An important Page in history
By TONY WHITE
WHO is the only Grafton-based trainer to win Australia's greatest race, the Melbourne Cup?
To find the answer, trivia buffs and racing aficionados have to cast their memory back to the 19th century when horses were revered animals and Australia's pioneering forefathers created their own niche in history.
The answer is Charles Page, a legendary trainer of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In 1881 the unheralded Page-trained Zulu, owned by C McDonnell, dumfounded critics when he carried the featherweight of five stone 10 pounds to beat The Czar and Sweetmeat to win the 21st running of the Melbourne Cup.
Zulu started at 50-1, jumped straight to the front and defied his 33 rivals to run him down.
Page trained thoroughbreds for 50 years until his death on December 9, 1917, aged 68.
Page and his wife Elizabeth, who died on June 30, 1931, are buried in Grafton cemetery.
A memorial, believed to be the only one of its kind dedicated to a trainer in Australia, was erected at the site by the Clarence River Jockey Club, Richmond River Jockey Club, South Grafton Jockey Club, Casino Turf Club, Coraki Turf Club, Lismore Turf Club, Ballina Jockey Club, Ulmarra Turf Club and Grafton Licensed Victuallers Jockey Club.
Thanks to the efforts of Page's Grafton-based grandson Ossie Page, Charles Page was recently inducted into the prestigious Australian Stockman's Hall Of Fame, Unsung Heroes Of The Outback.
The Australian Stockman's Hall Of Fame has recognised nearly 800 Australian pioneers for their contribution to Australian history and Ossie spent months obtaining detailed information about his grandfather's achievements and life.
"It makes me very proud Charles has been accepted," Ossie Page said with a tear in his eye.
"He died before I was born, but he was a remarkable trainer and an important part of the Page family history in the Clarence Valley."
Charles Page trained hundreds of winners on North Coast tracks and around New South Wales. Zulu, injured in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup and hacked around Melbourne streets to prepare him for the marathon with no fast grass track gallops before the race, was Page's greatest achievement, but in November, 1912, the local legend had a run of eight winners from nine races over two successive days in Grafton, including training the program on the second day, winning all five races.
He trained many other notable horses including Counterfeit, Deemster, Lady Clarice, Folly, Laurestone, Freelance and Zaroma. Over five decades Page was never once hauled before stewards.
"He never had a drink in his life, but he did smoke," Ossie said.
"On his retirement he was given a set of gold pipes.
"His stables were at the back of the family house. That's how it was in those days."
In a time when money was hard to come by, Charles Page invested well, owned several pubs and property in the local area and set up the Page Bros produce store in Grafton, which he passed onto his descendants.
Ossie's dad, the late Osman Charles Page, trained with his father for a while before training in his own right.
"He (Osman) won a lot of races around here," Ossie said.
"We came through the great depression. It was tough, there was no money in those days."
Ossie Page, like his grandfather and father, has earned a great reputation for integrity. Born in Maud Street, Grafton, his father's stables were also in the back of the house. Ossie was a former trackwork rider, but never took up the training caper.
After working numerous jobs he settled into work as a painting contractor and like his grandfather, learned respect for money and invested in several local properties.
However, the 76-year-old still admits to liking a bet.
"My word I do," he said.
"I'm a life member of the Clarence River Jockey Club."
Ossie still retains his grandfather's original trainers' licence, many fond memories and is as proud as punch of his family's history which is steeped in history.