DEATH OF JAMES BARTHOLOMEW “BART” CUMMINGS, AM
Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Castle Hill—Parliamentary Secretary) [2.23 p.m.], by leave: It is an immense honour to be afforded the privilege to speak in Parliament today on the late James Bartholomew Cummings, not only in my capacity as a member of this House but also as a former thoroughbred racing trainer and lifetime participant of the racing industry. I sincerely appreciate and thank our Premier, Mike Baird, for the offer of a State funeral to the Cummings family yesterday in acknowledgement of this iconic Australian. One knows someone has become part of the fabric of Australian culture when the whole nation calls him by his nickname—Bart. An adoring nation has certainly lost a favourite son.
But Bart Cummings was more than just a great horse trainer; he was to racing what Bradman was to cricket—an adored and respected Australian sportsman. Bart, like Bradman, set records which may never be broken, none the least winning a dozen Melbourne Cups. But it was his humble nature, his good humour and unpretentious manner, combined with his marvellous record of achievement on the turf for which he will be so fondly remembered by the Australian public. His sharp wit and famous cheeky one-liners will be forever etched in racing folklore. Once when asked by a journalist could he point to the one reason for his success, Bart simply said, “Horses”. An inspector who visited his stables one day exclaimed, “Mr Cummings, there are far too many flies in the stable” to which Bart replied, “How many flies am I allowed to have?”
Bart was strapper for 1950 Melbourne Cup winner Comic Court trained by his dad, Jim, from whom he learnt his trade. Bart would take out his own trainer’s licence in 1953 but it is a little-known fact that he was not an overnight sensation. Bart actually took nearly two years before training his first winner at Morphettville in February 1955. He used to say he had never forgotten how hard it was in those early days and what a test it was of his persistence to remain a horse trainer. He knew, as all trainers did, that it is one of the toughest businesses in which to be involved. However, three years after that initial winner Bart won his first Group 1 race with Stormy Passage in the South Australian Derby. It was a taste of things to come. He won his first Melbourne Cup when Light Fingers defeated stablemate Ziema in 1965, which achieved the quinella.
Apart from the 12 Melbourne Cups he won four Golden Slippers, five Doncasters, seven Caulfield Cups, five Cox Plates, 13 Australian Cups and more than 7,000 races in total, including 266 Group 1 races, a truly phenomenal record. When Saintly won the 1996 Melbourne Cup a reporter said, “Bart, you look very emotional. There’s a tear in your eye”, to which Bart said, “I am. I didn’t have enough on him.” In the 1989-90 racing season Bart Cummings was crowned Sydney’s premier trainer, the first and still the only person to win training premierships across three Australian States.
Bart was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1982 for his services to the racing industry, was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1991 and a decade later was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Bart was Australian racing royalty. It is a legacy this country will long remember. It is often said that horseracing is the great leveller; being a millionaire does not guarantee success. It is a place where battlers and royalty compete on a level playing field and many of racing’s champions come from very humble beginnings.
As a former racehorse trainer I often had the opportunity of being in the presence of Bart as we saddled horses or gave jockeys a leg up in the mounting yard prior to a race. In 2011 as a guest of the Australian Turf Club on Golden Rose Day, it was my great pleasure to catch up and speak to him briefly once again. I said, “I’m sorry you lost that good horse”, and I did not even have to mention the horse’s name. Bart knew exactly what I meant. Six months earlier, following his third placing in the Melbourne Cup, Bart lost his horse So You Think, which was transferred to Europe and went on to race with huge success.
Bart had won two Cox Plates with So You Think and a Mackinnon Stakes in just 10 starts and even though he had trained some of the best thoroughbreds in this country he knew how good So You Think was. He was perhaps one of the best he had trained and one of the best ever to race in this country. His loss was deeply felt, but in true Bart fashion he just batted it away and asked me what I was doing now. I said, “I’m a politician”, to which he said, “Yes, that’s much easier than training racehorses”, and I completely agree. Bart’s final moments were spent with his family and wife of 61 years, Valmae, with whom he celebrated their anniversary on Friday 28 August at their beloved Princes Farm at Castlereagh. On behalf of the people and Government of New South Wales, I pass on my most heartfelt condolences to Valmae, his children, their partners, his 16 beautiful grandchildren and brand new great-granddaughter on the loss of their most beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
I conclude by saying that at a time when Australian sports men and women, famous actors, artists and politicians are regularly in the media spotlight, perhaps they could all take a leaf out of the Bart Cummings textbook. One never saw Bart making air punches after a win, never heard him spruiking his own achievements, abusing racing stewards or being rude to airline hostesses. Bart had time for everyone and was a gentleman. My dad, who was also a famous Australian sportsman, once said to me, “You always know when someone is good at what they do because they will often tell you about it. It is the great ones who keep it to themselves.” In Bart Australia has lost one of the greatest. Vale James Bartholomew Cummings.