Harold George “Mick” Sturges
Inductee Hall of Fame 2020
Harold George Sturges, known to all as “Mick”, was the inaugural Secretary of the Launceston Greyhound Racing Club. He was appointed Acting Secretary in the first instance, at the Club’s inaugural Committee Meeting on 30 September 1935 (at an initial salary of three pounds a week); maintaining that position until his untimely death on 4 April 1963.
Mick Sturges was a twin, born to parents Samuel and Sarah (nee Lee) at 82 Elizabeth Street, Launceston, 17 January 1903. His twin brother Henry died on their day of birth. Mick had three other siblings, Eileen, Cyril and Jean. Mick Sturges married Heatha May Triptree on 28 September 1928, and they lived at Invermay, near to White City. They had no children, and she pre-deceased him. According to famed Tasmanian racing character “Tullah” Redman, Mick Sturges was a bullish and humorous fellow and would have left no-one bearing grievances.
Among his many interests were tennis and bowling. Disabled in his youth with a crippling leg injury, he became an above-average tennis player with the 7EX Launceston Club. Mick was the Chairman of the Tattersall’s Club Bowling Club and was a member of the East Launceston Bowling Club for many years. With a keen interest in “having a punt”, he was a foundation member of both the Launceston Tattersalls Club and the Launceston Greyhound Racing Club. Mick also avidly supported the North Launceston Football Club.
For almost three decades, Mick Sturges, as L.G.R.C. Secretary, was front and centre, pertaining to the administration and development of the Club, of the White City track maintenance and amenities, and the general evolution of all aspects of our Sport in Northern Tasmania. Remember, for the first 40 or so years of track racing in Tasmania, each club collected nominations, graded the races and performed all box draws, as well as coordinating all trial sessions. The following is a precis of how the L.G.R.C. forged ahead, during the “Mick Sturges years”.
Basically, two men pioneered greyhound racing at White City – Jack Nelson and Arthur Morgan, both great coursing enthusiasts. In 1932 Nelson, who owned and lived on Malunna, the site of White City, laid down a straight track 440 yards long, at his own time and expense. Further, he added electric lighting and built a grandstand. At the time, the Lotteries Act made no provision for greyhound racing, so he took a great risk. Through their enthusiasm and several others including Ollie Illingworth, the White City Coursing Track Pty Ltd was formed. They first raced on Launceston Cup (gallops) night 8 February 1933. A 7 race program ensued, with a “satisfactory” crowd, and proceedings were broadcast by Mr. W.Pierson.
Under Morgan’s persuasion, Tasmania’s Premier Albert Ogilvie amended the 1932 Bookmaker’s Act to include greyhounds. However, the Company’s efforts were unsuccessful financially, and after 27 enthusiasts gathered at a public meeting on 26 September 1935, the Launceston Greyhound Racing Club was formed. A committee of six was elected with Mr. Tom Johnston the first chairman.
H.G. Sturges was appointed Secretary and Mr. L.A. Burke as Treasurer. Admission charges were one shilling and sixpence for men and a shilling for women. Determined that racing be conducted in the fairest possible manner, each race meeting had two Stewards appointed by the National Coursing Club, and two L.G.R.C. Committeemen. At the initial Committee meeting on 30 September 1935, a lease was agreed upon between the Club and Jack Nelson, the landlord. The first race meeting was held on 19 October 1935, with Blue Bonnett the initial winner.
After the first year in operation, covering 1935-36, it was noted that the Club, after starting with no funds at all, made a profit of 230 pounds. In excess of 1688 pounds were paid out in Stakes, with Amusement Tax and Tote Tax amounting to 570 pounds. Income was generated from Bookmakers fees and commissions, Tote commission, Gate receipts and Nomination fees. Initially, the Club had difficulty securing sufficient nominations, but ownership and participation grew quickly, and stakes increased as the season progressed.
