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By Darren Winningham with Con Searle | Friday, August 30, 2019

This is the story of a man who loves his family and someone who has a burning passion for racing. I got to sit down with Conway Searle and talk to him about his fifty years involvement in racing … the tough times and the good times of his life experience.

Con has fought many battles in his life. From being broke … to a major personal health scare … to the love of his life Jenny having a serious horse accident that could have ended tragically. These trials and tribulations have made Con the person he is today where his passions away from the track include Surf Life Saving and his respect for the Church.

Con is well respected in the racing game. People listen to him and he is never short of an opinion. I am certain that you will enjoy this Sixty Seconds. Con has opened himself up – there is not much to tell after reading this!


Where were you born?

Ashgrove in Brisbane in 1942 … 77 years old and still going great.

As a bookmaker – you are known for giving the best odds! How long have you been doing it?

A long time. It will be fifty-one years this December.

What is your fondest memory of being a bookmaker?

I had a horse called Not So Brave that we backed one day. I bought him for $1000 and we backed him one day at $60 and he won – it was a TAB meeting and I had a very big win on it!

The next one was Hadley’s Boy that I bought for $1000 as well and he won the Dalgetty Handicap in Townsville at the massive odds of $66 … and it one by a nose.

I must tell you about one more – this one really touches my heart.

My lovely wife Jenny … we’ve have been married for 50 years as well … had a very bad horse accident and she was in intensive care in the Royal Brisbane Hospital for six weeks. Then she was in the rehabilitation ward for a further three months.

When she came out of hospital it was the Townsville Carnival. I had a horse called Vislanda. I had bought the horse off Doug Forbes. I had set it for a race over the Carnival and Jenny came up with me – it was her first trip after the accident. It started around $25.

I backed the horse. You would not believe it coming to the turn at Townsville in a 16-horse field we were stone motherless last. The horse came from nowhere – it dropped from the clouds and it won.

WINNO it was the greatest thrill of my life. Winning and having Jenny there with me after all she had been through.

What do you like about being a bookmaker?

I love the atmosphere. Racing is in my blood – I love the people involved in racing. Racing is a wonderful game.
There is an old mate of mine that taught me how to be a bookmaker – his name is Frank Condon.

He said to me “racing is the greatest leveller of all”. He also said, “if you got shit in you it will come out of you – if you have goodness it will come out of you”. This is so true.

What about Searles Garden products – your business?

The racing game gave me a kick in my business. I was in a very dry gully in 1978 – I took on a little business.

I used to go away to northern NSW as a bookmaker and whatever I won I used to put back into the business. I built my business up from that. This is where my love for country racing comes from and what country racing gave to me in my life.

Let’s go back to 1978?

In 1978 I went broke from bookmaking. I lost my home I lost everything. I had my boys. I had no money. Things were tough.

Jenny and I used to go out to the dairy farms and shovel up the cow manure and put it into bags and we went from door to door selling it. You could imagine how I felt – it was not a great time of my life. But, as they say, small things grow into bigger things.

Searles Garden Products has been going since 1978?

Yes mate, we have been going around 40 years. We proudly are Australian owned. We employ about 95 people now. A massive turnover as well. We sell into Asia and all the Pacific islands and all over Australia.

Okay, I use the Searles Potting Mix at home for my plants – what in your opinion in your best product?

Searles Premium Potting Mixture. We sell around 6,000 items overall. Not only do we sell the garden products and accessories, we have branched out and do homewares and accessories and fashions as well now.

We have a very diverse business now. We have three families involved as well … my wife and myself and both of my two sons and their wives. Jason’s wife (Monique) is a fashion buyer and Ashley’s wife (Alana) is a graphic artist – she does all packaging and all our magazines that we send out.

It is a true family business.

Now, with regard to my grandchildren, Maddison is doing Economics, Philosophy and Politics at university and hopes to come and work in the business. Lauren is at St Margaret’s and she wants to come and work in the business. Piper is a national schoolgirl show jumping champion and is at Stuartholme. I actually wanted her to be a jockey, but the parents have put the brakes on that!

Geneva is an equestrian rider and she will be attending Stuartholme next year. Tom is a real Searle and goes to Church Grammar school in Brisbane and he plays league and Union. It looks like we have a pretty good future with our children and family with the business.

What time do you get up and what time do you start work?

When I was working I used to get up early. I have been retired now for 14 years – you know what – retirement is a figment of your imagination. You know I am busier now than what I was when I was at work at Searles.
When I was at Searles I used to get up at about 5am and be at work at my desk by 6am and leave work at around 6pm every night.

When I was bookmaking … Townsville, the Gold Coast, wherever … the break going away on a Friday night, flying somewhere or driving somewhere took away the pressures of my working week. Bookmaking is something that I love. Sunday I could wake up and rejuvenate myself and then head home and get ready for work on Monday.

How do you prefer to be woken in the morning?

I just wake up. I do not need an alarm or anything like that.

Have you a favourite horse other than the ones you have already mentioned?

