Bill Waterhouse

I was sad to hear of his death yesterday, aged 97. He was no saint and never pretended to be. But nor was he the tainted “colourful racing identity” of some ignorant imaginations. His most famous alleged infractions – regarding Big Philou in 1969, whatever really brought on the vague 1971-73 suspension by the AJC and the Fine Cotton affair – were either exaggerated or gossip. It was accepted by authorities, for example, that he didn’t stand to lose if a nobbled Big Philou – the highly regarded favourite – had gone on to win the Melbourne Cup. Notoriously, it was withdrawn 30 minutes before the start of the race.

The lengthy suspension over Fine Cotton was cruel and ridiculous. Neither he nor son Robbie had any involvement in the ring-in. It was enough that he purportedly knew about it. So did hundreds of others. Fine Cotton was such a lousy prospect that day in August 1984 that betting started at 33-1. So much money poured in for the gelding via TABs countrywide that its painted stand-in – Bold Personality – jumped at 7-2. True story: a racing-mad schoolmate of mine told me the following day he’d known about the switch. Waterhouse believed he was frequently targeted out of resentment and I think there is some truth in that – certainly from Melbourne. Travelling south to field in the 1960s, he monstered the satchel-swingers there.


“Dad studied law and became a barrister, he was the largest seller of liquor in the 1940s, he was the leading hotelier in Australia in the 1950s, he was the world’s leading bookmaker for 40 years, he was Australia’s longest-serving diplomat, and he’s written a best-selling book. He was unique.’’

Robbie Waterhouse to Ray Thomas: Against all odds, Bill Waterhouse took on Sydney, and won.


Waterhouse was proud of his family’s long and storied history in Sydney Town. That comes out strongly in his gripping autobiography, What Are The Odds? First Fleet Captain Henry Waterhouse was the founder of a clan that went on to make its mark in racing, hotels and business for the following 230 years. When I read his book, the minor faults that struck me were a somewhat prideful dynastic mentality and an admitted obsession with bookmaking during his peak years. The latter cost him a marriage. That he took seriously his oddball diplomatic post as Honorary Consul-General of Tonga (he went to law school with the young heir to the Tongan throne) was admirable on one level but slightly kooky on another.

Australia will never see a private bookmaker of his ilk ever again – or of Mark Read’s or Bruce McHugh’s. Corporates have moved in and largely taken over the business. As always with corporations, the culture they pretend to be part of is destroyed by their inhuman, dull, greedy presence. The harder they pretend, the more you miss the real thing. Eventually, of course, nobody remembers anything else. Australian governments love the corporate bookies, of course, for their huge (and easily monitored) taxable turnover.

The raucous daring of the betting duels of old – where Waterhouse might take, say, a hundred thousand on a horse and then wind it out to enrage the punter – are long gone. I’m not old enough to remember those glory days but if I went back in time to the Randwick rails, I’d place a bet with Big Bill just to souvenir the ticket. To me, Bill Waterhouse – the tall, manly, fearless patrician gambler – embodied an Australia that is disappearing rapidly before our eyes. Vale, Bill. And vale, that Australia.

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45 Responses to Bill Waterhouse

  1. The decades-long suspension over Fine Cotton was both cruel and ridiculous. Neither he nor son Robbie had any involvement in the ring-in. It was enough that he purportedly knew about it. So did hundreds of others (if not more).

    I would like to know more.

    How did that happen? Were they muscled by organised crime behind the scenes?

    PS

    The best corporations are ones that want to make a lot of money and want to keep their staff for as long as possible. The less forced participation in “charity” and “good deeds”, the better.

  2. Leigh Lowe

    Dad studied law and became a barrier

    Indeed.

  3. C.L.

    I would like to know more.

    The bone heads who orchestrated it let their mates in on the tip … who let their mates in on the tip … who let their mates in on the tip …

  4. Leigh Lowe

    The decades-long suspension over Fine Cotton was both cruel and ridiculous. Neither he nor son Robbie had any involvement in the ring-in. 

    Yeah, nah.
    The great barrier (sic) could have challenged the ban in court.
    He chose not to, because, ….
    Umm, why not?

  5. Leigh Lowe

    It was accepted by authorities, for example, that he didn’t stand to lose when a doped Big Philou was withdrawn 30 minutes before the start of the Cup.

    Huh?

  6. C.L.

    He chose not to, because, ….
    Umm, why not?

    Because he probably did know about it.
    So did 20,000 other people.
    And that was enough under the rules to suspend him.

