Vale Sam Zammit – at age 82

Vale Sam Zammit – at age 82

Sam Zammit and his wife Ailleen. Photo courtesy Phil Purser.

The passing late last week of Gold Coast resident, Sam Zammit, at the age of 82, has seen several emails arrive on the Justracing desk asking where to find the story that was penned by former Justracing website owner Phil Purser on the man who etched his name into Queensland racing history. Phil Purser penned the following story on 12/5/11 – over 6 years ago – and it is repeated in full today for website visitors. The story read:

If you were a betting person, you probably wouldn’t even take 100/1 if those odds were freely available to you that a 14-year-old kid from Malta who arrived without fanfare on a ship in Sydney, unable to speak a word of English, would during his lifetime indelibly etch not only his name, but those of other family members into the history books of the Queensland racing industry. However, as has happened since time immemorial in racing, 100/1 shots gets up on the odd occasion and a 100/1 chance named Sam Zammit certainly overcame what appeared on face value to be insurmountable odds to win his race in Australia.

Sam Zammit entered the world in Malta in 1935, the country where he would spend his first 14 years on the planet. Sam explained that “Malta was under British government rule so my family made the decision to send me to Australia when I was just 14 years old”, continuing, “I came to Australia by boat with my father, but I couldn’t speak English. Dad made sure I got safely to Australia then soon afterwards he went back to Malta and so I stayed with my uncle at Eastern Creek where they have the (motor bike) racing now.”

Asked if he stayed with his uncle until he was old enough to speak English and get work Sam replied “No, I went to work straight away with Penfolds Wines. I rode my horse to their business; they had a big factory there. I took a note with me, even though I couldn’t speak English, which read ‘Please give me a job.’ And they did and I stayed there about three months and I picked up a little bit of English and then I moved out of there as my uncle had started a slaughter yard to manufacture pet food. Eventually I ran the whole show for him but later on I left him and started my own abattoir when I was about 20.”

Asked to explain his background in harness racing, Sam said “Well I always had trotters from age 16. I drove at Harold Park when I was underage, only about 16 I would have been. My first trotter was a real good horse. I bought him at a yearling sale and broke him in. His name was Frisco Sky. My father in Malta was involved with jockeys and that, so I knew about horses when I came to Australia. I got permission from the stewards to drive Frisco Sky at Harold Park in the Sapling Stakes as I didn’t have a city licence. I won the heat and I got beat a nose in the final under lights.

“I had my abattoir for many years, then I leased it out and moved to Redcliffe in 1964 and I bought two blocks of ground there near Redcliffe trotting track and I built a set up there for trotters and started training. I had about 20 horses in work and was very successful, training both my own horses and horses for outside clients. I trained for John (Hollywood) McMullen and he used to drive the ones I trained for him. Jimmy O’Sullivan was my foreman and we had a great relationship for many years. And then they wanted to buy my place in Redcliffe and Bob and Jack Ingham were behind the scenes in the offer and they offered me that much money I couldn’t refuse it. So anyway I sold it to them and bought some land in (nearby) Deception Bay and I established my own harness track. I also built both a circle and a straight greyhound track, more or less so the kids could make some money. My son George was a very good trotting driver but he didn’t want to go on with it. Today he’s got a successful boarding kennels at Glamorganvale near Ipswich. Sam, the third son, he’s in the electrical trade and today he’s an inspector for the government and as you know (sons) Tony and Michael have been in the greyhound industry all their life and it goes without saying that we were all so proud when Tony was inducted into the greyhound Hall of Fame earlier this year.”

When the conversation changed to the first harness race every run under lights at Brisbane’s Albion Park on opening night – 7 September 1968 – Sam Zammit got a real glint in his eye and a broad smile encapsulated his face. Sam explains how that wonderful day of his life unfolded. “I trained and drove the first winner ever at the Albion Park track – Curly Adios. On the morning of the race Noel Simpson from New Zealand who owned the horse rang me up and he said ‘Can I come and have a look at the horse, I want to bring Sir Richard Court, the Premier of Western Australia with me.’ So they came out in the morning about 9 o’clock and I’ll never forget the conversation. Noel said to me ‘I’d love to win that opening race just for the honour of being the owner. I’m not a gambling man but I’d love to win it, so how do you think you’ll go.’ I said I’ve got 10 lengths on the field but I’ve drawn number 10 and if I’m in one piece with a lap to go I’ll win, don’t worry where I am in the run’. You see everybody is so hyped up to win the race because it is the first race at the track and there could an accident. Curly Adios was still last with a lap to go but I pulled him out in the back straight and I still had a hold on him on the home turn, then I let him go and he won easy. That was a big thrill. He was the only stable runner I had entered on the night.”

Sam stayed on training at Redcliffe for many years – until about 1989 – but eventually subdivided the land he owned there and today Zammit Street and Zammit Oval mark the spot where the land was subdivided. “Today they use Zammit Oval where the greyhound track used to be for the Little Athletics kids,” Sam advises.

He then assisted sons Tony and Michael in setting up their magnificent acreage greyhound establishments in Burnside Road at Gilberton, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which have also since been on-sold to property developers as the land grab in South East Queensland continues unabated.

On 23 February this year Sam and his wife Ailleen celebrated 56 years of wedded bliss, Sam recalling “We were both very young when we got married, but I wanted to get married, as all I ever wanted to do was work. We’ve been very lucky. We have had four sons, Tony 55, George 53, Sam 49 and Michael 46 and we have four wonderful daughters-in-law. We have 12 grandkids and four great- grandkids and thank God they all get on well.”

For the last 11 years Sam and Ailleen have lived in retirement in a unit at Currumbin at the Gold Coast, Sam confessing “I never thought I’d like living in a unit, but we are very happy, as it’s given us the chance to travel now and we’ve visited countries like Alaska, Egypt, England, France, Italy, Holland, New Zealand and Malta in recent years.”

The now 76-year-old Sam Zammit, who emigrated from Malta at age 14, and his 71-year-old wife Ailleen, who migrated to Australia with her parents and sister from Holland when she was just 10 years of age “because after World War 2 you could emigrate from Holland to either Canada or Australia”, are living proof that with a lot of hard work Australia is indeed worthy of the tag “the lucky country”.

FOOTNOTE: The funeral of Sam Zammit is to be held at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, Edmund Rice Drive, Ashmore, tomorrow Friday 15 September 2017, commencing at 2pm, to be followed by interment in Southport Lawn Cemetery. The funeral director is Metropolitan Funerals Southport – phone (07) 55311722.