Yes – that is easy - Zouzouzakia. Jenny bred this horse. Jenny looked after it was born. It came home to our place. It was Jenny’s favourite foal. It cut its leg as a young foal – Jenny nursed it and looked after it.
Even today if Jenny walks up to it – it identifies her and knows her.

Around the race track who is the: A. Biggest pest? B. Biggest Joker?

There are really no pests. I find people quite amicable. You treat people well they treat you well. If there is an arsehole there, I just don’t talk to them!

The Biggest Joker? There was a bloke that worked for me called Steve Faint. Another bloke who was a bookmaker – Des Ross.

If you were not a bookmaker or involved with Searles what do you think you would do for a job?

I always wanted to be a trotting driver, but I could not have been one as I was a bookmaker.

As a young lad I always wanted to be a jockey – but just look at me and my build WINNO. That was never going to happen! I love galloping horses. I rode in the shows for years – and a show jump rider. I love riding and I love pacing.

What is your favourite music?

I like Country music and The Seekers. Seekers reminds me of my surf club days. I am not a fan of the new modern singers.

Do you have any music on your IPHONE?

I do I have Barbara Streisand. I do like her! There are some songs there that I love to sing along to!

You mentioned Surf Life Saving – I know it is a massive part of your life – Kirra Surf Club I believe?

I have been a member at Kirra SLSC since about 1962. I have remained a member right through.

Can you cook and, if so, what can you cook?

Yes, I can cook. I love to cook corned meat and roast beef. The Searle Secret is – I use mustard, curry powder, bay leaf, vinegar and honey and a slowly cook it over a few hours. My grandchildren always say, “Pop – you are the best cook in the world”.

What would you choose as your last meal?

The corned meat that I cook – I love it. With the potato, onions and pumpkin that I boil in with the corned meat. The liquid gives it a beautiful taste.

What about your wife Jenny?

She is my darling mate! She doesn’t cook much. She has a different taste to me. She loves to eat salads – which I eat with her at lunch time. At night time she like pasta. She is not a big eater. She looks after herself.

What is her favourite dish she loves to cook?

She makes a wonderful pumpkin fruit cake.

Do you spoil Jenny?

Yes - I do!

Didn’t you go to New Zealand with her and … what was that story … it started raining or something?

Here we go – I knew I should have never spoke to you about this!

We went to New Zealand for two weeks. We went to the South Island first and it was beautiful weather there. Then we headed up to Rotorua. My leg was playing up and painful and, weatherwise, it just poured and poured so I made arrangements to cancel the trip and leave the next day. Needless to say, when we woke up the next day it was cloudless. We were already committed to heading home. There was little conversation with Jenny on the way home … but we are going back next February.

When you are in trouble with Jenny, what do you do to redeem yourself?

I normally don’t get in trouble that much – when I do I just give her a cuddle.

Is she a chocolates or flowers type of girl?

I always give her flowers. I love giving her flowers.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the World who would it be?

I have got some very good friends in my life. My wife. Patrick McMahon. Trevor Dickinson. The late Roddie Abbott. They helped me in my business – there a lot of people that have helped me in my business.

Name three things you could not live without?

Racing. My wife – Jenny. My family.

What is your greatest fear?

I don’t really have any fears – I believe in God. I am not one of those blokes that go out preaching or anything – but I believe that prayers will guide you through life.

Where do you like to travel to – holidays etc?

I love holidays. I love the Isle of Pines – New Caledonia. I love Bora Bora. I love the South Island of New Zealand – I think it is a beautiful place.

Now I must ask you about Con Searle in technology. I have seen it in action – well not that well in action! I remember on a trip with you. We had a brand-new Holden Commodore. You sat in the driver’s seat for three minutes trying to put the key in the ignition whilst the rest of us sat there and were pissing ourselves laughing.

Technology and me – what do I have to say?

Computers, cars – all of it gives me the shits! When I stuff up my computer at home, I get the granddaughter or the wife to fix it up for me or show me what to do. Otherwise, if I really make a mess of it, I need to get Chris Brennan (computer geek and nerd) who works for me to help me out and get me back on track!

Do you watch much TV?

I watch the ABC – ABC History and every now and then I watch SKY but I don’t usually watch that much TV. I love watching the news. I love watching comedy shows – Open All Hours. TV never came in for me until 1958. We and other people used to go and watch it in stores on the footpaths. We never had it home – mum and dad never got us one until maybe 1959 or even 1960.

Winter sports are here. NRL /AFL?

I used to follow NRL – but it annoys me now. I can’t stand all of them blokes running around with tattoos and yahooing. I love to watch a good game of football. I used to love the NRL – but now I enjoy watching Rugby Union and the AFL.

NRL team / Rugby Union team / AFL / State Of Origin?

Cowboys / Reds / Brisbane Lions / I am a Queenslander through and through – just like you are a NSW man.

Who do you speak to most often on the phone?

My wife and my sons.

Who is your man crush?

No man crush.

Who is your female crush?

