This took place in 1931 when live coursing was banned. “They set up what they called tin-hare racing. They had racetracks and they had a mechanical thing that looked like a rabbit, it ran electrically and the dogs chased that rather than a live rabbit.” Len Allnutt tells the story.
“A man who worked for my family raced dogs and he got the idea that he could start tin hare racing at Cheltenham so he goes into partnership with another dog owner. They built a couple of dog boxes and then got a bike. They turned the bike upside down and bolted it to a flat wooden frame that sat on the ground. The front wheel was taken off and they cut away the front fork of the bike. The tyre on the back wheel was stripped off and replaced with about a hundred metres of hard, tough cord to which was attached a stuffed rabbit skin. They used one of the pedals of the bike as a handle to wind the cord up. They took it down to the paddock and tried it with a few of their own dogs.
“They had two boxes up one end holding their dogs. The tin hare machine was down the other end, about a hundred metres away. The cord was pulled out with the stuffed rabbit skin covered with a sack. When everything was ready the rabbit was thrown into the air so the dogs could see it. The dogs were released and one of the blokes and the son of the individual who had constructed the machine would wind the pedals of the bike drawing the stuffed rabbit away from the dogs. The dogs would chase it with the faster of the two catching it.
“When they perfected the machine the word was spread amongst the dog owners and racing began. They started it on a Sunday afternoon because in those days everything else was closed on a Sunday. Many people in Cheltenham had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon so they would walk over and watch the dogs racing.
“The site of the event was in Balcombe Road, about three quarters of a mile from Charman Road, on the north side. The area was just unfenced grassland although it was bound on the west side by thick scrub. There were very few houses about in those days so they weren’t interfering with anybody at all.
“You paid two bob to enter a dog. There were two dogs in each race and they had a red or blue collar. Heats were run. Finally there was only one winner and the winner took the whole sweepstake. So a few blokes took their dogs. Soon two bookies arrived and started taking bets on the dogs. The word spread and the next thing was people came from all over the City and Fitzroy. Professional punters were getting out there and two or three more bookmakers came. One of the bookmakers who had a stutter was a barber from Bentleigh who did a little bookmaking on the side.
“Everything was going all right when one of the local larrikins decided to beat the bookies. He was a star footballer for Cheltenham and always had a bit of a gang around him. They tried to tell him not to be stupid but he ignored them. They took the hat around and raised some money. He then instructed his mates what to do. “I’m going up the end where the dog boxes are and when you see me leave the dog boxes you put all the money on the dog with the longest odds.” He then went off with a friend telling him to distract the attendant at the dog boxes while he changed the collars of the dogs.
“The bookies could not believe their eyes when the dog with the longest odds won. They claimed a fraud had been committed and said they were not going to pay up. At this suggestion the larrikin fronted up to the bookie and demanded the winnings. He was supported by a few of the crowd so the bookie paid up. The larrikin and his mates grabbed some taxis and went straight down to Mordialloc to a pub where the publican used to do after hours trading. They had a real party and hangover on Monday morning but they said the party was extra sweet because they had it with the bookies’ money.
“The racing continued for a few weeks and on one Sunday there was a terrific crowd when a couple of cars pulled up and out jumped plain clothed policemen. They grabbed the bookies and placed them under arrest.
“There was a half Chinese bloke who was clerking for one of the bookies. When he heard the call ‘Police’ he saw a policeman grab and arrest a bookie and then realised a policeman was about to grab him. He didn’t wait. He flattened the policeman in one hit and took off for the scrub with the betting sheet under his arm. They reckoned nobody could catch him he was running that hard.
“When it was all over the Bentleigh bookie with the stutter was walking back to his car and a bloke stepped up to him and said, “The bookies have all been arrested.” He replied, “Y-Y-Yes.” His companion said, “I don’t know what silly fools would come out here for booking. You wouldn’t get any money booking out here.” The stuttering bookmaker disagreed, “I d-d-d-don’t kn-kn-know wh-wh-what y-y-y-you kn-kn-know b-b-b-but we’ve been d-d-d-doing alright for w-w-w-weeks.” His companion responded, “I’m a police officer and you’re under arrest.”
“A few of the crowd milling around heard that and recognised the policeman. He had been at the last two or three meetings!
“After this crackdown the police called back to make sure the bookies weren’t. They were there for the next two or three weeks. With no betting there were not many dogs entered and the tin hare died a natural death after that.”
Mordialloc hairdresser Bob Bowman with greyhound Kinta's Son which won Australia's richest greyhound race at Sandown Park, 1965.  From Leader Collection.
This article is written as part of the Kingston Narratives Project, funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Federation Community Projects Program.
- White, P., An Interview with Len Allnutt, September 20, 2000.
This interview was part of the Narratives of Kingston Project funded through the Commonwealth’s Federation Community Projects Program.
Article Cat. Kingston Narratives Project
Article Ref. 96