Wilhemena Smith's grave unveiling on 14/8/2005.
The unveiling of the tombstone on the grave of Wilhemena “Bill” Smith at 10.30 a.m. last Sunday 14/8/05 marked the completion of a project initially launched by this website some months ago.
Donations came in from Australia and overseas that raised over $2500 to allow for the erection of a headstone, as well as having an appropriate inscription placed on Wilhemena’s tomb.
Thank you sincerely to all the people who contributed financially to the Appeal and to people like Sharon Lindwood and Tom Mauloni who conducted their own fund raising activities to help the Appeal along. Sharon, who is also a Uniting Church minister, also did the blessing of Wilhemena’s grave and composed a poem she read out at the service. Her father had been involved in racing and had known Wilhemena.
I would also like to point out that I was contacted by Queensland Racing and was offered funding assistance from the governing body. I thanked them for their kind offer, but rejected the proposal so as to keep the Appeal for just individuals to contribute to. I also felt a donation may place Queensland Racing in a compromising position if similar circumstances came to the fore in the future. The offer by Queensland Racing to kindly reprint the story in their monthly Racing Magazine in the April 2005 edition was accepted with gratitude.
Special thanks goes out to the Lions Club of Herberton for their wonderful effort in coordinating the appeal. President Dave Barns – and Frank Sims in Dave’s absence (when Dave had to travel overseas) – and all Lions Club members contributed to keep the unveiling on schedule. The Herberton Lioness’ did a great job in organizing light refreshments after the service and the sandwiches, pumpkin scones and cakes copped a hammering. Lioness Carol Muller did a top job as MC for the service.
From a personal viewpoint, I would like to thank Alison Steel who was working at the Herberton Shire Council when I first started researching the story. Her professional assistance in my first phone call gave me enough information to push on. Alison has since left her part time employment with the Council and now works full time elsewhere. It goes without saying, that given her work ethic, she would be an asset to the staff ranks of any business.
Herberton Lady Mayoress Ann Portess was also very helpful from Day 1 and spoke at Sunday’s unveiling.
One Nation member for Tableland – the electorate encompassing Herberton - Rosa Le-Long, attended the service and also spoke at the unveiling.
The Cairns Post newspaper ran with the story when their journalist Steve Gray originally rang me the day after the initial story was put on site. As fate would have it Steve is now Chief Reporter in my hometown of Ipswich with the daily newspaper The Queensland Times. The Cairns Post also assisted with photography.
Journalist Jon Anderson ran a three quarter page spread in the Herald Sun in Melbourne on 17/3/2005 and that gave the article valuable added exposure.
Mary Sexton and the Women’s History organization got involved through their website www.womenshistory.org.au and gave the story publicity. Mary sent post cards to the unveiling and they were handed out at the ceremony.
Kevin Gates of the Australian Racing Museum in Melbourne was very helpful in both promoting the story and also doing historical research on another jockey W.H. Smith whom history had originally thought was Wilhemena.
A long list of apologies was read out. Included amongst them were Federal Member of Parliament Bob Katter, Alan Atkinson (who had helped with the story) and the committee and members of the Mount Garnet Race Club. Retired Cairns jockey Linde Allendorf (who rode against Wilhemena) was unable to attend due to health reasons.
Letters were contributed and read out at the service from Mary Sexton of Women’s History, Kevin Gates at the Australian Racing Museum and Bob Bentley Chairman, Queensland Racing.
Mary Sexton’s letter read:
Wilhemena was the inspiration for the theme for Women’s History Month (March) 2005. I remembered reading about her over forty years ago. I can still see the sketch and the very short story in a book "Peeps into Melbourne’s Past". Unfortunately my copy of the book had been lost. A friend, Lado Shay, looked at the copy held in the National Library of Australia but there was no story about a woman jockey. I was so confident about my source but obviously my memory was playing tricks. One of the Women’s History Month Committee members, Marie Coleman, suggested that the Australian Racing Museum may have some information and it did. I struck gold in the form of Kevin Gates who knew about Wilhemena and was willing to send me her photo and excerpts from a book about her by Bill Condon.