No female crush - just my wife Jenny.

Does Jenny have a favourite fragrance?

Yes – I have no bloody idea what it is!

What are you grateful for everyday?

Waking up each day

What inspires you?

Life. My wife. My sons. Racing!

What item or landmark symbolises Australia?

ANZAC does it for me. We are a happy go lucky people in Australia as a nation but, when the tin tacks are down, we are very determined. We have strength.

Sandwiches – what do you put on them?

I love salad sandwiches. I cannot eat too much now since my kidney transplant. I must make them myself. I love ham and mustard as well. I love my corned meat I cook and pickles as well. White bread – no butter, or if I sneak some just a small bit.

Pizzas – do you like them?

I do like them – but I can do without them.

Let’s talk about your kidney transplant that you had which saved your life.

Mate I had it done on the 31 August 2017. I am fit and healthy. When they did it – it made me feel about 30 or 40 years younger. My joints don’t feel like that – but in my mind, my body and my stamina – I feel wonderful. It is amazing what the doctors did for me and what a transplant can do for your body and system.

What is your favourite drink?

Lemon, lime and bitters.

What about alcoholic drink?

I don’t drink alcohol.

How do you define success?

Hard work – determination – and having faith.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you that not many people know?

I am a firm believer in Saint Jude and the Lord. Whilst I don’t preach it – I believe in it.

Do you have any pets at home?

No not any more – I lost my mate, Sammy. I found her … or maybe she found me. I used to walk each morning. Every day this dog would follow me home. She would sit on the porch with me and then she would disappear.

Next morning, I would walk through the park – she would find me and follow me and then come home again and sit on the porch. This went on for several weeks. Then she decided to stay at home with us for a week. Then she would disappear for a week – this continued for a while as well.

One day I was at the races at Caloundra and this woman come up to me and said, “you stole my dog!”. I said what are you talking about. She kept on saying “you stole my dog.” I identified the dog to her and sure enough it was Sammy!

I said I didn’t steal the bloody thing – it follows me home and comes and goes as she pleases. So, I told her to come and get her. She said, “I can’t every time I come and get her, she goes back to you”. In the end she said, ‘you can keep her and look after her’. I had her for 8 or 10 years – we were great mates.

If Sammy could speak what do you think they would say about you?

Con is a good mate.

You were in Darwin for the 2019 Carnival?

I have been going to Darwin for about 20 years. It is one of the best Carnivals. Grafton was the best Carnival but now Darwin has just got in front. Darwin is the best as the Darwin Turf Club makes it a spectacle. The way they promote the Carnival the effort that goes in to make patrons welcome.

Now I just want to state a fact – WINNO v SEARLE in 2018! I claimed you for the premier doubles – I got you at Grafton with the Ramornie into the Grafton Cup double and then the Grafton Cup into the Kirby as well. Then I claimed you at Darwin in the feature double you ran up here. Correct?

Yes – it was true you got me. You were the only winning tickets I had to pay on all three. It is a shame, but I suppose that it is about time you had a win after 20 years!

You are down to your last $10 – what would you spend it on?

I would spend it on Jenny. I would give it Jenny and let her spend it as she sees fit.

Lastly, I must ask about Kilcoy Race Club - another very real passion in your life.

Country racing, in general, is a passion of mine. I live for Kilcoy Race Club. I have a great attachment to the Kilcoy area. When I was collecting the cow manure from all the local dairy farmers we become great mates – mates forever. I have a soft spot for the place. When they asked me to come onto the Committee I was already bookmaking there since the 1970’s.

They appointed me as the senior vice-president to Dick Ferling. It gave me something to work on – I love a challenge. The Club wasn’t going well, and we only had two meetings a year. We could not maintain the track with only two meetings a year.

It was a tough period for us all but at the time we had the determination to keep going and, with the support of several good people, we managed to build the Club up to what it is now with multiple meetings a year.

Somerset Council have come on board and have invested $1 million into development on the facilities. The improvements that we have achieved with the new parade area, new areas for the public – I think have made the track patron and family friendly.

I just hope I live to see it all finalised and to see people at the Club supporting country racing!

As we all do!

And I just want you to sign it off by saying, “God Bless you Winno. You are a great mate to many.

Thanks for doing Sixty Seconds with WINNO.

More articles

Con Searle
Con Searle
The team … at Darwin
The team … at Darwin
The team … at Grafton
The team … at Grafton
The Kilcoy Turf Club where Con is President. He is very passionate about Country Racing
The Kilcoy Turf Club where Con is President. He is very passionate about Country Racing
Con … with the winners of the 2019 Kilcoy Cup
Con … with the winners of the 2019 Kilcoy Cup
Kilcoy … one of the of the best family friendly tracks ...
Kilcoy … one of the of the best family friendly tracks ...
… with a variety of on-track competition and entertainment (above and below)
… with a variety of on-track competition and entertainment (above and below)
Photos: Darren Winningham and Graham Potter
Photos: Darren Winningham and Graham Potter
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