On 17 April 1936, the Club agreed to pay Jack Nelson 200 pounds to construct a circular track, deeming it would be much more attractive to spectators, and indeed, highly popular it proved! The Club’s second year yielded a 373 pounds profit, and stakes increased nearly two hundred per cent to 3105 pounds. Amenities, including improved roofing, made it more comfortable for patrons, whilst a Charity Race meeting raised more than 95 pounds for St Johns Ambulance and Queen Victoria. This started a long tradition by both the Launceston and Hobart clubs, of raising significant funds for a plethora of charitable causes. In the 1937-38 season, straight races were permanently discarded for the highly popular 430 yards circle track.
Just a few days after the 1938-39 AGM, Australia became engaged in a World War for the second time. Profit years continued nevertheless, and during the 1939-40 season, some 323 pounds was donated to patriotic funds; and an interest-free loan of 1500 pounds, from the L.G.R.C. to the Commonwealth Government was made to assist the war effort. Most of the 1940-41 profits also went towards the war effort. The 1940-41 season saw the Club’s first deficit, due mainly to the fact that night racing was prohibited by the Commonwealth Government War Precautions Act.
Had it not been for Arthur Morgan canvassing the Prime Minister personally, greyhound racing would have ceased Australia-wide. The popularity of greyhounds can be seen in the fact, that a small profit was made during the 1942-43 season, despite having to race on Saturday mornings, and in competition with trotting and galloping meetings. And despite less meetings allocated (the Government’s “Austerity Saturday” policy) and less stake-money available. Still, the Club made significant charitable contributions. In 1944 the L.G.R.C. was made a Life Governor of the Crippled Children Society!
In the latter war years, substantial stake increases and profits were made due to much bigger attendances, with fewer avenues of other entertainment available. The L.G.R.C., with Mick Sturges at the helm of the day to day running, also supported the National Coursing Club’s efforts (mainly Arthur Morgan) to foster local breeding, with the introduction of top N.S.W. dogs like Buddha and Naw’s Own, and Irish sires such as Keatingstown.
During the 1943-44 season Sturges helped procure 7EX to broadcast greyhound racing from White City, which brought the sport to a wider audience, particularly country people. It should also be noted, the Mick Sturges was the Mercury correspondent on Launceston greyhound racing for most of his long tenure with the Club. Probably starting during the war years, Mick Sturges would play “ God save the Queen” over the course speakers straight after the last race each week. Men would doff their hats, and every man and woman on course would stop in their tracks, a true mark of pride and respect.
The War ceased during the 1944-45 Season, the Club’s best financial year … a profit exceeding 861 pounds. Night racing recommenced, and late 1940s was a highly successful period. Charitable contributions were still supported strongly, and one meeting also saw Bishop Tweedy handed 168 pounds for “Boy’s Town”. A year later, 2267 pounds was donated to charities. 1946-47 saw revenue up 30%, Stakes increased to a record 4973 pounds, and it marked the first 1000 pounds Launceston Cup, phenomenal money for the day. As such, and like the Hobart Thousand, the leading dogs from Victoria and N.S.W. started coming in droves. Nevertheless, local Andy Johnson’s King Goldsby took home the 1947 Launceston Cup, and the 600 pounds first prize. T. Parry’s Lisbon also pocketed a generous 200 pounds for winning the prestigious 1947 Gold Collar. A year later it was 350 pounds.
Jack G. Nelson (inaugural Hall of Fame inductee in 2007), the Club’s landlord and the man responsible for it all, died on 19 August 1946. Former proposals that the Club should purchase the White City property had been, necessarily, delayed during the war years, but in 1947-48 the club became the owner. The purchase price was 1200 pounds, in a substantial profit season for the L.G.R.C. This milestone purchase would propel and secure the future of greyhound racing in Launceston; which few clubs could match. From the 1948-49 season onwards, the Club embarked on a plan for future improvements.
In 1948 the Club spent 2257 pounds installing Photo Finish facilities, regarded as “the best equipment of its kind in Australia”. During the 1949-50 season, the Club allocated 5,000 pounds to build new kennels, a new entrance, extension of the circular track, and beautification of the grounds. The 1950s saw continued success, sustainable stakes, and more improvements. Work to extend the track from 430 yards was completed by the time My Cheetah won the 1955 Launceston Cup over 595 yards. This distance reverted to 548 yards by Royal Tarra’s 1956 Cup, and that it stayed, until the change to metric in 1973.
