"It's a privilege just to call other people's horses."
That's the humble statement from the legend of Riverina sports and racecalling Allan Hull who has hung up the binoculars on a 50-year calling career, putting to bed his famous saying "and the gates crash back".
Rather than it being a long journey, it's been a short journey in his life, sticking to his Riverina and Wagga Wagga links only moving his base 30 clicks in his life. But Wagga Wagga being a magnet and birthplace for many Australian sporting legends - meant the talent came to him - from rugby league stars such as Wagga-raised Peter Sterling playing in a Kangaroos Test, trotting stars such as Paleface Adios and equine stars such as Takeover Target and Santa Anna Lane, all falling within his calling career.
After seeing so much equine talent, and calling every Wagga Wagga Gold Cup since 1979, it's surprising that he's never wanted to own a horse.
"I don't need to be in the ownership of a horse, I get the pleasure of just calling them. I'd say 60 per cent of people go to the races to drink, and that, from my point of view, is a recipe for punting disaster. I go to the races for the horses and to have a bet."
Born at Wagga Wagga in 1950, his family, dad Desmond and mum Maisie, moved to Gregadoo about 30km south of Wagga Wagga when he was four. He had four siblings. Allan's father was a soldier settler on just 728 hectares of land where they ran Merino sheep on "Silver Springs", a place "full of rocks and rabbits". "It was too rough to crop," he said. "In the early years we just lived off rabbits, we'd catch them and sell them to the butchers in town."
"We also used to have just 32 volt power with 16 batteries backed up that would last us four or five days until we'd have to start the generator again. That was in the mid-1950s and so we would have to look around for appliances that ran on 32 volts."
Allan went to the one-teacher Gregadoo public school with 15 other students and his favourite subjects were Social Studies and English. He rode in a sulky to school. He then went to Wagga Wagga High School and stayed until his intermediate certificate which was Year 3 in those days. At age 15 he found himself working as an apprentice boilermaker at W.J. Rorrison and Sons. "I left school on the Friday and started there on the Monday," Allan recalls. He later became a foreman at the Trade Shop but the lure of the track was always calling him - trots and races.
He built his own Crystal set to listen to the races and remembers he could dial through a dozen radio stations calling the races on a Saturday. He was fond of the trots and noticed a gap in coverage. "I went up to Max Croker who owned trotters and said: 'Why don't you let me call the trots? I'd do better than the bloke you've got at the moment'." The position was vacant - nobody was calling the trotting trials. That started a long career of calling trots and races. He quit his job at Rorrison "sick of hot metal fragments falling on my overalls" and joined the advertising ranks at local radio station 2WG and also called sport and racing.
Trotting was big then with trots at Wagga, Leeton, Gundagai, Tumut, Griffith and Junee. He's also called four Inter-Dominions for Radio 2WG.
Wagga was always a centre of talent. The young Tommy Smith worked nearby at Illabo and once famously told the publican who threw him out of the Illabo pub, "I'll come back and own this place". And he did. Smith won some money on a dog race at Wagga and then put it all on his wild horse Bragger at the gallops at a huge price, setting off his career to the city. The famous punter Frank Duval, "The Tiger" came to Wagga races and lost $193,000. He won it all back and an extra $4,000 the next day. The Wagga betting ring was big and that's what everyone bet on in those days "horse, trots or dogs", Allan says.
He called his first horse race at Hay and eventually was given the main broadcaster role at Wagga Wagga after the famous Ted Ryder retired, and he has been there ever since.
Watch Allan Hull's last Gold Cup call (Abdon):
His calling mantra is being "accurate, articulate and entertaining". The entertaining aspect comes from his own passion for singing - he's in two choirs - and acting, having appeared in several plays in Wagga.
He's established great mates through trotting, especially Junee trainer-driver Bruce Harpley, who raised his whip to Allan during his last official race call a few weeks ago as he passed the post. Before his last day calling for Sky Channel on Australia Day, January 26, every racecaller in Australia paid Allan a tribute by using his expression "and the gates crash back" in their final calls on the previous day. Allan always used the saying selectively, reserving it for the one big race of the day. He liked to fill his calls with character, commenting on "The Rock" at Tumbarumba or "The Lane" at Wagga Wagga, and referring to jockeys or drivers by nicknames "Wantabadgery Wonder" (Tye Angland) " or "Junee Postman" (Bruce Harpley).
He's seen (or hasn't seen) everything in racing - from grasshoppers to cows at Tumut to kangaroos at Griffith holding up the races. The biggest dislike he has is when racecallers don't have a go at the winner in a close finish. "That's what we're there for. I'll always have a go at the photo. Sometimes I'll just lengthen the call a little bit until I give my opinion. It's a difficult angle at Wagga because the stand isn't actually parallel with the track."
He learns the horses names not just by jockey colours, but through a few tricks of the trade. He can go on a jockey's riding style or even the colour of gear some trainers use such as Gary Colvin's green bridles. "You get to know how a certain jockey sits on a horse or how they use a whip. Colours though are the main thing. I must say though I liked jockeys who had pom poms, that made it a lot easier!"
Of course colours can be thrown out the door, especially when its bucketting rain and every jockey is mud splattered. That happened one year in the Wagga Wagga Gold Cup in 1988 when luckily it was the distinctive ghostly grey Sasha Bijou emerging out of the blurred pack of horses to race away to win the cup. "Greys in the wet always go well," says Allan. He's also called races in complete fog.
One of his most recent career highlights was calling the 2018 Country Championship at Royal Randwick when Victorem won, with a Wagga horse Oh So Hazy running third. Funnily enough one betting agency offered short odds on whether Allan would use his saying "the gates crash back" in the call. "You could get $2 for $20. They were just buying account customers," he said.
Hull is a bit sad no one has tapped him on the shoulder as he did 50 years ago to take up the racecalling at Wagga Wagga. "That's a little disappointing," he says. But he can look back with great affection over a long career, that all started when he went for a calling position that wasn't even there! He says he and his wife Gayle may eventually leave Wagga for Brisbane to be closer to their children.