Racing: More On The Importance Of Being Ernest McQuillan

1948 Cox Plate Racebook
1948 Cox Plate Race Book

This race book is a kind of carbon copy of many  years for Ern. The W S Cox Plate for 2014 has just been run at the time of my writing of this post. Ern and I feel we owe the remarkable Cox family the respect of beginning this post with a link to its position in the Racing Hall of Fame. Perhaps you will follow that link as time suits.

And now back to Ern McQuillan’s links with racing history.



Ern McQuillan OAM
Ern McQuillan OAM

So the years have moved relentlessly on for Ern, as they do for all of us. War after war, season after season, he was there with his heavy camera and the few resources he was allowed, telling us through his own artistry what had happened in places where we couldn’t go.

Now the reputation of the media has become somewhat tainted in recent times. The truth there is often elusive and clouded by agendas of powerful people. Not so the images Ern has left us. They are for me one source of uncontaminated truth.That is the excitement I have found in the time I have shared with him in these later years.

One of the greatest joys has been Ern’s insight into racing. That is why, as the Victorian Spring Season is with us again in Australia, I thought I must share some of that joy with you in this post.

I am going to let Ern’s pictures do most of the work.

Ern was there in 1951. Michael, his son, arranged the layout.
Ern was there in 1951. It’s his picture.Michael, his son, arranged this layout.

This picture is a remarkable collection of images of the great Sydney jockeys of the Fifties and later. Ern knew them all and was a close friend of several, including their families.

The Munro photo is a result of a special request from Darby for a BCU. As Ern put it to me, “He was not exactly the most handsome of men.” It’s a lovely, warm photo however. The “Demon Darb” was very pleased with it. Me too.

The shot of George Moore actually hides tennis shoes, socks and shorts. Ern interrupted tennis at George’s home with a request for a picture in colours for the next day’s edition. George willingly interrupted the game for his friend but requested no jodhpurs—such a nuisance to put on and take off.


Ern's Picture of the crowd on a big race day at Randwick in 1953.
Ern’s Picture of the crowd on a big race day at Randwick in 1953.

The times do keep on changing. Ern’s visual record shakes us with awareness of this change. These recollections from Ern’s and my life’s journey might bring this awareness a little more strongly into your mind.

We remember when it was illegal to bet outside any sporting venue. With racing, for example, so keen were the owners of racecourses to make you attend, that radio’s race callers were prohibited from entry into the courses. People like Ken Howard and Cyril Angles in these prohibition days had to call the races from long distance, perched in precarious vantage points such as trees or hastily erected platforms or rooms with windows, all OUTSIDE the course.

In time, the pressure became too great and they were let in. Here is Ken Howard calling the 1941 Melbourne Cup. What a joy to hear that voice in 2014! How lucky we are government archives have given us this site!

Radio stations in the Forties and Fifties were not allowed to broadcast the prices of horses until after the last race. Nor were they allowed to give any indication of favouritism or betting markets. Television and TABs et al. were future dreams to come true. SP betting was big business throughout Australia at this time.

John Wren (With thanks to the lovely site of Tim Vagg)
John Wren (With thanks to the lovely site of Tim Vagg)

John Wren, for example, the famous business man, political figure, and enemy of Frank Hardy, got his start through SP Betting.

As a Newtown kid like Ern, I remember the SP runners. Mine, in Georgina Street, was a thin little chap wearing sandshoes, quite thin and pale with an anxious look on his face and constantly glancing behind him like an escaped, present day asylum seeker. My “mob” lived in a three story tenement and we would lower our bets from the first floor balcony on a long piece of string. If we won, we would collect our winnings downstairs with the front door half open.

The Totalizator (Off-course Betting) Act 1964 (Act No.1, 1964) changed all of this. What a different world we have now! No need for me to tell you about that.

Here’s Ern’s next image from the past .


Racing as the crowd above would have seen it.
Racing as the crowd above would have seen it.

Notice the Flat opposite the members’ heads in the foreground. No longer available to spectators (the Flat I mean, not the heads). The Flat was where I went—it was the cheapest viewing spot. Have you ever thought of how big attendances at venues were in those pre-television days? That was the only place you could see the events as they happened. I remember attendances over 60,000 at Sydney Cricket Ground – lots of standing, a few on the Bob Stand roof and some even next door on the Showground stand.

Do you see the running rail space before the leading horse in the picture above? That was approximately Ern’s special spot to take the next picture below.

