Syd goes back a long way
By TERRY WILSON
SYD Norris is one of a rare breed of greyhound people who vividly remembers racing his dogs when there was only straight-track racing in south-east Queensland.
Now a spritely 85-year-old, albeit with the aches and pains that go with life as an octogenarian, Norris recalled the days when there were no circle tracks around Brisbane.
When Norris started his illustrious training career there were only straight tracks – like Kedron Park, Beenleigh, Capalaba, Ipswich and Rocklea. He was there at Strathpine when the circle Lawnton track was first constructed.
In his time he rubbed shoulders and shared the occasional punt with rugby league Immortal Clive Churchill; he worked for a quarter of a century with teenage delinquents; he was a good league player for Norths in Brisbane; he was a state age swimming champion; and he also was unbeaten in a brief career in the boxing ring.
And, as well, he was such a renowned conditioner of greyhounds he had a chaser named after him. That was Knocka Harris, a sire that was still producing winners up to last month.
And Norris can recall the days when the Queensland Greyhound Of The Year functions were headlined by the three finalists being in attendance. Norris won one of those titles, with brilliant bitch Solar Beach.
These days Norris still has dog racing in his blood and he still goes to Capalaba whenever good mate Kevin Ellis has runners there.
‘Knocka’ can tell many a good yarn and he remains one of the true characters of the industry. Like the days when you had to pay a toll to drive over the Story Bridge. Or when he penned a column for Chase’s predecessor the Greyhounds Queensland magazine. It was titled Memories – pretty appropriate you can say.
Chase sat down with the veteran and ran through some fascinating insights with him.
Chase: We start at the start (where else?) and ask you where it all began. It was a long, long time ago, wasn’t it?
SN: Before the war dad (Harold) used to give a bloke a hand with greyhounds and I took a liking to them. After the war when I was pretty young Dad bought a fish shop at Brighton and when we settled in there we started with the dogs. We went to Lismore and bought a pup and that’s when it started. It never won a race and it was a bit of a non-chaser.
Chase: Things were very different when you started out. What are some of your vivid memories of back then?
SN: Kedron Park was one of straight tracks, there were others at Rocklea, there was Loganholme, and Ipswich as well as Capalaba. Kedron Park is now the site of a college.
Those were the days when a bloke on a horse used to pull the lure along the inside rail at Capalaba but the dogs couldn’t see. And back then dogs used to race in heats in the morning and back up the same day in the final. There were also times when they’d run a hurdle race in the morning then some dogs would back up again for a normal race that afternoon. You didn’t have to have a trainer’s licence either when I started.
Things are totally different now and to me greyhound racing is the best it has ever been. I can’t believe that greyhound racing is as good as it is now. And what they’ve done through this virus is remarkable.
And these days you get $60 per dog you take to the track. So if you take six greyhounds to the track you get $360.
Chase: So can you remember your first winner?
SN: It was called The Defence, and it won at Kedron Park. I can’t remember what day or year it was. I got into the dogs when I went to Lismore to play league for the Brothers club and get some experience in greyhounds.
I’d been a player with Norths in Brisbane, a five-eighth or centre and had two years as player-coach at Wondai.
At Lismore I stayed with people named Stone and I learned a few different things when I was pretty young.
I was lucky that my football mixed in well with the greyhounds.
Chase: Can we get on to the fascinating story you can tell about ‘The Little Master’ Clive Churchill?
SN: I was at Norths when he first came to Queensland to coach the Devils in 1959. I played under him only once and that was in a trial out in Roma. But he was a great man.
I can remember in the days when you couldn’t get a bet or a drink on Anzac Day in Queensland but Tweed Heads was running so we took Clive down there with us.
You couldn’t imagine the size of the crowd there that day and we even had Clive putting the bets on for us. It won and I do recall two bookies giving me IOUs because we won that much.
I also had an association with Kevin Yow Yeh. Remember him?
Chase: Syd, you also had a close association with youth crime and helped to put a number of teens on the right track to make a success of life. What was that all about?
SN: When we sold the fish shop and with the dogs I had to look around for something to do. A job with the correctional services was advertised, I applied, and I got it. I then worked with criminal youth for 24 years – and I loved every day there.
I worked on a theory that the mind controls the body and to keep them working. While you’re doing something your mind tells you what to do. I used that a lot on the kids at the detention centre.
Chase: Now we move on to Solar Beach. Was she the best greyhound you have ever had?
SN: She was Greyhound Of The Year in 1978 at the Gabba. She wasn’t the fastest greyhound going around but for publicity she was the best. She was the first one to win over three distances at the Gabba. They were 420 metres, 558 metres and the 700 metres.
She was owned by a footballer from Mackay, Greg Sichter, and I took her to Hobart and she contested a race there.
I haven’t had dogs for quite a while now. I could have them but I’ve always said that if I can’t do it properly then I wouldn’t do it.
Chase: And your thoughts of the Gabba track? It was a different venue, wasn’t it?
SN: I raced a lot of dogs there but I rated the Gabba as the worst track of all. A lot of political stuff went on there.
Chase: We believe there is a family twist to your tales and tell us about the other sports you played away from rugby league.
SN: My dad was very strong on sport, so I had a number of them.
I was a Queensland swimming champion at under-age level and I also had three fights as a boxer and had three wins.
(FOOTNOTE); Norris’s grandson Dan Broxham is a greyhounds steward.