Fraser Lamb: There from the start

DON WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2014
Fraser Lamb
SPORTING LEGEND: Southland Greyhound Racing club starter Fraser Lamb.

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The racing and harness racing industries are blessed by a hard core of enthusiasts who have voluntarily put their heart and soul into what they love, and it is no different in the greyhound racing world.

There would hardly be a more shining example in the south's closeknit greyhound racing community than respected starter Fraser Lamb, one of New Zealand's longest-serving officials in that role.

A life member of the Southland Greyhound Racing Club, he officiated in an unpaid capacity for the first 38 of his 41 years as starter since the club's inception.

The 69-year-old Quarry Hills (southern Southland) born and bred official - who was educated at Waitaki Boys' High School and worked for 42 years as a tanker and taxi driver - can look back proudly on a job well done.

The club's last meeting of the year at Ascot Park on Tuesday reminded Lamb of its humble origins when an advertisement in The Southland Times 41 years ago calling a meeting in the Kelvin Hotel to gauge interest in forming a club caught his attention.

There and then a decision to form the club was made and he first assisted starter Maurice Williams before taking over.

"When we first formed the club we went to Trevor Robertson's property at Woodlands and established a drag track of humble means ... It was very basic and down to earth with the lure worked off a David Brown tractor power takeoff," he recalled.

"We only had a limited number of dogs in those early days and some ran twice in a day's racing to fill out the card."

After a two-year stint on the Robertson farm, the club moved to the Invercargill A& Showgrounds before moving to Ascot Park in 1991, being the only tri-code racing amenity in New Zealand and conducted under the Ascot Park Consortium of Management umbrella.

"The move to the showgrounds was a big improvement, with lure power on the running rail created by a wire rope off a 1958 Bel Air Chevrolet car. The number of dogs soon built up and the public loved spectacular early days hurdles races there."

The improvements required at the showgrounds were not without much work and expense because of wet conditions and considerable drainage work. Areas beneath the grandstand had to be renovated and tote facilities had to be established, all at a substantial cost, he said.

When the club switched to Ascot Park, most facilities were in place. With the benefit of hindsight, Lamb agreed with club stalwarts that a small fortune might have been saved if the club had been able to go directly to Ascot Park from the initial Woodlands facility.

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In the final analysis, the club's 41-year history had involved the development of three complexes, all in the ongoing passage of time. The present Ascot Park amenity featured one of New Zealand's finest tracks, first laid in grass inside the 1000-metre all-weather harness racing strip.

The big breakthrough came in March 2007 with the completion of a sand track, which was greeted by prominent trainers as one of the finest in New Zealand for safe racing.

"In the case of the first grass track at Ascot Park, we later had to dig it out and form a new base with diggers and other equipment and lay hundreds and hundreds of cubic metres of sand," Lamb recalled.

Lamb has favoured practical hands on work for his club, rather than committees and administrative duties. He didn't like the "correspondence side of things" and greatly admired those who were prepared to take it on.

He identified members of the Eade family and Paul Conner for special mention in the club's development.

The late Mervyn Eade, who died on November 14, 2009, aged only 52, was a stalwart of the club. His widow, Bronwyn, who has served as secretary-manager for the past four years and trains a team of six dogs, is rearing a litter of eight pups.

She is assisted in training duties by two of her three children - 25-year-old plumber Tim, and 21-year-old nursing trainee Kristy.

Conner, club chairman for 14 years, was a NZ Greyhound Racing Association board member for just over two years, a Consortium of Management representative and now co-trains a big team of dogs at Myross Bush.

Bronwyn Eade described life-member Lamb as "a devoted and unselfish servant of the club."

Brendon Burke, former chairman for five years, added: "Fraser is a very reliable official and takes his duties seriously."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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