By Phil Weir
When it comes to listing the most significant years in recent history, 1969 must be right up there. John Gorton was Australian Prime Minister and Richard Nixon held office in America. Both the Jumbo Jet and the Concorde had their first flights. The Beatles performed live for the last time on a roof in London and announced their split a few months later. It was the year of Sesame Street, Woodstock, Charles Manson and ‘one giant leap for mankind’.
In the greyhound world, Benjamin John won the Australian Cup, Odearo was the ‘rock star’ dog packing the fans in at Sandown and Olympic Park, and a young veterinary surgeon – Dr Anthony Cole – began what would be a 50-year role at the Ballarat Greyhound Racing Club.
In February, Tony Cole announced his retirement from OTV duties.
To say that ‘things have changed’ is something Tony can shed light upon.
He recalls “Back then there was no contract, no protocols, minimal rules. Everything was done by ‘gentlemen’s’ agreement with the Club.”
“In the early days, meetings were fun family events. The greyhound was the family pet. Mum Dad and children would meet and greet, huddle around burning logs in 44-gallon drums, and watch their dog race. The kennels were awash with dark theories and treatments, complaints, arguments and ‘advice’ to the Vet, but above all a willingness to help each other and enjoy the meeting.”
The dress codes of the time also provided Tony with an unexpected role. “On Ballarat Cup nights dog handlers were expected to wear bow ties and starched white shirts. To many this was a disaster. So, we made 2 pre-race checks. Firstly, I would check/fit the bow ties, then check the dogs.”
The changes continued. “GRV brought in more rules and protocols which certainly improved behaviour and prevented problems. The family pet became absorbed into syndicates and trainers and large dog trailers, and families would stay home and watch it on TV. Race meetings were locked in by Sky TV and off-course-betting. The Greyhound world became industrialised.”
Tony was born in Melbourne and earned a veterinary degree – and Doctor of Philosophy – in Queensland. Despite his dedication to the dogs, as a partner in Ballarat’s Eureka Veterinary Practice, his speciality was birds. He has also been a passionate contributor to local arts, in particular the famous Royal South Street competitions and Her Majesty’s Theatre. So, what’s next?
“I retired from general practice in 2010 but continued working as OTV until my health said ‘no’. Retirement means continued help to some community groups and reading a stockpile of books.”
“Over 50 years with the dogs, it has always been a pleasure to greet all the ‘happy’ dogs, the dogs who rush up expecting a cuddle, and to pacify the nervous ones coming over the infamous Ballarat table. Measuring body heat, pulse rates, tail injuries, bandage procedures, and other things have maintained my scientific interests in the sport. There are always little things to discover.”
“It has also been a great privilege to have worked with so many amazing people and their dogs throughout the decades of changes in the world of greyhounds.”
While we remember those individuals who made headlines 50 years ago, it’s inspiring to also recognise the significance of one man’s continued contribution ever since, and his devotion to those participants we treasure the most: the greyhounds.
Thanks, Dr Tony.
PHOTO: Dr Tony Cole congratulated by Ballarat GRC Manager Rod Ward.