Veteran journalist Gus Underwood meets with a Kyabram man whose sporting pursuits in his younger days were rather less common choices — certainly when considered together — and both provided adrenaline rushes.
‘‘Yes, you could say I loved being in the fast lane,’’ Kyabram septuagenarian Brian Clements says with a wide grin as he recalls the unusual sporting pursuits of his younger days.
In summer in his native New Zealand in the 1960s it was riding speedway.
In winter he would swap the metal handlebars for leather reins, riding at thoroughbred race meetings.
Both are crowd-pullers and Brian is first to admit they are an odd couple of pursuits for a sportsman to follow.
In fact he doesn’t know anyone who has done it before or since.
Saying that, he acknowledges that in both pursuits to be successful requires a cool head and a more than generous dose of daring.
When pressed, Brian modestly admits he was reasonably proficient at both.
‘‘I rode for New Zealand against Australia in 1961 in a solo speedway competition at Palmerston North.
‘‘I had won all of my races but in my last race I lost to a guy called Chum Taylor — who was a legend in the sport — and Australia won the contest by a point,’’ he reflects.
But, Brian says with glowing pride, he had the honour of representing his country when world renowned speedway superstars were his teammates and rivals.
Brian’s eyes light up when he mentions one of these teammates, Ronnie Moore, who died recently at the age of 85.
Ronnie was world champion twice and right up there with the best the sport has ever seen.
Actually, Ronnie was born in Tasmania but he went to New Zealand when he was 11 years old after his father Les was killed in a racing car accident.
A lot of people will remember Ronnie as the person who rode the Wall Of Death at agricultural shows and special events all over New Zealand and Australia.
Ronnie’s father Les constructed the Wall Of Death and Ronnie was riding it when he was just 13 years old, Brian reflects.
‘‘I wasn’t in the class of riders like Ronnie, Chum, Barry Briggs and Ivan Maugar — but it was an honour to race them and also have them as lifelong friends,’’ Brian adds.
Brian says his career as a jockey was successful and satisfying.
As a 15-year-old he became the youngest jockey to win the Hawkes Bay Cup at Hastings.
More than 60 years later, he still travels back to New Zealand to present the silverware for that race on cup day.
Brian started off riding in flat races but when his weight increased he took on going over the big fences in steeplechase events as well as the hurdles.
All up he estimates he rode close to 200 winners with 80 or so of these wins coming in steeplechase or hurdle races.
One horse he rode over the jumps, Beyond, holds a special place in Brian’s heart.
‘‘He won 18 races and I rode him to his last six wins. He was a very good horse,’’ Brian says.
Brian even got to ride in races in England.
‘‘I was going over there in their summer to ride speedway and I got talked into having a few rides. I never rode a winner there but I did finish second once and it was all a great experience.’’
Brian’s love of horse racing was inherited by his only son, Brendan.
When it was obvious Brendan was a special talent as young rider, Brian and his wife Dawn packed up and left New Zealand in 1976 to settle in Australia in the racing stronghold of Mornington, where his son would get every chance to advance his career in the saddle.
Brendan let no-one down.
He was leading Victorian apprentice jockey in 1980 and was also second on the seniors’ jockey list that year to another great Kiwi rider, Brent Thompson.
Brendan rode in eight Melbourne Cups without any major success.
The nearest he got was a fifth placing on Arwon two years after that galloper had won the cup in 1980.
But Brendan did claim more than his share of big race wins before a horrific race fall ended his career in the saddle.
The best horse Brendan ever rode was the Western Australian Placid Ark, on which he won races in WA and Victoria. He also won a Perth Cup on Linc The Leopard.
Another notable Western Australian win was in the Railway Stakes on Valley Of Carome.
He also won one of Victoria’s premier two-year-old races, the Blue Diamond, on Street Café and the Newmarket Handicap on Dorkon.
Brendan these days drives the Restaurant Tram in Melbourne for a living.
As a hobby he is dabbling in a manuka honey project on small property he owns just out of Kyabram.
He also loves his round of golf at Kyabram’s Parkland Golf Club when he gets back to Kyabram to visit his parents.
Retired in Kyabram, Brian now passes the time as a voluntary radio presenter on the local FM station Power Country where he reflects on what has been an eventful and wonderful life — a life that has brought him few regrets and one he said he wouldn’t change for anything.