Ern's Image: "Around the Bend"  – literally, not metaphorically.
Ern’s Image: “Around the Bend”  – literally, not metaphorically.

The stewards gave Ern permission to enter the area near the winning post. Photos were important PR and the racing staff trusted him. There he went then, lugging the heavy camera of the time with telephoto added. When the field thundered around the bend, Ern was there. Well not precisely there. He, with the basic (non-digital) tools of his time, including a telephoto lens, was 410 yards  away at the other end of the Straight (beside the winning post).

Here is that finish, taken from the same place I showed you, but this time amidst the thunder of the hooves and without telephoto.

Ern Winning Post


When the last desperate breaths of horse and rider exploded at the winning post, to the beat of the whips, Ern was there with the permission of the stewards, resting just behind that winning post railing.

My grandfather on my mother’s side had a favourite saying: “I’ll be there when the whips are crackin’.” When I grew up a little, I really understood that was the kind of place a miner from far away Cobar knew about. That was where fates were decided.




This picture.

So there you have it. Jockeys are human. Neil McKenna, distinguished trainer of the post war period, taking the place of a parent.

How much those jockeys needed love and care. They were children playing the role of adults in one of the toughest communities on Earth. You will see what I mean if you patiently enlarge the image of the press cutting on this site I have given you (Trove).

Every day  for the jockey children was filled with early rising, hard work, danger and insecurity. Only a few succeeded. Many of them alas, shrivelled away into insignificance.

So many of them, however, who completed the struggle successfully, were friends of Ern.

Their stories are worth sharing. A few of them we shall share here in what space we have.

Before we do, here is another of Ern’s glimpses into the life they led.

Harry Darwon

Here’s a nice little tale about Harry Darwon by the distinguished journalist Max Presnell.

The press photographer of those times was a vital source of communication in Australia. Newspapers then ruled the roost now occupied by the social media and probably television. Managers, publicity agents and spin doctors were largely clutter for the future. For trainers, jockeys, stewards, owners, bookmakers and others, the photographer then was an important link, your pathway to public awareness.

Most worked willingly with Ern and with a common interest. Ern knew so many, and very often as a good friend. The jockeys: Darby Munro, George Moore, Athol Mulley and so many more worked with him for years. So too the trainers: Tommy Smith and daughter Gai. It was sad to discover that Bragger, Tommy’s horse that gave him his start as a trainer, died from a road accident. Tommy’s failure to save him, with the help of vets, broke his heart.

Tommy and GaiGai is still blooming as a trainer so I will leave discussion of her to a later time.

Here is another of Ern’s pictures of her with another great colleague. Th image is overflowing with the human effort and tension of their work.

Bart Gai Old

This McQuillan image of the brilliant Bart reveals a great rapport between photographer and the horse-training genius.

Bart Cummins

There are so many more trainers on our list; so many more.

Owners too : “Azzalin the Dazzlin” Romano, Jim Bendrodt. many more of them too.

Other personalities teemed in Ern’s life. “Hollywood” George Edser, Joe Taylor, Perce Galea (the three to be discussed more in a later post) and still more. Space here is totally inadequate.

 Let us focus on more of the pictures. The visual record of the stars of the racing world meant lots of early rising for the photographer.

Bernborough returning from trackwork.
Bernborough returning from track-work.

Many race meetings had to be attended as well. Here is a shot of two great friends, triumphant in the 1946 Newmarket Handicap.

Bernborough and Mulley return to scale in triumph.
Bernborough and Mulley return to scale in triumph. 1946 Newmarket, Flemington with 9 Stone.13. What a career this was!

I am lucky as a teenager to have seen this giant red horse thunder down the long straight at Randwick. To meet someone in my old age, who knew the horse and rider so well, somehow makes you feel that old age is not such a grim affair after all. Which brings me to another remarkable pattern of Fate. Ern had close and continuing contact with owner Romano as well.

One of the great social advantages of press photography was a strong link with some of the most important people of our age. In his work for The Australian Womens Weekly, for example, Ern photographed Queen Elizabeth’s first step on Australian soil and later shook her hand. Another example lies in his societal work at Sydney’s leading restaurants.

Take “Dazzlin’ Azzlin” Romano for instance, the man who bought Bernborough and set him on his 15 consecutive win journey.

"Dazzlin' Azzlin" Romano
“Dazzlin’ Azzlin” Romano

This photo we have through the magic of the National Archives of Australia. You can have similar adventures with so many images HERE if you want to.

