MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER
On the eve of Spring Racing Carnival, Gai Waterhouse reflects on growing up as a woman in the man’s world of horse racing, her father’s tough love and his last words.
Gai Waterhouse reflects on growing up as a woman in the man’s world of horse racing, her father’s tough love and his last words.
Iwas an only child and we were a very close family. I was lucky in that I was one of the few people at that time who got to travel. I went to New Zealand from the age of six with my parents, as my father was there for the horse sales, and at the age of 11 I flew solo to Singapore. “My mother was always very mindful I got off to bed early, and my father used to take me to the track at the training centre in Randwick. It was something he did and a way for me to be part of it.
“My father loved me very dearly and he was a very good father and teacher. He gave me a great work ethic, a great respect for people, and insight into people. He was very frank and direct and he wouldn’t fuss over you. He didn’t indulge you and he wouldn’t ever praise you, so you had to work very hard for whatever respect you got from Dad. Yet he was a very kind man and a really good person.
“Dad was very against me going to the theatre; he thought it was a waste of time. He wanted me to come back to Australia [from England] and get on with my life. It was probably only when I was in my 20s that he thought that maybe I should come back and join the business, not as a trainer (that never entered his mind), just in whatever capacity I could. I made the decision after being in England for three years that it wasn’t my life to be, that acting wasn’t the right career path. I woke up one morning and I didn’t have an acting job and it was Christmas time and thought: ‘It’s time to pack up my bags and go home.’ It was the right decision. I was 26.
“I didn’t have a job when I came home, so I started working for Dad clocking the horses and he got me a job writing a column at a paper. Then I got a job at Channel 7 doing a news segment every Friday and that led to me having a racing show called Track Time.
“I liked the television work and I loved going to the track and interviewing the trainers. I knew the way they trained in England, and the training method that I knew best, which was by far the best training method, was my father’s. He is the most successful trainer in Australia. He perfected what we’ve all been striving towards for over hundreds of years. His success was unprecedented.
“My apprenticeship evolved naturally. I found the more I went to the track and the more I was in the stables the more I wanted. I just adored it. I couldn’t get enough and was almost insatiable with it.
“Dad taught me to be very observant and that you can never take your foot off the pedal: it has to be constant. He had a very open mind and he was a very intelligent person.
“When I took over Tulloch Lodge [stable] in 1994 it was an unusual takeover, because I had a great resistance to me taking up the place: one, from the governing body, who didn’t give me a licence for two and a bit years, and so I took them to court; and two, from my family members. My uncle was against me becoming a trainer and that caused enormous distress in the family.
“I questioned myself, because I didn’t know if I could train. I believed I could train and I had enormous will to do it and I wasn’t going to be dissuaded from it, no matter what my uncle or others said. My father wasn’t for me going to court; he was very cranky about it.
“It was only my husband Rob who stood by me and said: ‘No, you must fight for what you believe in.’ We lost the first [court] round and we went back again and the case became an amendment in parliament called the ‘Waterhouse act’ [amendment]. It gives women the right to be able to earn a living no matter who they’re married to and stipulates that you shouldn’t be judged on your partner or husband.
“It was a huge barrier being a female. Dad’s owners turned against me and put huge pressure on my father, because they were his client base, but I was his daughter. Then he had his brother telling him that it was not the right thing.
“There have always been a lot of women in racing, but there’s a real bias in Australia and I don’t think it’s changed a great deal at all. I’m still called ‘the lady trainer’ – they don’t call Peter Snowden or David Hayes ‘ the man trainer’. It’s ridiculous.
“I felt I had to prove myself to my dad, hugely. His final words to me before he died were: ‘You make a man sick. You can’t train a two-year-old. I’m losing my money every time a horse goes around. Why don’t you get it right?’ So when he passed away I said to Mum and to my husband Rob: ‘I’m just going to show Dad I can do this.’
“My greatest success is being able to follow the advice he’d given me over the years. We clashed a lot and it was a great sadness to him and I was too stupid and young and wilful. And it was a great sadness that I couldn’t just take a big breath, as I can now, and say to him: ‘Yes, I understand what you’re saying.’
“It was strange that the day Dad passed away was the day I was born. Do memories of him come to mind on my birthday? They do and they don’t. Dad is always around me. The same with Mum. I so often think about them.”