Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


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1933 : I Am Woman

The Totalizator Act had another interesting provision in that women were legally allowed to bet on races for the first time - but only via the new machine.

For years there had been resentment towards the law that prevented them from betting, one commentator claiming it left them in the same class "as minors and lunatics", although of course, they did not always follow the strict letter of the law.  

The restriction came under the Police Offences Act, but penalties for breaches fell exclusively on the bookmaker concerned and not the woman.  It was noted that about five years earlier, a woman had gotten the worst of a dispute with a bookmaker, and subsequently summoned a policeman to charge the bookmaker with accepting a bet from her. The bookie was fined the £5 minimum prescribed by the Act, but no action was taken against the complainant).

One report on the Hunt Club meeting suggested one woman welcomed her new freedom by putting five shillings on No. 13 in every race "just for luck"; it was also suggested that while no woman collected the huge divine on Royalson, several had backed the winner of the second race which paid £4/7/6 for a five shilling ticket, the successful group including three University students "celebrating the first week of the vacation period with a visit to the races".

The Totalizator Act removed the restriction on machine betting only, and even before the first metropolitan totalizator operated, the racing clubs were calling for a revision of the Police Offences Act to remove the anomaly with bookmakers.

There were similar calls over the next year or two, both from the Government and from clubs, but to date, I have not been able to determine just when the restriction was lifted.  An ideal opportunity came with an extensive overhaul of the Police Offences Act in October, 1933 sponsored by the Hon. Robert (later Sir Robert) Menzies that included in part a heavy crackdown on street betting, but of some 35 clauses within the proposed Bill, nothing seems to relate to removing the restriction.

Before the tote was introduced, the Melbourne clubs briefly considered a system setting aside separate windows for female punters, but eventually adopted what we might call today a "uni-sex" approach - compare this to Belmont Park in Perth (there may have been other examples) where there was a totalizator with a separate pool exclusively for woman punters.

In one extreme case a few months before the first operations in Victoria, a rank outsider running third was noted as paying £32 on "the Men's" tote and just £8 on the "Women's" - perhaps justifying husband-and-wife betting teams to ensure the most beneficial odds!

Another Strike For Women’s Lib!

At a meeting at Flemington on 22 February, 1943, Solstar returned a win dividend of £696.0.6 for five shillings, odds of 2,783 to 1, and a place dividend of £58/5 or 233 to 1. This remains today as the highest win dividend ever paid on an Australian racecourse and in all probability will remain so for all time.

Only eleven winning tickets were sold, two of them to American soldiers on leave. The Sporting Globe suggested that one of the tickets was held by a well-to-do Brighton woman who claimed to have backed all three place-getters using “a Chinese betting system” - she later revealed she had backed eight horses in the race and that she was regularly won at race meetings.  Asked whether she might use the winnings to buy a motor car, she replied "no, I already have two".

One other lucky winner was an East Preston woman with a young son on her first day at the races who "liked the name" and the fact that the horse had looked at her on the way to the mounting yard;  another interviewed when collecting a cheque on the following Monday was a bank clerk acting on behalf of a client.

As an indication of the value of each winning ticket, the East Preston woman could have bought a weatherboard cottage in neighbouring Northcote for £650 (probably now much closer to $650,000) and a few pieces of furniture with the additional £46.   Maybe an ice-cream and  a bag of lollies for her son with the odd sixpence!