I first saw that shot on another wonderful site, Pittwater Online News. The links I have given are really worth following.  They deal beautifully with the two big-time restauranteurs in Sydney around the time of World War II: AO Romano and J C Bendroit.

I have discussed elsewhere the significance of Romano’s purchase of Bernborough. It changed the horse’s life as it did for the new owner. Court cases revealed that at least some of the funding for the purchase came from sly grog selling in the Martin Place Restaurant (Castlereagh Street entrance). But the Italian immigrant of the Twenties was a master of restaurant procedures. Whenever a really significant guest was on the premises — Gracie Fields, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, Vivien Leigh or even a special, local star —” “Dazzlin’ Azzalin” would be on the phone to Ern  with an invitation to do a Womens Weekly story. Words with the rich and famous were a constant outcome, together with a “Why don’t you stay for (a free) lunch?”

So Malcolm Fraser got it wrong. There was such a thing.

Things were very similar in Jim Bendroit’s Princes Restaurant, just a little way away in Martin Place. The free lunch was there too. In my younger days I used to ice skate at Bendroit’s Ice Palais in the old Sydney Showground. The crowded Trocadero, with its dance band music swinging through the night, was also known to me. As for the owner of both places, he might have lived on another planet. To talk now with someone who knew him so well, is in my twilight, a strange experience.There is no more space here to dwell on that remarkable life.

I want to finish here with just a brief mention for now of some jockeys.

Ern knew at first hand the gentle courtesy of the brilliant Neville Selwood, killed eventually in 1962, at the age of 39, in a fall in France.

Selwood’s riding skill was well summed up by his popular title “Nifty.” “He was always quietly polite and willing to cooperate,” Ern told me.

Neville Selwood
Neville Selwood

I remember “Nifty Neville” was my grandfather’s favourite jockey. He followed him closely and from what I could gather “Nanny” was in the black as a result. Many of us felt we had lost a friend when Neville died in France, as so many Australians had done in earlier times. Because this great craftsman was a leading jockey, Ern photographed him and shared words with him many times.

It is hard to shut Athol George Mulley out of your thoughts.

A. GEORGE Mulley (with thanks to Wiki Commons).

Here is a good account of that life. He apparently hated “Athol” as a name. He preferred his second one, GEORGE.

He spoke more than once on the bond between rider and horse. Bernborough and he were one. The horse knew who it was when Mulley mounted in the enclosure. A welcoming and reassuring pat on the neck usually followed.

Ern was at Mulley’s wedding to his lovely wife June. He knew the rider as a struggler with practical things, such as getting to the right race meeting on time, but as a dedicated family man. You will gather the truth of this statement if you visit this valediction.

More evidence: this present for his lovely daughter.

Michelle Mulley

The caption from the old press cutting is hard to read. Here it is more legibly:

Little Michelle, Denise Mulley (2), daughter of Australian Jockey Athol Mulley, brought back this walking-doll Anne, larger than herself, when she arrived in Sydney from Singapore by B. O. A. C. with her mother at the weekend. Mulley has been riding in Singapore.

 Some More on the Racing Giant, Darby Munro.

Darby on Rogilla in the 1933 W S Cox Plate
Darby on Rogilla in the 1933 W S Cox Plate, (with thanks and respect to Les Haigh)

Ern tells me Darby was a strong, determined person to talk to. No airs, but a means business kind of chap. This cutting might show you that even in the last century, when money didn’t rule EVERYTHING, if you were brilliant in your profession, your opinion was both sought and heeded.

Darby Views


Jack Thompson I remember well.

Apprentice Jack Thompson
Apprentice Jack Thompson

“Quiet,” says Ern, “Always cooperative. The tallest jockey I have ever seen.” Darby Munro supported him in his apprenticeship years. Downplayed his height and praised his timing. During that apprenticeship, Darby forecast a bright future for Jack. He was right.

An example of Jack Thompson's skill.
An example of Jack Thompson’s skill.

I myself remember a frightening day at Rosehill when his horse collapsed and died under him, and Jack Thompson broke his leg. Remember my earlier comment about the jockey’s harsh world?

Ray Selkrig is another interesting and quite inspiring thought here.

Ray Selkrig



… his greatest triumph was in a moderate Kembla Grange race on a sprinter, Hot Chestnut.

”He was one of those horses who watched shadows on the ground,” Selkrig recalled last week.

”As we were near the post he seen this brown patch and propped. He just threw me straight out of the saddle. He kept going, I held on to the mane and rein and my feet hit the ground.

”Being dragged I looked over my shoulder and wouldn’t let go until I passed the winning post.”

