Born: Terang on October 8, 1961.
Wife: Denise. Children: Aimee, Tom, Joe and Jacqui.
Parents: Jack and Mary. Siblings: Phillip, Julie, Paul, Janet, Denise and Brian (passed away).
Education: St Thomas Primary School before going to Mercy College Noorat.
Sporting highlight: winning my first group three race as a harness trainer with Big Gun Johnny at Geelong back in 2018.
Robert, before we get into your time in harness racing, I thought we could talk about your footy career. Where did your footy career begin?
I played junior footy for Terang. I was not fussed with footy, to be honest with you, as I loved messing around with horses.
As I said, I started out playing Under 16s and 18s with Terang before going out to play with Kolora. We lost the 1982 grand final to college, which was disappointing. I came back in to play for Terang in 1986 under senior coach Chris O'Connor but my career came to an abrupt end in my fourth game when I got kneed in the back. The injury ended my footy career. My footy career was pretty basic. I was just a chaser and tackler who had limited ability, which is a lot different to our four children.
When did you first get involved in harness racing?
I would have been 12 years old. Dan O'Grady was a legendary horse person in Terang and I was lucky that he gave me a start in the harness industry. I drove in my first harness trial when I was 14 years old and then I began riding trackwork on racehorses in Terang. My family lived right in the middle of Terang. My dad Jack worked at the Terang Post Office for 47 years. I mixed my time between riding trackwork for blokes like John Ferguson, plus Fred and David Drever, to learning more about the harness industry through the late Neville Clarke. Neville was wonderful person who taught me so much. He was a mentor to me. It was a sad day when Neville passed away. His brother Bruce and cousin Kerry Clarke are also great people who have done so many great things in the Terang community over many years. I started out as a farrier when I was 21 years old - that came about from my friendship with Anthony Ryan. I've broken in horses and shoed horses around Terang and district for many, many years. I was lucky about 35 years ago to come across Peter and Maree Fitzgerald from Balmoral.
Why were you so lucky that Peter and Maree Fitzgerald came into your life?
They had purchased a young harness horse and asked me to break it in and, over the past 35 years, something, which started out as a business association, has developed over the journey into a great friendship between our families. We've raced and bred various horses over the years and had numerous winners but it's more important the friendships that you make with people.
How many winners have you driven in your career as a harness driver?
I think it's over 150 winners. I was 19 years old when I started driving. During my career, I've driven at lots of different harness tracks around Australia, including Rocklea in Queensland and the Gold Coast, plus places like Boort, Ouyen and Ararat. It's hard work training the harness horses and then taking them to the races and driving them - they finish up really long days. I haven't driven for a while as I often use the services of Terang's harness driver Matt Craven. He's an outstanding young driver and a top trainer.
Robert, away from harness racing, have you continued to be a farrier of thoroughbreds?
Yes. I've been a registered farrier with Racing Victoria since 1984. The way the system works now with the thoroughbreds is there's usually only the one farrier on-course; it's different at big country race carnivals like at Warrnambool earlier this month. They have two farriers on track. I'm good mates with Adam Ryan, who is in charge at the carnival. We work in conjunction over the three days. He'll go around to the barriers for one race and I'll go around for the next. We swap our duties around during the carnival and it works out well. I've also worked as a barrier attendant for more than 20 years. I must admit, I admire the work that the barrier attendants do at race meetings. They are the unsung heroes. They are all top horsemen, with their main priority being to look after the jockeys and horses. I'll never forget the old barriers used to rock and roll around but that's changed over the years with better barriers.
Let's get back to the Terang Mortlake Football Netball Club for a minute. You've had a stint as the president of the club as well as being on the committee for years. I take it you feel it's important to put back into the local community. Is that right?
Yes. I've been on and off the football-netball club committee for years and I've had a stint as president of the club, plus I've been on the Terang Harness Racing Club for 20 years. Volunteers are the backbone of any club or organisation. They are the lifeblood, the heart and soul of the clubs, especially in the country. My wife Denise and I are often encouraging people to find the time to join committees. It's very rewarding to be involved to see young people develop their skills in their chosen sports.
Robert, earlier, you mentioned about your children and their sporting abilities. Have they played much for Terang Mortlake?
Yes. They have been heavily involved in helping the community at so many levels, whether that be in football or netball. Our eldest daughter Aimee has played more than 150 games of netball with Terang Mortlake and, in that time, has coached the senior side. Tom was a senior player at the club before heading up to Darwin, where he played and worked and is now in Western Australia. Joe has played more than 100 games for the club but sadly he dislocated his shoulder on the weekend and will be out of action for a while. Jacqui has played more than 100 games and been a best and fairest winner. Aimee, Joe and Jacqui are life members of the Terang Mortlake Football Netball Club, which is really wonderful, and I've got no doubt Tom would have got life membership if he had stayed around here.
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