Peter Heagney - Q and A

8 min read
TDN AusNZ's Bren O'Brien caught up with legendary Inglis auctioneer Peter Heagney, who is working at his final Melbourne Premier Sale at the newly-re-furbished Oaklands Junction complex.

TDN AusNZ: Peter this is your last Premier Sale, what are your memories of your first major Melbourne sale?

PH: It was in 1976 and it was at the Melbourne Showgrounds. That was with Dalgetys. Those days we were in opposition to the established sales company in Victoria, which was Wright-Stephenson and they sold at Flemington.

Eventually Dalgetys bought the business of Wright-Stephensons in about 1979-1980. The first sale out here at the new complex was in 1982.

TDN AusNZ: What was the sales ring here at Oaklands like back then?

PH: It was quite revolutionary. It was much more sophisticated and much more like a theatre than any other sales complex had been. There was some apprehension about the size of the sales ring because it was quite small compared to the size of the other sales rings. But it was still basically a very good selling complex.

"The aesthetics have improved dramatically since then." - Peter Heagney

It was, however, basic, quite frankly with 400 stables, we’ve got 800 these days. The aesthetics have improved dramatically since then. It was a little stark, as anything is when you start something new. The other thing is of course, it was so different from the one at Flemington that was centralised. At that stage, this was considered to be out in the sticks quite frankly.

The Inglis Oaklands sales ring before recent refurbishments

TDN AusNZ: The buying bench back then, how did it differ from what we see at sales now?

PH: It wasn't busier then or now. The buying bench is the buying bench. Principally, you are looking at trainers, the difference was then you didn’t have hardly any syndicators. Syndication had hardly evolved. It was principally individuals and principally individual trainers. The difference was then, we relied on the rural sector for support, the farming community was really strong.

"The difference was then you didn’t have hardly any syndicators." - Peter Heagney

In the old days you’d look at a racebook and more than half the field was owned by individual owners and you hardly see that at all these days.

People use agents more than they did before. The other thing is that, being quite brutal, the majority of the people that are buying now aren't what you would call horsemen.

It stems back to a time when people grew up with horse knowledge and with a horse background. They understood horses, where I feel that has changed.

Many horses these days have large groups of owners

TDN AusNZ: There is a real element of theatre in what you do, where did you learn that craft?

PH: It’s always been theatrical I suppose. It’s part of the show. There was a doyen of auctioneers in South Australia where I came from originally called David Coles, who ran a business over there called Coles Brothers. He was a fine man, a fine man. He was a gentleman and a Chairman of the South Australian Jockey Club.

"Like anyone would aspire to be a surgeon or a fireman, I'd aspired to be an auctioneer." - Peter Heagney

My father was a trainer and I used to go to the sales with him and I’d watched David Coles for years and years and like anyone would aspire to be a surgeon or a fireman, I'd aspired to be an auctioneer.

TDN AusNZ: How did you get into the auctioneering business from there?

PH: When I started I went and worked for Dalgetys in the rural sector. I then had the opportunity to go out and sell livestock and that's where I started at Gepps Cross in Adelaide and also at country branches.

What makes it difficult for young auctioneers these days, is that they don’t get the practice. I was selling three or four days a week. Certainly livestock is different from selling horses, but nevertheless it’s still great practice.

Peter Heagney auctioneering at this week's Melbourne Premier Sale

TDN AusNZ: And the first time you sold horses?

PH: I was working for Dalgetys in Perth in 1975 and my first horse sale was a standardbred sale. Those days we used to sell thoroughbreds on one day, the second day was devoted to standardbreds and the second half of the second day devoted to hacks and ponies and we ended up selling gear and sundries. David Coles was selling over there and at that stage, he said, you better take over. I didn’t know much about trotters!

TDN AusNZ: And it grew from there?

PH: I think to my knowledge that I'm the auctioneer to have sold at every major yearling sale in Australia in the one year. That was the year when Inglis bought Dalgetys in 1994, I had committed at that stage to freelance for some of the other agents. I had committed when Inglis bought Dalgetys and Inglis let me fulfil those engagements that year, but they quickly put a stop to that.

TDN AusNZ: You'll forever be known as the auctioneer of Black Caviar, although at the time, you would have had no idea that such a freak horse was parading before you?

PH: Of course in retrospect, that is one of my highlights. You don't remember every specific Lot once they go on and race, but having said that we keep all our old catalogues. When they come good, you immediately revert to your catalogue and see what notes you had written on them.

It’s ironic, of all the horses I've sold, I've never made the statement before or since when I said 'just think what she will be worth when she wins a Group 1'. Of course in retrospect it’s a great call, but at the time she is just a filly that made $210,000.

Selling Black Caviar as a yearling is one of Peter Heagney's career highlights

TDN AusNZ: When you are up there with the gavel in your hand, people's lives can really change can’t they?

PH: As much as selling high-priced lots, I get great satisfaction out of achieving for a low-key vendor considerably more than they are anticipating. That does give me good satisfaction.

I remember selling one for Rick Jamieson in his very early days and it made $400,000. He was so excited, he couldn’t watch. Since then he has sold one for $5m, and that's the difference.

"I get great satisfaction out of achieving for a low-key vendor considerably more than they are anticipating." - Peter Heagney

I really love getting above expectations for people that it means a lot to.

TDN AusNZ: And in terms of personal achievements, what things stand out?

PH: The three things that stand out in terms of my own career. The first one was selling for the first time at the Easter Sale. That was then the epitome of auctioneering in 1994.

The second highlight was when I was asked to open that sale. To open the Easter Sale was one more step up from selling.

I think my time at Tattersalls was a big highlight too. Not that I really went down terribly well, but just the fact that was selling at this revered sale.

TDN AusNZ: How does the Australian sales environment differ from overseas?

PH: I think every sales environment is iconic. I went to Tattersalls and my style didn’t suit their selling at all. I guess I was vain and egotistical enough to think I could go over there and work wonders.

Conversely, I would hate to go to America and sell because I don't sell like that at all and I don’t think I could.

In Australia, we are iconic in many ways, but each sales company is unique as well.

TDN AusNZ: How much of a role have you had in shaping the next generation of auctioneers, have you been a mentor for them?

PH: Jonathan (D'Arcy), Simon (Vivian) and Rusty (Chris Russell) were established auctioneers in their own right, but a couple of the younger guys I've been able to be a mentor for, Brett (Gilding) and Bryce (Bevan) who are selling here. I have been mentoring them. In fact the later part of my career that has been my charter.

And you sign off here at Premier in an Oaklands auditorium which must be very different to what you walked into in 1982.

This to me is as good a selling auditorium as I've ever sold in. I've sold in New Zealand, China, Malaysia and England, but this as good as any other. Now with the revamp it's even better.

The recently refurbished Inglis Oaklands sales auditorium

Photos supplied by Inglis and Sam D'Agostino