    The Waterhouses wouldn’t so something so stupid as to outsource a ring-in (with a painted horse) to the likes of the near-retarded Hayden Haitana.

  7. C.L.

    Huh?

    Clarification added.
    Only one coffee so far this morning.

  8. mh

    Racetrack bookies that I remember were so safe that it wasn’t worth wandering through the bookies ring.

  9. herodotus

    Another colourful racing-related story was the time a “settlement day” meeting of bookies (and big punters?) in Sydney was held up at gunpoint and a large amount of cash carried off.

  10. RobK

    The nearest I have come to a bookmaker is being a barman at the Kalgoorlie races several years on the trot as an adjunct to my bartending at the Palace Hotel whilst a student at the WASchool of Mines.
    Pouring piss at the races involved turning the tap off-then-on to change kegs. Other than that a continuous stream of plastic ups passes under the tap and someone collected the money.
    Judging by the mess afterwards the bookies did a roaring trade, every year.

  11. Leigh Lowe

    herodotus

    #3242716, posted on November 23, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Another colourful racing-related story was the time a “settlement day” meeting of bookies (and big punters?) in Sydney was held up at gunpoint and a large amount of cash carried off

    Ah, Melbourne perhaps?
    The Great Cookie Robbery.

  12. C.L.

    A figure who loses out because of Waterhouse’s big publicity footprint is Sol Green (ADB entry).
    He was certainly Australia’s biggest ever bookmaker.
    Also one of its most generous ever philanthropists.

    In 1907, he lost £100,000 to Sir Hugh Denison on the Poseidon/Apologue Cups double.
    Corrected for inflation, that’s $15,000,000 in today’s money.
    Didn’t come close to breaking him.

  13. Bad Samaritan

    No mention of Peter Huxley? And Neville Wran? That one was pure criminality, so gets no further comment. CL now adopting the tawdry obfuscation tactics of the Fake News Media is kinda sad,

    For those not in the know…the Rural Bank had had over $5 Million embezzled….at a time when $5 Million was a great deal of money. The boss of the Rural Bank, Peter Huxley, admitted the fraud but had lost the money to Bill Waterhouse. The justices did not believe this. Bill got the rocket.

    “Waterhouse maintained he made no inquiries about Huxley and no effort to trace the mystery gambler when Huxley stopped betting still owing him. ” As if!

    Neville Wran QC defended Waterhouse. Wran also later pardoned Peter Huxley when he became premier of NSW. Huxley left for Italy where he suddenly found enough money to buy mansions, cars, helicopters etc…..after having lost it to Bill…who hadn’t written tickets or anything so common as that when Peter was losing millions to him. Neville insisted in court that everything was exactly as described and that Bill was just a kind of larrikin figure like himself.

    Anyone else wondering why this episode gets no coverage?

  14. C.L.

    CL now adopting the tawdry obfuscation tactics of the Fake News Media is kinda sad …

    Yes, because the media was always covering for BILL WATERHOUSE.
    LOL. Four Corners and the ABC went after him on several occasions.

    Huxley didn’t use his own name when he gambled away the embezzled money. Waterhouse wasn’t convicted of anything in relation to the matter. Why would he be? He was free to take bets from people without having to establish where their money came from. Some believe the early 70s suspension was related to Huxley but Waterhouse always denied that.

    I’m not sure what you mean by Wran pardoning Huxley. Premiers have no pardoning powers.

  15. Rebel with cause

    It is certainly true that placing a bet on an app will never have the same charm. That is true of many of our interactions which have shifted from the real world to the digital. And yet here we are lamenting these things on a website…

  16. Overburdened

    A pos and father of other pos.

    Being dead won’t change what he was.

  17. Old School Conservative

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks CL.

  18. dopey

    The Waterhouses went down for having ‘prior knowledge ‘ of the ring in. Robbie even sent a bloke to Taree races to have two grand on the horse.

  19. feelthebern

    Robbie Waterhouse was sloppy.
    Not a patch on his old man.
    No doubt envy was the reason for the targeting of the family.
    But hard not to following the bread crumbs when Robbie was dropping whole loaves off for the world to see.

  20. The Waterhouses went down for having ‘prior knowledge ‘ of the ring in. Robbie even sent a bloke to Taree races to have two grand on the horse.

    Robbie Waterhouse sent a Catholic priest named Ted O’Dwyer, a.k.a. Father Ted, to Appin greyhound track to put on a five-figure sum.

