She oversaw WA racing’s greatest era

Former WA Turf Club promotions officer dead at 88 10 August 2020

It was sad to read of the death of Marjorie Charleson, who died last Saturday at the age of 88.

Marjorie Charleson was WA Turf Club promotions officer from 1967 to 1984. Her time at the club was during a period of prominence which WA racing had not seen before and, sadly, will probably never see again. It was the golden era of WA racing where our summer carnival competed on nearly equal footing with the spring of Flemington and Randwick.

Working in conjunction with WATC secretary Harry Bolton, a unique visionary who helped catapult WA racing into the national limelight, Marjorie oversaw and helped create these momentous events. She was the first PR person hired by an Australian race club, led by a forward-thinking committee.


Soon after starting her Perth career, she was able to promote the first $100,000 Perth Cup won by Fait Accompli. For a brief time our cup carried more prize money than the Melbourne Cup.

This soon co-incided at the same carnival with the Australian Derby where initially the race was by invitation only. Every summer, derby winners; and winners and placegetters from major Sydney and Melbourne spring three-year-old races, came to Ascot.

In those days the AJC Derby and Victoria Derby were both run in the spring and the nation’s three highest-profile trainers – Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings and Colin Hayes – would set horses for the Perth carnival after the Melbourne Cup carnival.

This meant the cream of Australia’s three-year-olds and stayers would come to WA for the summer carnival. So did the crowds.

Dulcify was among 10 Victoria Derby winners – along with Dayana, Haymaker, Galena Boy, Unaware, Stormy Rex, Sovereign Red, Brewery Boy, Grosvenor and Bounty Hawk – who came to Perth between 1972 and 1983. AJC Derby winners Battle Sign, Taras Bulba and Imagele came too.

Melbourne Cup winners Think Big, Arwon, Piping Lane and Baghdad Note came for the cup with Marjorie working furiously to make this happen.  Interestingly none of them won but the three-year-olds provided a different story winning the race, and sometimes the WA Derby as a lead up, every year.

In 1974-75 Marjorie attracted 28 interstate horses, to the summer carnival. It is doubted  this feat will ever be equalled. She brought Fashions of the Fields from Melbourne to Perth and introduced fund raising at major meetings.

Hospitality tents ringed the then lake behind Ascot’s grandstand and invitations to one of these were highly sought after. This was pre-AFL and Ascot racing’s summer carnival was the biggest game in town.

During Marjorie’s time, the horse I rate the best I have ever seen, Kingston Town, came to Perth and won the 1982 Western Classic after having won three Cox Plates. The race he won is called the Kingston Town Classic. The story goes that an airline strike threatened the horse coming to WA. Marjorie rang her New Zealand home and asked her cousin to organise a charter flight from there.

Another promotion under her watch was the Sunspeed, first run in the early 1980s, a $100,000 (from memory) two-year-old race subsidised by breeders’ subscriptions. This became a major autumn attraction.

Marjorie was a strong advocate for the running of the Powder Puff Derby for female riders; the world’s best jockeys converged on Ascot to ride in the Exhibition Stakes and she introduced breed horse parades to show off WA’s best stallions to the public at the races.

During her 16 years as the turf club’s public relations officer she brought national and international stars to Ascot including actors, singers, comedians, sports stars and the West Indian cricket team.

Marjorie Charleson is a nominee for WA Racing’s Hall of Fame and, if elected, would become the second woman after Sheila Gwynne to earn that honour.

I believe she deserves it.

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