to do, so he just went out and did it. How the hell the man lived 15 years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer bears testament to his ability as a stayer.

We all accept that he’s in a better place now but when he straightened up for the run to the finish line and the whips were cracking, he just kept finding and finding. From my life experience spent around racetracks observing the three codes, only true champions find that something extra under severe pressure. The others are known as “also rans” – and they’re a dime a dozen – and hardly worthy of a second glance.

Today on the www.brisbaneracing.com.au website there’s a special montage of photos to coincide with Wayne Wilson’s funeral.

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