Historic change: Sawyers' stable starts new era
WHEN popular jockey room attendant George Sawyers retires after next Saturday's Ipswich Cup meeting, he will miss the people more than anything else.
"Just the companionship. I've made some good friends,'' George said, reflecting on 22 years of dependable service at the Ipswich Turf Club.
Aged 85, George will hand the proverbial reins to son David, who has been helping out in recent months to ensure a smooth transition to the important role.
READ MORE: Generous George draws on other skills
A week out from Ipswich's social event of the year, George shared what he won't miss at the historic Bundamba venue.
"We find now that instead of about 10,000 steps a day, we're doing about 30,000 steps a day,'' George said, "because of the distance we have got to travel to get everything.''
Since major reconstruction works began at the turf club in August, the jockeys have been relocated near the former Pig Pen site, requiring longer treks to the enclosure.
"The distances you have got to travel around the place is one of the snags down there,'' George said.
However, George knows the impressive new jockey rooms will be worth the wait when the multi-million dollar redevelopment is finished.
George's regular work includes catering to the jockeys' needs on race day, including providing food and drink, and looking after their valuables.
He said unusual requests included having to source a sewing kit, fingernail clippers and even Vaseline, presumably when chaffing becomes too painful for the riders.
"You'd do anything for them and they reckon I mother them all too much,'' George said with a laugh.
"If they left something out in their car, I'd go back out to their car and get it.
"They became like a family to me. If any of them got hurt, it was always a great concern to me.
"When they have a good point, it makes me very happy.''
Such is his passion for the job, George has only missed three meetings in 22 years. On those rare occasions, he made sure someone filled in so as to not let anyone down.
Ipswich Turf Club general manager Brett Kitching said George has been a delightful acquisition over those two decades.
"George has always got the big smile with everyone,'' Kitching said.
"I've never heard a bad word about him from anyone over the years.
"As soon as they need some-thing, he's straight into it.''
George' son David has also seen first hand how much his father's efforts are appreciated.
"All the jockeys down there respect him,'' David said. "If someone respects you, well you're doing a good job.
"They still call him sir.''
David has become increasingly more involved at the turf club over the past three years, preparing to carry the baton forward for his caring father.
"It's been good working with the old man for a change,'' David, 62, said.
Like George, David has performed many Ipswich Turf Club roles, including working at the gate.
David's younger brother Ken was a jockey on and off for 40 years before a fall at the Sunshine Coast five years ago ended his career.
But like Ken and George, David has long held a passion for racing.
David and Ken have bought a couple of racehorses, including a successful ownership partnership with Chilli Beach, before selling it.
It was a different path for George.
When he was 16 growing up on the family farm at Mutdapilly, George wanted to forge a riding career before his parents Jack and Josie had other ideas.
"The people out there wanted me to be a young jockey but mum and dad were strict on that,'' George recalls. "And they just said: 'No, end of story, you're not going into races' so that was the end of it.''
Denied that opportunity, George detoured to the navy for more than seven years.
He also spent 30 years in the fire brigade.
But George's fascination with racing never waned.
When Ken wanted to become a rider, George didn't stand in his way after some initial anxiety.
"I thought about it and let him go with Stuart Hinks, the local trainer,'' George said. "So once again, I was reminded about racing and that got me interested again once he (Ken) started.''
When George was asked to help out after watching the Beaudesert races, he seized the opportunity in 1996.
Over the next 12 months, he performed many tasks including work on the track and building fences.
"So I learnt more down there about just what goes on around the tracks,'' George said.
The ever-welcoming stalwart has still got the racebook where a race was named the 'George and Dot Sawyers Handicap' in his family's honour.
"That was my high spot down there,'' the proud Ipswich resident said.
When later offered a role at the Ipswich Turf Club, George grabbed it with both hands.
George started on the back gates before expanding his roles to the stalls and around the jockey rooms.
George eventually took over from the late Dudley Nunn, who had also looked after the jockeys for more than 20 years.