Trotting lifestyle

Trotting lifestyle

Life & Style
Ian Williamson and daughter, Felicity, drive two young geldings for a training run on the Aurora Park, Peak Hill, track.

Ian Williamson and daughter, Felicity, drive two young geldings for a training run on the Aurora Park, Peak Hill, track.

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Merinos have been the Williamson family's bread and butter, but breeding and training trotters to win has always been their deep love and pastime.

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Trotting in the blood. Ian Williamson shows off trophies with daughters Fiona Aveyard and Felicity Williamson at Aurora Park, Peak Hill.

Trotting in the blood. Ian Williamson shows off trophies with daughters Fiona Aveyard and Felicity Williamson at Aurora Park, Peak Hill.

MERINOS cutting big fleeces for decades have been the bread and butter mainstay for the Williamson family at Aurora Park, Peak Hill, for five generations.

However, for the patriarch, Ian Williamson, going to the pub for relaxation was a rare occurrence, but breeding, rearing and training trotters has the romance, promise and pleasures of a "hobby" that separates the never-ending daily sheep work.

There's been some top pacers bred at Aurora Park like Mighty Warrior. In more recent years they have had major winners like Aurora Cornelia, Heart of Aurora, Aurora Champ, Royal Aurora and Aurora Swift. A mare, Aurora Swift, won races at Albion Park in Brisbane, Queensland, and is the mother of the gelding Ian is driving in the photo, Always Aurora.

"He is by American import, Always B Miki, which at the time was the fastest horse in the world for a 1608 metres or one mile, recorded at 1 minute 46 seconds," Ian said.

Daughter, Felicity is driving another gelding Aurora Reason, but known by family as Frank.

Ian's father, Jim, was into gallopers, according to Ian, who said during the 1950s he trained a bit and rode at picnic races.

Jim Williamson established the Merino flock at Aurora Park where he built the house in which was reared Ian and his son and three daughters with his late wife, Mary, known by all as Jenny.

"Dad married a Newbigging of Peak Hill, home of trotters including the famous Hondo stud lines and ended up getting into trotters too," Ian said. "One of his horses, Mighty Robert foaled in about 1949, won six races at Melbourne Showground, and then there was Mighty Warrior, winner of the Victorian Derby. He also broke the record in a heat of the Sydney Derby, but ran second in the final in 1955."

Ian said he was bred into the industry.

"And the girls drove from when they were kids."

Two daughters, Felicity, works with Ian while Fiona, married to Bill Aveyard, lives not far away towards Tullamore.

Fiona and Bill established the Outback Lamb brand and work hard furthering that enterprise, but she heads home often to help with the trotters.

"It's in our blood, Fiona said.

Felicity used to drive in trials and gymkhanas at bit, according to Ian, but didn't race, while Fiona drove often and her claim to fame was winning the driver's premiership at Forbes with Aurora King and Aurora Champ in 2001. Ian said he usually ran about three or four mares while Felicity has two mares in foal this year. They had both won heats in the Gold Tiara, a major two-year-old filly race in the Western Districts.

Both girls were allowed to drive after their legs were long enough for their feet to grip the foot pedals when about nine or 10 years.

Fiona said the look of the breed had evolved and the modern standardbred now is a lot finer and faster than the more traditional breed that people might remember.

She says that the Aurora Park horses have pretty, dishy little faces and a kind eye, not the jug-headed long nosed standardbred types," she said. One of her earliest memories was of her grandfather teaching her how to groom a horse properly.

"Brush out the tail and look after them he'd say."

Merinos

Jim Williamson began the Merino flock on Haddon Rig blood years before followed by three local studs, first with Blenwood Peak, then Cora Lynn and finally Genanegie for the past 20 years.

Today they are big framed, plain bodied sheep growing plenty of medium wool.

Ian passed on much of his sheep knowledge to the two girls, who according to the flock's classer for more than 20 years, Allan Clarke, could outmatch most blokes when it came to classing and sheep work and should not be under-estimated.

According to Fiona, the Aurora Park Merinos are high performance sheep.

"There's a lot of work gone into the flock," she said.

"They are close enough to being stud sheep, and when you are getting sheep cutting a lot of wool, but also fertile, they really have to be managed well, and dad and Felicity do that just like they do their standardbred horses."

When a horse showed ability to become metropolitan class it was sent to Steve Turnbull at Bathurst to be trained. More recently the good horses have been trained by Luke McCarthy at Cobbitty.

Looking back Ian remembers Aurora Champ, a member of the 1:58 Club.

"If you break 1 minute 58 seconds for a mile, that's a pretty handy horse and Champ was hand-timed at Forbes where he ran a time of 1:57.8 and we took him to Harold Park where it was said he would never run that as he was a bush horse," Ian said.

"Well, we proved all the experts wrong and he ran the 1.58 down there."

Talking of her father, Fiona said she admired him immensely. "He breeds them (horses) grows their hay and grain, grooms them, even shoes them. Breaks them in himself, trains them and drives them.

"There's very few industries where you can do everything yourself at that high level. It's quite an achievement I think."

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