We were very excited and decided that we would make Racy Women, that is women who lived or worked in unconventional ways, our theme for WHM 2005. We found four other women to keep her company and you can see them and read their stories on the postcards that you can collect today.
But going back to Kevin Gates. He began to wonder about a rider from regional Queensland winning the VRC Oaks so he decided to look further into Wilhelmina’s story. He discovered that it was a W.H. Smith who had won Oaks, not Wilhemena. The racing records clearly showed that W.H. Smith had a successful career. He also discovered that W.H. Smith had died in 1914. So the person depicted on our postcards was not Wilhemena but W.H. Smith. By this time our postcards had been printed and distributed nationally. I was out of the country in March and Kevin was unable to reach me. By the time I returned in late March, Kevin and Phil Purser had done the research. The story was on Phil’s website and Steve Gray had written an article in the Cairns Post. The project to rescue Wilhemena had begun. We updated her story on the website as a great example of just how tricky research can be.
This year Women’s History Month is one of the sponsors for the National History Challenge that is open to all school children. I hope Wilhemena’s story will inspire them to go looking for the stories of other women. That is what Women’ History Month is about - finding and telling the stories of those women who have contributed so much to this country but whose stories are lost or have not been told.
Women’s History Month Committee
July 21, 2005
Kevin Gates’ letter read:
The legend of Wilhemena (Bill) Smith has been for many years an intriguing chapter in the Australian Racing Museum’s historical archives.
The exploits of a female jockey who rode under the name of Bill Smith first came to the Museum’s attention in the 1990s when an outline of her life appeared in Bill Condon’s book Those Who Dared. Apart from mentioning her career in Queensland, the book claimed she had won the VRC Oaks. At this time the Museum had in its collection a cigarette card of a prominent jockey of the early 20th century, W.H. Smith, who had ridden the winner of the VRC Oaks. Thus Wilhemena Smith and W.H. Smith came to be regarded, incorrectly as it was later found, to be one and the same person.
In October, 2000, the Museum held an exhibition on the contribution of women to racing in Australia, entitled “Over the White Line: Women in Racing”. Naturally, Wilhemena’s ground breaking role was one of the highlights of the exhibition.
Some 12 months ago the Museum renewed its research on Wilhemena following the wonderful work of Phil Purser in uncovering more of her life story, and his initiative to restore her gravesite and erect a proper tombstone. The Museum was also stimulated in this work by the interest of Mary Sexton who chose Wilhemena as one of the subjects for the 2005 Women’s History Month postcards. The research was to show that the subject of the Museum’s postcard was not Wilhemena, as W.H. Smith had died in a racing accident in 1914.
This in no way detracts from the part that Wilhemena Smith occupies in Australia’s racing history. She was a true pioneer, Australia’s first woman jockey, and it is hoped that she will now have the recognition she did not seek or receive during her lifetime.
Australian Racing Museum
Bob Bentley’s letter read:
Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s racing was considered to be a man’s game and thoughts of woman horse trainers and jockeys never entered the minds of most Australians.
But that never mattered to Wilhemena Smith, a true trailblazer who not only trained horses but also rode them successfully in races under the name Bill Smith.
On his deathbed in 1975, it was found that Bill Smith was indeed a woman, who was buried in an unmarked grave at Herberton Cemetery.
Now some 30 years later, the efforts of Wilhemena Smith are deservedly being acknowledged for their importance in Australian racing history.
Queensland Racing thanks Phil Purser, Just Racing and everyone who has helped to correct this important piece of history.
Chairman Queensland Racing.
A photo gallery has been put together to commemorate the occasion. To view - go to "Photo Gallery" at the top of the site and scroll down to "Wilhemena Bill Smith". Please allow time for all images to load as per bottom left hand corner of your computer. To enlarge each photo simply click "View larger photo".