Objections were lodged and punters, myself included (Max Presnell), who backed the runner-up, trained by Jack Denham, were confident of being awarded the race, despite Selkrig’s courage and commitment, later confirmed as he had cracked his pelvis in three places.

”Stewards reckoned the horse done a harder job pulling me than carrying me,” Selkrig explained, and the result stood. 

The full story is beautifully told by Max Presnell, with a brilliant picture. His site is truly worth a visit.

One more image: Darren Beadman after a taxing ride.

Darren Beadman's exhausting life.
Darren Beadman’s exhausting life.

Press photographers, unlike the rest of us, saw the humanity of the stewards rooms. This has changed now through the power and intimacy of television.

Reluctantly I leave our jockey tales. More to come in later posts. There are so many wanting to be told.

A Special Ern McQuillan Picture

Back to horses briefly. Click the picture for a better view.

The first Australian triple dead heat. Ern was there. This is his visual record.
The first Australian triple dead heat. Ern was there. This is his visual record.

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” said Keats in his poem “Endymion.” I can’t help thinking of poetry here. Remember this image was not taken digitally. With the camera of the time it was one click and that’s it. The camera was heavy too, as I’ve said elsewhere. I have seen other pictures from different angles, but this is Ern’s.

More poetry leaps out at you, don’t you think?  William Blake’s words from “The Tiger” come easily into my mind:

What immortal hand or eye      
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Another comparison surges from D H Lawrence’s striking description of horses in his novel The Rainbow.

But the horses had burst before her. In a sort of lightning of knowledge their movement travelled through her, the quiver and strain and thrust of their powerful flanks, as they burst before her and drew on, beyond.

… She was aware of their breasts gripped, clenched narrow in a hold that never relaxed; she was aware of their red nostrils flaming with long endurance, and of their haunches, so rounded, so massive, pressing, pressing, pressing to burst the grip upon their breasts, pressing for ever till they went mad, running against the walls of time, and never bursting free. Their great haunches were smoothed and darkened with rain. But the darkness and wetness of rain could not put out the hard, urgent, massive fire that was locked within these flanks, never, never. (pp. 722-3 Kindle Edition)

To return to more routine matters, here are the details of horses and riders.

Source: Victorian Racing Archives
Source: Victorian Racing Archives

I have been reading, in David Hickie’s wonderful book Gentlemen of the Australian Turf (1986, Angus and Robertson, Sydney) about race caller Joe Brown’s involvement in the event. One of the judges, Stan Shannon, rang Joe to advise him it was a triple dead heat. The announcement brought a loud roar from the crowd and there was great confusion and delay with payouts. The official semaphore frame had space for only TWO numbers. Another judge, Dudley Zillman, had to hold up a number next to the other two (p. 317).

Here is a nice story about this event. I have a friend I won’t embarrass with name disclosure. Like me he was a teacher in 1956 in an isolated bush school. He told me recently that, when school was over on that day, he rang another friend to see who won the Hotham. He was delighted to find his horse, Ark Royal, had won. Joy soon turned to sadness however when he heard of the other two winners. He actually lost on the race.

Incidentally, do you know why we use the term DEAD heat? In the early days of Australian racing (and no doubt elsewhere) three race (heat) contests were common to decide the best horses. If there was a tie, that heat didn’t count. It was declared dead and had to be run again. The re-runs died out but the name lasted.

I want to conclude with mention that our indigenous brothers and sisters have inspired me with their deeds in many sports. I have taught many in my fifty years as a teacher, and I am still delighted by their speed and skill and by the radiance of so many of their smiles. All this is why I want you to visit web site linking us to the history of indigenous jockeys. Ern has talked to me about Darby McCarthy, whom he met quite often.

No pictures. Just an ongoing dream of admiration.

Now a momentary word to the kind people who have started to “follow” me. Thank you for the encouragement. I am so sorry I have not been more in touch but, you see, I am so busy writing to share all that I want to share before “weight’s right” for my involvement in the human race, that I just haven’t had the time to reach out to you. I long to do this and promise to try to reach you soon. In the meantime, good going and more thanks from octogenarian me.

Thank you for your visit. I am working on my post re. Ern McQuillan’s Melbourne Cup experiences. I hope to finish in time for Tuesday November.







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The Further Adventures of Ern McQuillan OAM

We continue the Ern story as promised.

Imagine you were the one wanting to be a press photographer in the early 1940s.

This seems a good place to resume the story.