All the while, the Club, and greyhound racing paid its way. In the 1952-53 season alone, the L.G.R.C. paid almost 6000 pounds in Entertainment, Totalisator and Income Tax. Stake-money decreased over 1954-56 due to a combination, of meetings lost to inclement weather, owner-trainer strikes (4 meetings) and an Australia wide slump, necessitating curtailments in expenditure. Ever looking forward, the Club purchased a block of land in George Town Road and negotiated to buy land to enable the car park to be extended. In 1955-56 Quinella wagering was introduced with immediate success.
The 1956-57 season saw deficit for only the second time in the Club’s first 22 years……595 pounds! There was now competition with the new Drive-in Theatre at Mowbray, and other attractions. Various Government take-outs, also now cost the Club 1000 pounds a year. Nevertheless, delegates of the interstate NCC Conference that met in Launceston in this season, were “high in praise of the conduct of greyhound racing in Tasmania”. With an Australia wide recession in Racing, the L.G.R.C did not return to profit until the 1959-60 Season. The Club still spent 2000 pounds on a modern cafeteria, repairs and painting, and made plans for brush hurdles, and a jumping hare. Various proposals for the Club to relocate at the Elphin Showgrounds were forwarded to the Committee, but were considered impractical and strongly rejected.
Mick Sturges was strong on press coverage (as a strong contributor himself) and the Match Race organized in 1961 between the Tassie champion Western Idol and the mighty Victorian Tameroo (which won), drew great publicity for the Club. He also played a keen role in Melbourne trotting broadcasts on race nights, which added to attendances and betting.
The early 1960s was difficult for all clubs, with a credit squeeze and tight financial situation in general, forcing the Club to reduce working expenses. Playing a negative role also were declining greyhound numbers racing for a period. Despite the Annual report declaring losses from 1960 to 1963, plans were never in place to advance forward. Moving the Launceston Cup to precede to Hobart Thousand would get better nominations, remissions in Entertainment Tax were coming, and there was talk of a T.A.B. (which didn’t eventuate till the 1970s). The Racing Assistance Fund also came forward to help all clubs during 1964-65.
Fate also dealt the Club a cruel blow during the 1962 -63 season, with the sudden passing of H.G.”Mick” Sturges, on 4 April 1963. Mick, who had worked through illness for quite some time, was still on the job when a sudden heart attack took his life. He had been Club Secretary since inception on 26 September 1935, almost 28 years. His loyalty and dedication to the sport were legendary, and his loss was a heartfelt blow. Ray Foley, who took over his reins in May 1963, would go on to serve for another 22 years.
Mick Sturges was at the forefront of Greyhound Racing’s initial rise from obscurity in Tasmania. Supported by many other illustrious enthusiasts, he strongly assisted in the first three decades of development in our sport. The Australian Greyhound Stud Book devoted a full page in 1964, in deference to his contribution to greyhounds. The L.G.R.C.’s A.G.M. of 1963-64 noted “his most efficient and loyal administration”. In recognition, they created the Sturges Memorial in 1964, run as heats and a final over three divisions. So popular was this series, that in 1974, the race spanned four meetings, three nights of heats, and final night. Sadly, the race was discontinued, but hopefully, it will make a comeback.
Mick Sturges was widely recognized Australia wide, as one of the most knowledgeable greyhound enthusiasts. A humorous and personable man, he could deal equally comfortably with greyhound participants from all sides. His memory will live on as he enters the Tasmanian Greyhound Hall of Fame.
- The original 1935-36 Launceston Greyhound Racing Club Committee
- Cross-section of Jack Nelson’s original track and grandstand
- Original catching pen at White City, looking over Invermay
- White City’s initial 325 yards straight track
- H.G. “Mick” Sturges
By Greg Fahey