OPINION: There was fighting and theft but it wasn’t down to Squizzy

SQUIZZY Taylor — why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Towong Turf Club has a great “legend” that Squizzy Taylor and his gang robbed the club of its takings in 1928.

The Towong Cup last weekend “celebrated” Squizzy’s alleged link to the district.

It’s half true — there was a cheeky robbery at the races on January 13, 1928.

But the nifty, nasty gangster Leslie Taylor was dead — shot in Melbourne 11 weeks earlier — on October 27, 1927.

Even without Squizzy Taylor, the 1928 Towong Cup meeting caused a sensation:

- The takings of day one were stolen — reported variously as £1500, ($3000) £120 ($240) and £12 three shillings and sixpence ($24.35).

- The favourite for the Towong Cup, Euada, was doped — poisoned so badly he was partly blinded and paralysed.

- Two jockeys fought with whips during a race — and then punched on in the saddling room.

Many toughs and pickpockets did attend the 1928 races, probably travelling up on the old Cudgewa railway.

Some of Squizzy’s old mates might have been among them.

The theft of the takings was discovered after the stewards had punished the jockeys, disqualified one for a year for foul riding and fined the other £5 ($10).

Years later, the tall tale about Squizzy was given some authority in State Parliament by Tom Mitchell, the member for Benambra, a former Attorney-General.

Mitchell, who lived at Towong Hill, was in a jocular mood in 1953 when he told MPs that Squizzy’s gang had years before “done over the gate and stolen the cash” at the Towong meeting.

It was just an aside while MPs were debating the Bookmakers’ Bill, but Mitchell, also a local historian, repeated it in his 1981 book, Corryong and the Man from Snowy River District — without giving a date.

Since then, the legend has grown like Topsy to include the “facts” that Squizzy robbed a Corryong publican the same day but was arrested on the way to catch at train at Cudgewa.

“The whole day’s takings had been placed in a bag and, while an official (secretary A. W. Acocks) turned his back momentarily, someone stretched his hand through the ticket window and took the lot,” a contemporary news agency report said.

However, another account said Acocks had placed the bag in his office and, while he wasn’t looking, someone came in and substituted it with a similar bag.

Acocks didn’t discover the theft until he got home, the Queensland Times reported.

“It is thought a gang of thieves visited the meeting... there was certainly a rough element in town, as a free fight occurred, in which several sportsman, after receiving a severe handling, were robbed,” the Ipswich paper stated.

This fight was, indeed, on the Friday night at a Corryong pub.

Although it was thought only about £120 had been stolen, the figure had soared to £1500 by the time the Broken Hill Barrier newspaper got hold of the story.

All reports agreed no thief was caught.

The jockeys’ fight was also reported widely.

McMenamin, a Sydney jockey riding Bill Boy in the Sires Produce Stakes, had struck the other jockey, Hyland, on Red May on the face with his whip, then struck the horse on the forehead. Hyland, naturally, fought back.

By the way, in January 1928, Tom Mitchell, then 21, was probably in England studying law at Cambridge University.

In 1960, he had a hand in saving the Towong Races when the state government tried to close all country race courses in the North-East except Wangaratta.

But no one was going to rob Towong of its races.

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