Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


… meanwhile at Pirron Yallock???

The horse-racing industry has always attracted more than its fair share of those keen to find an easy way to remove others of their hard-earned - tipsters, touts, con-men, coat-tuggers, pick-pockets and purveyors  of a myriad of unbeatable systems etc. etc.

We’ll join them with a double-your-money-back-if-you-can find us guarantee!

Preferably with a small-to-medium side wager, just ask one of your friends who brags about his or her knowledge of racing two questions (we should add that you might want to hedge yours bets a little on the remote chance they have come across this page.

Q1 : On what course was Victoria’s first legal tote meeting held?  And on the remotest of possibilities that they get the course correct, Q2 : where the hell is it?

Due to the chance discovery of a tiny article published in The Sporting Globe in the late 1950s, we now qualify the Moonee Valley experience as being the first legal use of the totalizator on a Melbourne metropolitan course, but in fact the honour of hosting the first tote went to a track now completely forgotten, as is, to a large extent, the town itself.

The first hint of the "brave new world" of the totalizator came on Wednesday, 29 April, 1931 when The Age reported that permission had been given by the State Executive Council for the operation of a portable machine at that well-known hub of the international racing set, Pirron Yallock, but for Saturday meetings only.

"Saturday meetings only" was somewhat superfluous - the Pirron Yallock  track was the shared home of those two giants of The Turf, the Corangamite and the Pirron Yallock Racing Clubs, each of whom held an annual meeting at the course.

Where the hell …?

The Municipal Directories of the time place Pirron Yallock on  a creek of the same name that empties into Lake Corangamite, around 13-15k west of Colac.   They suggest that in 1931, the township boasted a post and telegraph station, a state school, Mechanic's Institute (library), a public hall, hotel and two churches; and those in Melbourne wondering about the new machine could expect to travel one way 104¼ miles, first class fare 21/-, second class, 14/6.  There are indications that the last section of the journey was by coach from Colac station, but a sharp-eyed correspondent reveals there was in fact a railway station on the Warrnambool/Port Fairy line. It closed in 1981.  It may be that the coach was the quickest access from Melbourne, probably co-coordinated with the Colac train.

The population was not quoted, but a 1922 publication issued by the Education Department list all the schools in Victoria and their contribution to the Department's War Relief Fund.  Pirron Yallock was listed as between 50 and 100 pupils - there were two lower categories, 20 to 50 and under 20, and it is interesting that there was no school listed at Corangamite.

The machine in operation, a Simplex Totalisator was offered during the previous week was offered for inspection in premises in Russell-street, Melbourne by Mr. R. B. Echlin "inventor and patentee" in the presence of the Victorian Chief Secretary, Thomas Tunnecliffe and Mr. J. J. Considine, secretary of the Pirron Yallock Racing Club.

Echlin explained that his machine had operated for nearly seven years on the Strathpine and Koolparroo courses before they were closed by the Queensland Government, and that given Government permission, he was prepared to allow his machine to be used at Pirron Yallock on the following Saturday.

Rather as the name suggested, its operation was noted as simple - tickets printed automatically, but the totals indicator worked manually by operators.  Tunnecliffe expressed concerned that the machine only catered for fifteen started - hardly a major concern at Pirron Yallock - but after being assured by Echlin that in Queensland a Government inspector, in most cases the local sergeant of police, checked the totals before dividends were declared, seemed more favourably impressed and granted permission for the trial on the following Saturaday.

The meeting came on 2 May, 1931, the “Simplex” totalizator obviously portable - the inventor was in places referred to as Captain Ecklan or Echlin of Queensland. [1]

The Sporting Globe described the invention : "the numbers are exhibited on a shield-shaped board and on each number, the tickets sold is shown ... as each ticket is purchased, the total goes on to a register".

It was perhaps an indication of the size of the meeting that led the Globe to suggest that after a ten percent deduction split between the club and Ecklan/Echlin ... "where six horses start, the dividends paid are 75% and 25%”.

(Although totally foreign to us today, until the new Melbourne totalisators started operating with separate win and place pools, all interstate totes operated with a single pool. At the club’s discretion, this was could be a single dividend on the winner of races of less than six starters, divided 75-25 up to typically nine runners, and in larger fields, a split of 60-20-20 across the first three place-getters.

The concept of splitting a single pool over three place-getters gave, as in undoubtedly did in other states, some strange results ,none more so than in the main race, the Autumn Handicap where the dividends were 9/- for the winner (a 6 to 4 favourite with bookmakers and nominally a 12/6d dividend if only the winner was to be paid out), £1/4/6 for the runner-up and just 2/- for the third place-getter.    

The “split-pool” system was quickly abandoned in other states after the separate place pools in Melbourne was shown to carry almost as much money as that invested through the straight-out totalisator windows.

The Globe report on the Pirron Yallock experiment suggested patrons "did not wish to speculate on the portable totalizator"  - delightfully worded in such a way as to make it perfectly unclear where "speculate" meant "to wager" or "to comment".  

The report revealed just 31 tickets were sold on the first race, and a snippet several years later suggested that only around £150 was invested through the tote, obviously wildly insufficient for Eckan/Echlin to continue his experiments from Queensland and there is nothing to suggest another portable machine was tried prior the first meeting with a fixed tote at the Valley on August 19.  


[1]  "Echlin" was correct - Richard Boyd Echlin served three times during the Boer War of 1899-1902, firstly with 3 Queensland Mounted Infantry to May, 1901, later with 6 Imperial Queensland, and in 1902 as Commanding Officers of the 3rd Australian Commonwealth Horse (Queensland). In the early 1930s, he was President of African War Veterans' Association in Brisbane. His re-enlistment in 1901 shows him born in 1850 at Downpatrick, County Down Ireland and thus in his early 80s when he vhe took his invention to Pirron Yallock.

Google Maps and Pirron Yallock.  

The very short WikiPedia page suggests the image shows “a church” in Pirron Yallock” - given there were just 113 residents registered in the 2016 Census, we’re guessing the caption perhaps should read “the only church …”  The page does however record the operation of the totalizator with a quoted reference back to our page.