You see, the Second World War had started for us school kids when Ern made his debut in the press photographer business…

Enemies were everywhere! For wider experience I recommend this site:
Enemies were everywhere! For wider experience I recommend this site: .

In the Thirties, Forties and Fifties Newtown was so different from the rejuvenated, expensive, rising class suburb of today.  Back streets were back streets then, yards were small, King Street’s trams rattled determinedly on through pedestrians and other traffic, and paperboys, swinging like Tarzans from the running boards, sold you for but a penny or two, tomorrow’s fish and chips wrappings.  This is where the journey we are tracing, began.

Transport for the poor and the poor planet.
Normal and cheap transport for the poor!

Let’s start close to the beginning. Remember the time: c. 1942 amidst World War II.

What a moment in history to start a newspaper career!

Talk to us surviving people from that time.  You will find memories still vivid.  We might mention the blackouts – no neon lights in the city, only shadows and uncertainties.  Things you had taken for granted suddenly became very scarce. 

The Probe of the Threatening Dark.
The Probe of the Threatening Dark.

Petrol became a major problem. 1940 was an election year.  The Government dithered and delayed with petrol rationing, afraid of losing votes.  The motor industry also fought hard against petrol rationing for obvious reasons. Petrol licenses were eventually given to more than a million people.  Two thousand miles per year were considered a fair maximum allowance.  It was later doubled for votes.

War Really Worked Then To Save Petrol.
War Eventually Had Some Success With Efforts To Save Petrol. The Charcoal Burner Invention.

Petrol rationing filtered through the various states from June 1940 to December.  There were a few arguments between governments.  As children, we were often startled to see motor cars with strange boxlike contraptions on their hoods.  As adults we came to understand the research to create another fuel from charcoal was not enthusiastically supported by the petrol companies.

From December, 1941 Australia was placed under total war preparedness. We kids had a joke we were rather proud of: “Don’t panic; remember Pearl Harbour!”

Fear , Then as Now – A Proven Way To Control People's Actions
Fear Then as Now – A Proven Way To Control People’s Actions

Prime Minister Curtin promised “equal sacrifice” for all, and pegged wages and prices on February 11,1943. 

High Motivation For Car Sharing
High Motivation For Car Sharing

Other shortages began to change the world for us.  Chewing gum and rice, for example, disappeared completely. Radios, vacuum cleaners and bottled beer drifted out of sight. 

Gradually the public swung into action to promote the war effort. Metal products and silver paper were brought into schools, to be collected and turned into weapons of war, or so it was said.  Penny-lines were placed around school playgrounds to be converted into war capital.

We All Thought We Were Helping!
We All Thought We Were Helping!

Austerity became another war-cry. My young brother, Victor Henry Levi,  won a prize at our school fancy dress ball as “Austerity.” He wore a sugar bag, neatly stitched together by a loving mother Marjorie Levi, and featuring bottle-top buttons.

To reinforce the drive for austerity, bicycles suddenly became attractive.  Horse-drawn ploughs became more common in rural areas.

The economy was soon focused totally on war production.  Mind games also began.  People who over used their cars were publicly maligned. The States openly competed to protect their financial interests, especially against Federal Government income tax access because of the war.

Identity cards and ration books (with their precious coupons) also became a part of life. So too did the Black Market. Rationing was strict.  All people from 9 years upwards were required to register for rationing. The “waste-makers” were temporarily cured during that war. 

In 1942 really serious restrictions began: March 30, tea; May 9, clothing; August 31, sugar; and in June, 1943 butter and drapery were rationed.  On January 17, 1944 meat was rationed.

Things were tough for all but the very rich during those early war years. Black Markets existed too, by the way. Political change was in the air though for us ordinary people.  Widows pensions and child endowment belong to those years. Labor’s 1943 National Welfare Fund, involving invalid pensions, funeral benefits, and maternity allowances for all, was new ground for Australia.  Also the proposal for a national health scheme was another first. 

There were many other new experiences during the war.  Railway stations had their names taken away to help invaders become lost. Air-raid shelters were built by home owners everywhere – an apparent government regulation.  At night we children loved to watch the searchlights darting among the clouds.

Searchlights Of An Earlier Time. Things Change Little.
Piercing The Dangers Of Darkness

Also at night, if you looked out to sea, you would see the flashes of gunfire, like lightning in the sky.  This was practice sometimes, and at others the real thing. 

