Photo revives fond memories
APHOTOGRAPH of three elephants racing in Arawa St, Matamata in the Matamata Chronicle (History Never Repeats, June 29, 2011) brought back memories of this exciting event to some of the participants.
In fact investigations have uncovered there were two such races in Matamata in a space of three years.
The first race was organised by Farmers on December 13, 1962. In those days there was a Farmers shop in Arawa St, not far from the Post Office on the same side.
Bullen’s Circus was coming to town and arrangements were made that their three elephants would take part in a race which would start at Arawa St North, where it meets Rawhiti Ave and end at the Farmers in Arawa St.
It was decided to ask three service organisations to provide jockeys for the race.
Peter Singh, a school teacher from Matamata Primary School, represented the Jaycees; Jack McAnnalley, a local chemist, was the Lions Club jockey and Jack Martin, a plumber, rode for Rotary. Each jockey wore a placard around his neck with the name of his organisation printed on it in large letters.
Both Jacks have very clear memories of that special occasion. Jack McAnnalley remembers wearing Ozzie Edwards’ purple and red racing silks complete with matching cap.
The jockeys walked to Rawhiti Ave where it meets Arawa St North, to meet the elephants and their mahouts or keepers.
Jack Martin remembers he was wearing jodhpurs and a safari hat and Peter Singh, the photographs show, was wearing a turban.
Jack Martin remembers that before he mounted the elephant his mahout asked him if he’d been on an elephant before. ‘‘No, but I’ve ridden horses,’’ he said.
‘‘You’ll do me. I hope to make some money if you win!’’
He had to stand on the mahout’s knee and jump up high on to the elephant’s neck. The skin was quite rough and there was only a piece of rope tied around the elephant’s neck to hang on to.
He had to sit just behind the head, on the neck and the elephant’s shoulder dug into him.
Jack McAnnalley takes up the story.
The two other elephants set off before his at a spanking pace, urged on with sharp pokes from the mahouts, much faster than he had expected them to.
His only other experience had been a ride on Jemima, a wellknown Auckland Zoo elephant who moved at a stately pace carrying her load of excited children. Mr McAnnalley also remembers he had to sit on the bare back of the elephant with only a bit of baling twine to hang on to.
He found out later that the mahouts had each placed bets on his own elephant to win the race so were eagerly encouraging it on.
They crossed over Broadway, which was closed to traffic, and raced up Arawa St to the finishing line at the Farmers office in about three minutes.
They were accompanied by Winston McCarthy, the rugby radio commentator in the 1940s and 1950s, who is remembered for his well-known cry of ‘‘Listen . . . It’s a Goal’’ fame. He was making a commentary through a megaphone but apparently got left behind because they travelled so fast and were cheered on by the large crowd watching the race.
The Matamata County Mail recorded the following report:
ELEPHANTS: Winner of last Thursday’s elephant race up Arawa Street was Rotarian Jack Martin. In second place came Jaycee Peter Singh with Lions Club rider Jack McAnnalley third. The huge crowd was amazed at the speed of the elephants but authorities say that a speed of 40mph can be attained by them.
Jack Martin remembers that Farmers gave him four folding chairs, which he still has.
Spectacle: A huge crowd gathers at the finish line outside Farmers on Arawa St after the first elephant race in Matamata in 1962.
And they’re off: From left Peter Singh, a school teacher from Matamata Primary School, represented the Jaycees; Jack Martin, a plumber, rode for Rotary and Jack McAnnalley, a local chemist, was the Lions Club jockey in the Matamata elephant race organised by Farmers in December 1962.