Who was I?

3 min read
In our weekly series, we take a walk down memory lane to learn about some of the characters, both human and equine, in whose honour our important races are named. This week we look at W.J. Healy, who has the G3 W.J. Healy S. at Eagle Farm this weekend.

W.J. Healy (second from right) presents the Tattersall's Cup at Ascot Racecourse in 1933, cover image courtesy of the State Library of Queensland

By and large, it’s been easy to bank the names of good horses into racing’s annals, but not so easy to bank those of memorable people. For whatever reason, significant individuals have had races named in their honour, but the reasons why have become lost in contemporary times.

And so it is with the G3 W.J. Healy S., a race that’s been continually run since 1949. It’s part of the Queensland Tattersall’s Racing Club, and it is named after the organisation’s longest-serving president, W.J. ‘Bill’ Healy.

The Tattersall's committee in 1926, showing W.J. Healy in the front row, far right | Image courtesy of Tattersall's Club Retrospect

Healy was born in Dublin in 1880 and, despite a long life in Australia, he never lost his Irish brogue. He was a long-distance runner and keen cyclist in his youth, and forevermore a sportsman and shooter.

For much of his adult life, Healy was the deftly dressed owner of Healy’s Menswear in downtown Brisbane. The grand old building was in Queen’s Street, and in 1949 he sold it to Tattersall’s, leasing it back for his shop.

Healy’s interest in racing wasn’t just a social one. He possessed a genuine interest in seeing the sport grow in Queensland, and through 1912 and 1913 he sat on the committee of the Bundaberg Turf Club.

Settling day for bookmakers and clients at the Queensland Tattersall's Club on Edward Street, Brisbane, 1926 | Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland

He joined Tattersall’s in 1914 (the Club’s history in Queensland dates back to 1865), and by 1916 he’d been elected to the Club’s committee. He was made treasurer in 1921, and three years later he was vice-president.

By 1931, Bill Healy was the president of Tattersall's, and he remained at the helm for a record-setting 21 years.

His presidency occurred during times of great change for Tattersall’s in Queensland, which wasn’t incidental. He brought to the table a grounding in good business and a sound acumen for customer service, and it was said he was a delightful host at Club occasions.

The Tattersall's Club facade on Queen Street, Brisbane, pictured in 1951. Healy's menswear store is the building on the left | Image courtesy of Tattersall's Club: Illustrated Anniversary Celebration

It must be considered, though, that his tenure as president was also a profound era for Australia. From 1931 until 1953, the years that Healy presided, the nation survived the Great Depression and World War II, and with the early 1950s came a rush towards modernism.

As such, Healy's presidency oversaw the expansion of the Tattersall's Club in Queensland, with its growth in membership and its significant renovation of premises. Healy was made a life member of Tattersall’s in 1933, and he died at the helm on June 14, 1953, aged 73.

The race in his honour was a few years old by then, won inaugurally by Commentator (Laureate) in 1949, and it has stayed true to its roots for much of its life.

The W.J. Healy S. is a 1200-metre sprint, and among its past winners are the multiple Group-winner Grey Sapphire (Deep Sapphire {GB}), as well as Hay List (Statue Of Liberty {USA}) and Away Game (Snitzel) last year.

The race is a long-running tribute to a dashing and dedicated individual who otherwise might have slipped away into history.

Who Was I?
W.J. Healy