The Tweed Heads and District Historical Society, a fine source of knowledge today in the twenty-first century, tells us that 41 Allied ships were sunk off our coasts during the war, by submarines, ships, mines and Japanese aircraft (mainly to the north and in 1942). These losses included HMAS Sydney off Geraldton, Western Australia on November 19, 1941 with the loss of all 645 sailors, and the hospital ship AHS Centaur of the east coast on May 14, 1943 with the loss of 268 lives.

Merchant sailors died too.

Just a Symbolic Image. One of Countless Similar Pictures. My thanks to Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-17 / CC-BY-SA.
Just a Symbolic Image. One of Countless Similar Pictures Down All The Years. My thanks to
Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-17 / CC-BY-SA.

We children of the time knew little of these imminent dangers to us.  Nor did we know of submarine sightings by fishermen such as Claude Edds, who sighted a submarine off Tweed Heads in 1943 and told the authorities.  Many merchant sailors died off the eastern coast, from such ships as the Wollongbar which was sunk off Coffs Harbour with the loss of 32 crew, and the BHP ore-carrier Iron Crown, sunk of Gippsland’s coast in Victoria, with the loss of 37.

Partial Source:  Date accessed: 18/5/12 at 6.38 AM.

Life at that time was exciting for Ern — until he broke his leg, one miserable sports day, in a school football match on Erskineville Oval. It was a bad break. It meant a year of school without football.

Now Ern was a good Rugby League player. Played on the wing. He loved the game. He was fit and fast and fearless. Under those conditions the game loved him.

Ern's Heroes: Newtown's 1943 Sydney Competition Winning Team. You can find more on this here, if you are interested.
Ern’s Heroes: Newtown’s 1943 Sydney Competition Winning Team. You can find more on this photo here, if you are interested.

When the break came in two places on his leg, the prospect of a break from the game as well, for a whole year, was a dire prospect for the teenager. He was quite good at schoolwork but Rugby League was his real passion. Without it, life was incomplete.

That was why he asked his father, Ernest Edward McQuillan, OAM — the famous coach of 60 boxing champions, and a man of some influence — to try to get him a job as a press photographer. Ern Senior did that for him.

Ern became a “copyboy with a camera” with Truth And Sportsman Limited, under the mentorship of Ezra Norton and his staff.

This photography copyboy was chosen, among other things by Fate, to help found Sydney’s Daily Mirror. Thus began the “golden apprenticeship” which led to this story.

Such was the world Ern was plunged into. In those early years with Truth and Sportsman Limited, he learnt his craft well. He had good teachers.

Work for Ern was definitely not child’s play.

No elaborate equipment in those days. The film for your day’s work was savagely rationed. No digital cameras or electronic transfer of your photos. No multiple images to choose the best from. It was one shot and you’re out! No cutting and pasting. At the end of the day you had to return to head office, develop your prints and then hand them to the editors.

Public transport was all you had. An early Packer rule was that en route to Head Office you alighted from the tram at the end of one particular section and walked the rest, to save a penny or two.

♦ ♦ ♦

Come with me now and share a little more of Ern’s life. It’s quite fascinating simply to take random samples from the jobs he did, from the meetings he had  –  mere small parts of the historic infinity that was his new existence.

 Darby Munro was the most inspiring jockey in my lifetime.

Ern has told me that Darby said to him one day in 1952, “Hey Ernie! I want you to do your best quality close-up picture of me.”

What his reason was I certainly don’t know. But this picture was the result. You will find it in many places, scattered throughout the sporting archives of the twentieth century. Somehow it reveals more than words can do, the intractable spirit of both the jockey and the photographer.

Darby Munro – "The Demon Darb!"
Darby Munro – “The Demon Darb!” He and Ern were good mates

Here too are Darby’s Racing Hall of Fame details, a brief but fair summary of a special life,

Here is the1955 Maitland flood I was trapped in, as a Raymond Terrace dweller.

If you visit the link on the flood, you might be interested to hear that I saw the surf boat working on its way to the place mentioned, Millers Forest.

Ern's Picture
Ern’s Picture

Ern took the flood picture from a Gypsy Moth. His pilot was A J “Titus” Oates, the distinguished World War II air ace. Ern spent four years with him photographing Australian landscapes. Once they sighted a crashed and missing paper delivery plane in the Barrington area of NSW. They landed in a paddock. A bull put a horn through the plane’s wing fabric, during another “unconventional” landing. “Titus” patched the hole with glue, fabric and paper.

Such was that life of Ern and his friend. It’s an honour to record it here.

 and now the queen.