    It is curious, the lengths that CL will go to to prosecute a hopeless case on behalf of a criminal just because he is Catholic.

  21. C.L.

    The Waterhouses are not Catholics, Monty.
    The post begins with “He was no saint …”

    Robbie Waterhouse sent a Catholic priest named Ted O’Dwyer, a.k.a. Father Ted, to Appin greyhound track to put on a five-figure sum.

    Naughty Robbie. But the post is about his father, Bill.

    It’s always amazing how much wrong you can squeeze into a comment box.

  22. Snoopy

    It is curious, the lengths that CL will go to to prosecute a hopeless case on behalf of a criminal just because he is Catholic.

    Stay on the straight and narrow, Monty. There is likely limits to CL’s charity when it comes to erring Catholics INO.

  23. feelthebern

    Bill wished Robbie would stop being so indiscreet.

  24. Overburdened

    Ellie

    You have stepped over the line.

  25. Bad Samaritan

    Not really sure why CL is so defensive about Bill and Peter Huxley (see 10.16am) In Paul Kennedy’s book about the Waterhouses he noted “this is hard to believe. Waterhouse always liked to know who he was dealing with…especially when monster sums of up to $600,000 were involved” but CL accepts that Bill was naive in this case. Yeah, really….

    And CL cares not to speculate on where Huxley found his millions again after he’d lost them to Bill…bearing in mind that both Peter and Bill agreed they’d been lost to Bill.

    Up until this effort I’d more-or-less believed CL to be a straight-shooter but not so much now.

    Incidentally, I’ve bet for years with Robbie + Tom W. both on-course and on-line. I like “colourful racing identities” immensely and knew Hollywood George Edser in the 1970s when I was kid.

    This varnishing of the truth with Bill’s part in the Rural Bank fraud is as comical as the “premiers don’t have pardoning powers” faux-naivete. What about the premier just tells the guy with the pardoning power to do it?

  26. Naughty Robbie. But the post is about his father, Bill.

    It was a family business.

  27. C.L.

    And CL cares not to speculate on where Huxley found his millions again after he’d lost them to Bill …

    I wasn’t aware of Huxley ‘finding’ them again.
    It was just a quick post about an interesting, larger-than-life gambler who took on all-comers and won. I happened to read his book last year.
    There were a lot like him once – if not in scale – and their passing as a type in Australian culture is worth noting. That was the nature of the post.

    In Paul Kennedy’s book about the Waterhouses he noted “this is hard to believe.”

    So Kennedy had no evidence..

    Hollywood George Edser

    Never heard of him.

    Up until this effort I’d more-or-less believed CL to be a straight-shooter but not so much now.

    Yes, I got up this morning and decided to tell lies about Bill Waterhouse for some reason.
    Take a valium, dickhead.

  28. Infidel Tiger

    Great post CL.

    Bill’s autobiography should be on the national curriculum. The Waterhouses were quintessential Australians, warts and all.

    Maths, ba lls, and rat cunning are what I hope my progeny have.

  29. Infidel Tiger

    There has never been a successful bookie on earth who didn’t take wagers from crooks.

    Not their job to judge.

  30. C.L.

    Hey Monty.
    I guess you’ve done enough Googling by now to learn of the Waterhouses’ longstanding association with the Sydney Church of England Grammar School and North Sydney Boys High School.

    Right?

  31. Infidel Tiger

    Monty has probably confused the Waterhouses with the Cummings.

    Easy mistake for an idiot.

  32. Tel

    Monty is waiting for the bit where Nixon sends in the Plumbers.

  33. C.L.

    The Waterhouses were quintessential Australians, warts and all.

    Yep. Seventy years on tracks – 40 of them as one of the top, or THE top, bookmaker in Australia/the world – and his infractions were surprisingly few. No evidence has ever been produced to sustain any of them. Not on Big Philou, not re Huxley and not re Fine Cotton.

    I love this from the Ray Thomas piece I referenced:

    In his last day fielding on track at Randwick, Waterhouse was asked by a television reporter to place a mock $50 bet to camera.

    When the reporter later asked for her money back, Waterhouse said: “No, the bet stands.’’

    The horse ran third. Waterhouse was a winner to the end.

  34. Leigh Lowe

    Gai Waterhouse-Smith is fucking annoying though, you have to admit that.
    I’ll give the old bloke a sainthood for putting up with that over the Christmas table every year for 30 years.

  35. mh

    Without the Fine Cotton affair Qld racing wouldn’t be what it is today.

