If every picture tells a story, there's a whole book of yarns just waiting to be told about Warrnambool's famous May Racing Carnival.
At least that's what Warrnambool illustrator Bore Hoekstra is aiming for.
As the artist behind the caricatures of carnival ambassadors for 14 years, Hoekstra has captured everyone from Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Michelle Payne and legendary AFL coach Kevin Sheedy, to long-time local race book seller Gordon Ballis.
In a collaboration with Warrnambool Racing Club stalwart Des Roberts, the cartoonist has drawn about 40 caricatures for the club, including staff members and volunteers.
Now he's hoping his pictures, combined with Mr Roberts' accounts of the stories behind them, can be documented in a publication showcasing a snapshot of the district's rich racing history.
"Des' stories are such a historical part of the racing club and I would imagine there are a lot of people who would like to read about them," Hoekstra says.
The story of the ambassadors is a varied one, ranging from media personalities to race callers, jockeys, trainers and writers. Their common denominator is a personal connection to the district or to jumps racing.
"It would be easy to come up with big names as ambassadors, but it's important they have a connection," Mr Roberts stresses, citing media personality Gorgi Coghlan who grew up in Warrnambool, jockey Laura Lafferty, whose father Peter and grandfather Kevin are regarded as local racing royalty, and even distinguished Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy.
"Kevin, his brother Bernie and his mother Irene used to be regulars at the carnival for years," he explains. "When his mother died, Kevin sponsored a race in her honour. He was a great ambassador, visiting hospitals and schools."
The carnival caricatures concept had its genesis when former club chairman Marg Lucas received the Victorian Wakeful Club Lady of Racing Award for her contribution to the sport in 2006.
Unbeknown to Mrs Lucas, committee member Mr Roberts enlisted Hoekstra to create a cartoon as a tribute from the club recognising the achievement.
"I'm really proud mine was one of the first. I had no idea I was getting it," Mrs Lucas says of the framed print which is still prominently displayed in her home office. "I think it's hysterical," she laughs.
So impressed was the then club chairman and her committee that they adopted the idea as a gift for the annual ambassadors and 'face' of the carnival.
"I saw it as a lovely individual and unique present for the people who had given their time and support to promoting the club. At the start no one knew if it was just going to be a one-off, but as time went by it became a bit of a tradition," Mrs Lucas says, hopeful the tradition can resume after being held over this year due to COVID-19. At least eight departing race club staff have also been recipients of a personal caricature memento.
"It's been a terrific success and a great partnership between Des and Bore."
For the farmer with a passion for horse racing and no artistic skills to speak of, and the physiotherapist with a talent for drawing and no interest in horses, theirs has been an unlikely, but productive alliance.
"We both bring different skills to the table," says Hoekstra of their relationship which has evolved from being strangers to firm friends.
For Mr Roberts, 73, it's all about his abundant knowledge of the local racing scene, born of a lifelong interest in the sport.
From attending his first May Racing Carnival at 17, he's bred race horses, held a position on the Warrnambool Racing Club for 21 years, five of them as chairman, and also headed the Woodford Racing Club for 12 years.
As the driving force behind the project, it's Mr Roberts' role to provide the framework for his partner to transform into a work of art. A rough sketch of the concept in Mr Roberts' rudimentary 'stick figure' style, photos, background information and the odd anecdote inform the final caricature.
"As a gift, it's much better than a biro or a bottle of wine that will just get cast away," he quips.
The original framed caricatures are presented to the recipients, with copies of most displayed at the racing club.
Tracing his artistic origins to his school days in Holland doodling pin-ups of his teachers from the back of the classroom, Hoekstra, 72, rates his racing caricatures among the highlights of his career as an illustrator.
The recently-retired physiotherapist says drawing has been a lifelong hobby, leading to work as a magazine illustrator and political cartoonist with The Standard for two years.
An avid drawer, Hoekstra says the key to a good caricature is being able to quickly recognise the subject. All of his illustrations are based on photos, the more the better.
"Just one photo doesn't necessarily show a person as they really are. The more photos you have of someone the better picture you can form of them."
While neither of the partners would be drawn on their favourite racing caricatures, Hoekstra says some, particularly those subjects with distinctive features, were easy to capture while others could take weeks or work.
"All of them are unique in their own way."
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