Yes, the kid from Newtown, sparring partner of his father’s champion boxers, photographer for the first edition of Sydney’s Daily Mirror, and former military photographer, was honoured by a meeting with a new Queen in 1954. Ern Junior shook a royal hand.

Her Majesty's First Visit To Australian Soil
Her Majesty’s First Visit To Australian Soil. Ern’s camera noted that very first step.

One of Ern’s earlier duties was to create images for The Australian Women’s Weekly. During the first Royal visit he worked with distinction to create a historic record of the Royal Visit we can now admire in the National Library’s Trove, as well as other social events down the years. You can see this archive, via the magic of modern technology, here, here, here and here.

then there was “the queen of the night.”

Nobody knows the truth of the saying, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, better than newspaper proprietors. Their evidence dates back even beyond Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst. In the pre-Australian television days, press photographs were crucial and extremely powerful. Ern therefore found himself a frantically busy “I’ve been everywhere man.” In these many daily duties, he was part of history.

Characters of every description were part of his job. That is why I have found, in my chats with Ern McMillan, stories of amazing links with our Australian past. One of those stories involves the legendary Matilda (Tilly) Devine.


That name, “Tilly” Devine is the stuff of gangster folklore. She suits many storytellers, especially in television, as an attention-getting element of wickedness. She was part of the recent, Australian TV Underbelly series.

Ern, however, found something different. Accounts of Tilly’s childhood in England filled with suffering and danger. A violent marriage and immigration to Australia in her teens, to be caught up in the slough of despond and despair of Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighbourhood. Suffering, rivalry, police convictions and punishment were all part of her norm.

Ern has told me she was friendly, pleasant and easy to talk to. A kind of soft compassion for the underprivileged she seemed to have, especially towards her brothel “girls.” No pretence. Just a quiet understanding of the way life is.

I myself feel a different person, having talked to Ern about “Tilly.” As a teacher I have often had to search for that little bit of good that is in the worst of us.

♦ ♦ ♦

Now I have so much to choose from, writing here that I can be selective, for the fun of it. So why not this one to start with?

Bernborough: ruler of the 1940s racetrack.


This is another underworld story, of sorts. Bernborough, as you may have noted from the link, was virtually hidden for his first six racing years in Toowoomba, Queensland because of a shady deal by his first owner. That owner had a horse called Daylate, whose death he forged and whose victories under another name in beginners’ races earned the owner a very long ban! It also meant that Bernborough was not allowed to race outside Toowoomba. There, racing authorities could check his entry into races and make sure the original owner was not illicitly using a substitute owner for himself. Outside Toowoomba they felt less confident.


Two Champions: Bernborough and Athol Mulley, both very good friends of Ern.
Two Champions: Bernborough and Athol Mulley, both very good friends of Ern.

All this limitation changed when Dazzlin’ Azzalin Orlando Romano, the sly-grog Sydney restauranteur bought the horse. Also a string of 15 victories began for the remarkable stallion. I saw one of them at Randwick, from the Flat (no longer available) where the poor people went. How could you forget the thundering red giant coming from last in the Straight to comfortable triumph.

Here are some more of Ern’s glimpses of Bernborough.

Two Champions at work: Mulley and Bernborough.
Two Champions at work: Mulley and Bernborough.
One of 15 Consecutive Triumphs: The Newmarket, 1946.
One of 15 Consecutive Triumphs: The Newmarket, 1946.

I’ve read quite a bit of Shakespeare. His words come back to me now when I think of Bernborough. Or Tulloch for that matter, another of Ern’s friends.

…When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk:

The Flight Of Tulloch

he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it …

Henry V Act 3, Scene 7

There is no space at all here for a complete file of Ern’s Press Duty contacts. No room for all his friends either. To complete this post, I choose but a few names.

The first is  Joseph Patrick Taylor (1908–1976). Joe Taylor was a long time friend of the McQuillan family. When the Newtown Hub was a “normal” cinema and not a porno haunt, there was always a free seat on a Saturday night for the two “Newtown kids” Ern and his brother Allan. At Christmas, there was regularly a treat for the whole family.

Joe was quite a character in the world of his day. Grade Rugby League, restaurant and nightclub ownership and racehorse ownership and illicit gambling were all part of that mix. He also described himself at one of his weddings as “bookmaker and shipwright.”

He owned a number of racehorses and served on the committee of City Tattersall’s Club for more than ten years. His horse Birthday Card won the 1962 Sydney Turf Club’s Golden Slipper Stakes. He gave away most of his winnings and lost the rest on another of his horses which ran last in the last race of that day.

