Saturday, August 30, 2008

This week's Australian story - THE GREAT ELEPHANT RACE by Dave Brown

When I was a young police constable I was stationed at Jerry's Plains, a one-man station in the Hunter Valley. It was usual for some of the bigger stations to call on me to perform certain duties for them. Constable Graham Noble at Bulga, also a one-man station, was often called in with me. We didn't mind as our stations at most times were very quiet.

On one occasion we were both assigned to Singleton for a week as the town was holding a number of large festivals and various events to celebrate the centenary of the railway from Newcastle to Singleton (1864 - 1964). Wirth's Circus was also set up on the outskirts of town for the festivities. Our main duty would be to patrol the streets on foot and check out the hotels to see nothing out of the ordinary happened.

The main attraction for the town that week was to be the "Elephant Race". This would be held on Saturday afternoon. There were four elephants from Wirth's Circus and four of the town dignitaries were to be their jockeys: the Lord Mayor; the Manager of the local R.S.L.; the Shire Engineer and Senior Constable Max Tippet who would represent the police force as the Officer in Command. The event received a lot of publicity from television, radio and the newspapers. The local S.P. bookmakers were running a book on the race - five to two the field.

Senior Constable Max Tippet was a stubby bloke, he liked a beer now and then, had a very good nature and was a real dinkie-di Aussie. Each day when Graham and I came into work we asked Max how he thought his elephant would go, but he always replied: "How would I know?"

On the day of the big race the town was packed - hundreds of jostling people lined the main street to watch. All the riders wearing their brightly-coloured jockey outfits were to ride their huge animals from the starting post at one end of John Street and race down to the other end to finish at the Railway Station. Our job was to keep the crowd back off the road.

Max looked brilliant in his racing colours. We drove him out to the circus where he prepared to mount his elephant. Everyone was so excited. I thought Max and the other jockeys looked nervous, and when he called Graham and me over, Max gathered us close and whispered to us: "Dave, I couldn't tell you before, but get down to McPhee's Hotel and put this ten-pound note on my elephant. And put something on for yourselves - it can't get beat."

We hoisted Max up onto the elephant's back and raced down to McPhee's. We asked the publican to put the bet on for us as we didn't want to scare the bookie, and Graham and I both had two pounds each on it for ourselves, as Max had advised us.

When we got back to the starting point all the elephants were lined up ready to go, with Max and his steed on the outside. The local football referee blew his whistle and off they lumbered. Max's elephant came over from the outside and took the lead and all the others took a single line behind Max's. As they moved further down the street they kept the same positions. No elephant ever tried to pass another and they stayed in their positions right to the winning post with Max out in front all the way.

Max told us later that his elephant was the lead elephant in their circus act and the others were trained to follow it. It was a wellkept secret which only a few knew. I don't think the bookies lost much - well, except maybe the one down at McPhee's Hotel !

1 comment:

Vincent said...

Great story! Loved the ending.