Bill Dougherty's old bookies bag on display at Schaeffer House.
Bill Dougherty's old bookies bag on display at Schaeffer House. Jenna Thompson

101 days before the Melbourne Cup, there was Grafton

CLARENCE River Jockey Club conducted its first official race meeting 101 days before Archer won the 1861 Melbourne Cup. A year earlier the Australian Jockey Club opened Royal Randwick.

Having just doubled its population in a decade, Australia was a nation on the move, and the red cedar city on the Clarence was not about to miss out on this wave of momentum.

In 1859 a newspaper called The Clarence and Richmond Examiner published came into existence. Its founder Clark Irving was the CRJC's first patron two years later and so forged a special bond with the July Carnival that has stood the test of time.

On June 21 this year The Daily Examiner, as it is now known, celebrated 160 years to the day since the first publication by hosting the launch of the Clarence River Historical Society's 160 Years of The Daily Examiner Exhibition currently on display at Schaeffer House.

It is no coincidence the magical allure of the carnival's history immersed as deep as the newspaper itself is a common theme in the exhibition.

"There's the racetrack in flood, and here in a fire,” the society's vice president and exhibition curator Nita Childs explains as she points out historic mastheads displayed in the exhibition. "Without The Daily Examiner it wouldn't be possible to tell the stories of July.”

Few understand the intricacies of this relationship better than 89-year-old Bill Dougherty, who had a successful bookmaking career and was this year awarded life membership of the historical society.

"The Daily Examiner has always been totally behind the July Carnival,” said the grandson of bookmaker Matt Dougherty, who arrived in the Valley in the early 1900s.

"It does give a mighty coverage. I've not seen anything like it in any other newspaper in Australia.

"When the carnival used to start in June and go right through to the end of july, there'd be stories about the horses that might be coming to the July races, which built up an excitement.

There have been times when the marriage might have struck a few holes in the road but generally been a very good combination. Long may it be so.

Racing has been at the heart of the region's social events since time immemorial and The Daily Examiner has always been along for the ride. Once again, like an honest stayer, in 2019 the oldest regional daily masthead in NSW will be there to add to the chronicles with its award winning coverage.