During the Forties, in the war years, Joe linked up with ‘Thommo’s’ Two-up School. George Joseph Guest, the original owner was an actor. When he opened the illegal venue in 1910, he use his acting name Thompson to protect his identity. In 1954, when Guest died, Taylor became “the Boss” at Thommo’s. It was quite a place, that two-up school. Illegal clients were dutifully protected. If you had a big win, no other player was allowed to leave for twenty minutes after you left the establishment. A gunman with a criminal record was available to accompany you home on request.

It’s very hard to find images of Thommo’s. I suppose that is understandable, considering it’s nominal illegality. The Australian National Library gives us this link which may satisfy some of your curiosity.

Bouncers needed understandably to be tough in such a place – capable strongmen. Jack Gibson, the famous League player and coach was one for a time.

Ern visited Thommo’s only once. His father, Ern Senior, forbade further visits as he was afraid Ern Junior’s trigger camera finger would endanger the secrecy of the establishment. He need not have worried too much as the “secret” establishment was actually well known in the real world, frequented by such public figures as Jack Davey or Errol Flynn,

Errol Flynn in the very early film Operation Burma
Errol Flynn in the very early film Operation Burma

State Premier Bob Askin,

Premier Askin, as Private Askin in World War II
Premier Askin, as Private Askin in World War II

or, as an example of the reality of things, by a leading Sydney cleric of the period. Ern worked for Ezra Norton, another frequent visitor to Thommo’s. The archives reveal that the secrecy of the “invisible casino” also had considerable support from the media and the police force.

The fascinating thing however, is that Ern had personal contact with with so many of Thommo’s attendees: Davey, Flynn, Askin and  so many  others. He said so much more to them than “Smile” or “Say cheese.” Tales to tell elsewhere.

In the golden days of Ernest Mervyn McQuillan, Arch Press Photographer, managers and agents were relatively rare. Ern’s camera with jockeys, for example, was clearly a “ticket not to Ryde but to ride.” His publicity was so often a source of future engagements.

Another fascination for me now is to listen to Ern talk about his meetings with the famous in various other places as well. He has given me a much better understanding of their personal qualities – the kind of understanding you don’t get from media glimpses.

When Joe Taylor died in 1976, the funeral procession of cars took a long time to arrive at Sydney’s Catholic Cathedral. The largest wreath was spectacular. It contained affectionate words from “Thommo’s” stating how much “Boss” would be missed.

For Joe Taylor I found, among others, these sources interesting and well worthy of your visit: My visit: 29/9/14 @10.05 AM My visit: 29/9/14 @10.21 AM My visit: 29/9/14 @10.25 AM.

The fascinating thing however, is that Ern had personal contact with with so many of Thommo’s attendees: Davey, Flynn, Askin and  so many  others. He said so much more to them than “Smile” or “Say cheese.” Tales to tell elsewhere.

In the golden days of Ernest Mervyn McQuillan, Arch Press Photographer, managers and agents were relatively rare. Ern’s camera with jockeys, for example, was clearly a “ticket not to Ryde but to ride.” His publicity was so often a source of future engagements.

Another fascination for me now is to listen to Ern talk about his meetings with the famous in various other places as well. He has given me a much better understanding of their personal qualities – the kind of understanding you don’t get from media glimpses.

When Joe Taylor died in 1976, the funeral procession of cars took a long time to arrive at Sydney’s Catholic Cathedral. The largest wreath was spectacular. It contained affectionate words from “Thommo’s” stating how much “Boss” would be missed.

For Joe Taylor I found, among others, these sources interesting and well worthy of your visit: My visit: 29/9/14 @10.05 AM My visit: 29/9/14 @10.21 AM My visit: 29/9/14 @10.25 AM.

Second last, I choose a tragic pair of contacts.

Harold and Zara Holt
Harold and Zara Holt

Ern met them a number of times. As with all Press people, he was involved with the disappearance and consequences.


I thought I might end with a special event for us ordinary folk. 

 I invite you to visit this lovely, fascinating, historically significant site:


This is the one of the many fine pictures here, picture really important to us. Ern took it. It shows his great awareness of time in our lives. I hope you enjoy its social significance. Be sure to look at the clock.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Two minutes to a lovely closing time."
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Two minutes to a lovely closing time.”

More of my thanks to you for coming here.


Another plea:

Where are you publishers? Film makers?

Ern and I need you.

If you lose our stories, you’ll be sorry, I think.

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