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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Connolly, Patrick Andrew (1866–1946)

by Charlie Fox

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Patrick Andrew Connolly (1866-1946), racecourse owner, was born on 20 October 1866 at Ophir, New South Wales, fourth child of Irish-born parents Patrick Connolly, farmer, and his wife Agnes, née Graham. Little is known of Paddy's early life, save that his mother apparently ran a bush pub. He rode his family's horses at local racetracks and had a stint as an itinerant stockman in Queensland before joining the gold rush to Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1894. There he entered the carrying trade with such success that in 1900 he purchased a large property on the outskirts of Perth, leased an inner-city hotel and moved to the capital. On 7 February 1898 he had married Alice Julia Hide at St George's Anglican Cathedral, Perth; they were to be divorced in 1924. He invested in a string of hotels, tin-mines and pastoral stations, but his first love was horses.

In 1903 in Sydney Connolly bought for 155 guineas Blue Spec, the horse that was to make his name. Victorious in the Kalgoorlie and Perth cups in 1904, next year Blue Spec won the Moonee Valley Cup and the Melbourne Cup (as a 6-year-old, in record time, at odds of 10/1), bringing Connolly more than £30,000 in prize-money and bets. By 1910 his horses had won six Perth Cups, the Western Australian Derby three times and a host of other races. At one stage he owned or leased 120 horses. 'Lucky Connolly' was known throughout the country as an astute breeder, a canny owner and a big punter. Tall and well built, he had a determined jaw and eyes that told nothing. Few shared his confidence; fewer claimed him as a friend.

Before World War I he bought a controlling interest in Helena Vale racecourse which he kept in operation for nearly thirty years. The trials of running a race club forced Connolly into the public world. He engaged in battles with the Western Australian Turf Club over his share of meeting dates, with politicians over the extent of horse-racing in the State and with starting-price bookmakers over the threat they allegedly posed to the sport. Partly from self-interest and partly from his devotion to horse-racing, Connolly regularly urged governments to suppress the 'illegals'. Yet, unlike the turf club, he was prepared to take risks to attract punters to his course: in the Depression—when horse-racing's survival seemed threatened—he reduced admission prices and arranged with the railways department to reduce the cost of fares.

As he aged, Connolly became reclusive and eccentric; he built a barricaded shack for himself behind his beloved Kalamunda Hotel because he was convinced that his enemies were trying to kill him. He could also be irascible and often enlivened turf club meetings with intemperate attacks on jockeys, trainers and the state of racing in general. A lonely man, he had an unrequited affection for children. He was a generous benefactor, known as 'The Prince of Givers'. Connolly died on 28 December 1946 in St Omer's Hospital, West Perth, and—despite his atheism—was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £149,332: he bequeathed over £100,000 to children's charities and almost £30,000 to country hospitals, with the specification that none of it go to any with a religious connexion.

Select Bibliography

  • D. L. Bernstein, First Tuesday in November (Melb, 1969)
  • J. Tomlinson, Born Winners. Born Losers (Perth, 1990)
  • Select Committee of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly to Consider the Question of Horse Racing Within the State, Votes and Proceedings (Western Australia), 1915, 2
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1905, 30 Dec 1946
  • West Australian, 8 Nov 1905, 30, 31 Dec 1946, 1 Dec 1947
  • Punch (Melbourne), 4 Nov 1909
  • Daily News (Perth), 31 Dec 1946
  • Western Mail (Perth), 19 Dec 1959.

Citation details

Charlie Fox, 'Connolly, Patrick Andrew (1866–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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