Generations of Racing The Collins Family

CityLife Cover STORY

Generations of Racing
The Collins Family

By Danae Jones

As the Cairns community celebrates 110 years of horseracing at Cannon Park this year, we take a look back at some of the instrumental people who have helped shape this fabulous industry in Far North Queensland, and in particular the signature annual event, the Cairns Amateurs Carnival.

The Collins family have been synonymous in FNQ racing for four generations. In fact since the very first Cairns Amateurs was held the family have played a leading role.

Local grazing icon Victor ‘Gerry’ Collins and his father helped create the Cairns Amateurs from the ground up after their family successfully established the Oak Park Races, which is a major success to this day. The brainchild of Sir Sydney Williams, the Cairns Amateurs was to be the coastal version of the Oak Park Races.

Hudson Fox, grandson to the late Gerry Collins, is now following in his grandfather’s footsteps, taking on a position with the Cairns Amateurs committee to inject some young energy and new ideas into the organisation to help shape the event for future generations to come. He has taken to the role with a great sense of pride and says he has very big shoes to fill with the void left by his grandfather, but is up for the challenge.

“It’s a massive honour to be honest to be asked to come on at a time when Amateurs is about to go through quite a big restructure and a bit of a facelift to what it was. It’s amazing to be asked and to add to something that has always been such an amazing product and reconnecting the country to the city. Yeah I’m over the moon,” said Hudson Fox.

He says horseracing has always been in his blood. His great grandfather blazing an extraordinary trail for them all to follow in. And he credits horseracing to be one of the key economic drivers of our regional community.

“It’s really hard to sum up, but horseracing has really breathed life into the economy like the Amateurs, and the amount of people it brings from interstate, not just for racing but also for fashions. So people come up here using milliners, they’re buying clothes from places like Cairns Central and other little shops around. It’s just an injection of cash into the city itself. And then if you look at it regionally, it brings people that would normally go on holidays down south, it takes them out to a place like Oak Park, which is five and a half hours from Cairns and gives people this experience of bush hospitality. And once they’ve had it, they keep coming back. So we’ve got to a point where we have had to cap our numbers because so many people want to keep coming back. And that’s like Cairns Amateurs, we’re ready for more people and we’re just going to build to that, and really bring that bush hospitality back to the city.”

Hudson’s grandmother Gillian Collins, who is still active in the racing industry, looks on with pride at Hudson’s new role with the event and says his grandfather Gerry would be as proud as punch that the family’s contribution to the event continues.

“I’m really really proud of him, yes it’s come down a long way, my father and my husband’s father, they were both very much involved in the starting of it, so it’s lovely to see it continue. Right at the very start of it, my father persuaded Syd Williams to go out to the Oak Park Races to have a few drinks, (most probably more than a few), and they decided that the bush people should come to Cairns, so that is literally where it all started, the idea of it,” said Gillian Collins.

Her face lights up when she recounts the many vivid, colourful memories of the Cairns Amateurs and how it has evolved over the years. She tells of very humble beginnings with very little infrastructure, but a group of passionate and committed locals with a vision that they wanted to deliver for the town rain, hail or shine.

She reminisces how the after parties were hosted at the local Cannon family’s private home in White Rock in those days. A special time when organisers and horseracing enthusiasts would get together post event and let their hair down. The very first after party was also the place where she met Gerry Collins all those years ago, who later became her beloved husband. Both hailing from big horseracing families, it was only fitting that they ended up connecting at the most anticipated event on the Cairns annual calendar.

“We all just came along with our families and friends. It was one party after another, they just carried on from the next to the next, it was just wonderful. It was the coming out for a lot of young ladies I think the Cairns Amateurs, it was a lot of fun, a great lot of fun,” she said.

What began as a small amateur meeting in 1959, designed to bring city and country together, has expanded over the years to become one of Australia’s premier spring horseracing carnivals. The Far North Queensland Amateur Turf Club has become widely, and affectionately, known as

Sixty-three years on, the Cairns Amateurs is now complemented by a host of social activities, some formal and some very informal including a number of members-only and corporate functions as well as events and areas for the general public on both race days.

“It’s so lovely to see how far it has come today. I hope it doesn’t lose its old traditional feel. I think a lot of people like the nostalgia of that. So I think if they keep the traditional aspects alive, I can see it will continue to be a huge success for many more years to come.”

Gerry Collins passed away in 2018 after a long and well lived life, and while he is missed terribly by his family and those in the racing fraternity, he is remembered fondly for his enormous contribution to the horseracing industry. With Hudson’s five-star hospitality and customer service experience managing some of the most successful outback experiences in Australia, he hopes to do the family proud and leave his mark on the event.

“My grandfather was that person for me that any question I had or any dilemma, he was there. He would never give me the answer, but he would always steer me in the right direction and in the last couple of months I’ve really missed him being here. Especially with everything that’s happening with both the committees I’m on. There’s always a lot of politics in racing and especially in committees, and it was always great to just run things past him and make the best decision for the club and for the financial members. And I’ve really missed him in guiding me on how best to do that for the club and all of its members.

“But I guess what I bring to the table is a younger perspective on the world and how we can do things. I also have the historical connection on where it all began where the club was created, which was Oak Park in my eyes. It’s a fine blend between tradition and history and also creating an amazing event,” said Hudson.