    🤔

  36. Infidel Tiger

    Gai cops a lot of shit but she is a legend. She is a deadset gun.

    Yes she’s annoying, but she made it to the top without ever resorting to “vagina” and gives and gave as good as she gets/got. She’s a throwback to the old school and “society” won’t tolerate her type anymore.

    I’ll say this too. She would never have survived some of the infractions Wallers stable has skated through.

  37. Infidel Tiger

    Without the Fine Cotton affair Qld racing wouldn’t be what it is today.

    🤔

    Qld racing, trots and dogs are more bent now than ever. That whole state should be banned.

  38. Leigh Lowe

    Gai is still a grating sheila, but.

  39. Bad Samaritan

    CL puts up a post on Bill Waterhouse without telling us about definite criminal behaviour from Bill, and the involvement of Nifty Nev…then compounds it by a flip “never heard of Hollywood George” which means that CL knows absolutely SFA about Australian horseracing, illegal gambling, govt figures activities within all of it…etc etc. And is proud to display his lack of knowledge. Even better is that almost every Cat praises this fake ignorance.

    When CL gets his knickers in a knot after being caught out forgetting to give us a few non-hagiographic facts about Bill, he hopes his cowardice will go away by the use of the oh-so-larrikin term “dickhead”. And then assuring everyone that he doesn’t make stuff up on a whim. What cowardly faux-larrikin ever does?

    BTW: From ProGroup Racing…”One of Australia’s most flamboyant punters of all times is undoubtedly none other than ‘Hollywood’ George Edser……His curious ways made the AJC ban him from attending any of the Australian racing tracks in 1961, a ban which was only lifted in 1974.” . No cred CL; getting it wrong since…well, forever.

  40. C.L.

    His curious ways made the AJC ban him from attending any of the Australian racing tracks in 1961

    Interesting. You boasted of your association – albeit a lame association – with somebody called ‘Hollywood’ George Edser without telling us that he was banned by the AJC for 13 years. So he was a crook. And you liked him “immensely.”

    Back to Bill … as I said he was no saint. As I also said – correctly – his biggest alleged infractions were mostly exaggerated or gossip. You’re welcome to provide court transcript links and newspaper links establishing that he was convicted of any “definite criminal behaviour.”

    Let’s see them.

  41. johanna

    I don’t know who Currency Lad is, but he’s certainly not from Sydney if he’s never heard of Hollywood George.

    I had a few brushes with the Sydney racing world in my youth. I dated a small time bookie for a while, and also a guy whose family owned racehorses. Neither of them turned out to be a good bet. 🙂

    The links between the Waterhouses and the NSW government were an open secret. In the uninterrupted tradition of NSW State governments since day 1, they were all in it together.

    My bookie boyfriend was in awe of the Waterhice. They were royalty, combining the traditional paths of wealth, corruption, sucking up and talent to make it to the top.

    Robbie was a dud, highlighting that when a zillion spermatoza swim frantically towards the target, anything can happen. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.

  42. Infidel Tiger

    Robbie has made tens of millions on the punt. Hardly a dud.

    Weirdest dummy spit ever Bad Samaritan.

  43. C.L.

    It’s possible I’ve read about him somewhere in the past but, no, I don’t remember the name, Joanna. I’ve looked him up and it turns out he was banned by the AJC for being an on-track front man for criminals (inter alia). He was shot on one occasion – which speaks to the high esteem in which he was held.

    Nothing else I can find speaks in any way to the largeness or importance of the man. In the mid-20th century especially, the deeds real and merely claimed of big-name betters were common fodder in newspapers. Queensland’s version of “Hollywood” George was John “The Butterfly” Green – a far more interesting character but in many ways cut from the same cloth. George probably game himself the nickname, then spent a lifetime telling gullible journalists tales of his derring-do. This is what these old smarties used to do. They’d bet on credit, borrow money, go from big meeting to big meeting – sometimes flat-out broke – surviving until they won again, all the while giving people to understand they were on top of the world, not least with their tailoring and charm. They were con men, basically, but very interesting and usually highly intelligent.

    For reasons best explained by a medical practitioner, Bad Samaritan – who reeks of punter like Old Spice on an unlaundered cardigan – thinks I conspired to hide Bill Waterhouse’s criminality from my readers. I alluded to the rumours, declared him less than saintly but – being an historian trained to rely on evidence – I was happy to emphasise the broader legend of the man and the times he lived in rather than the small number of allegations against him (none of which were ever sustained).

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