If long-time Fernvale horseman, Max Towns, walked onto any Showgrounds in the South Pacific he would be given the red carpet treatment.
The 83-year-old Victorian native, who is still training a team of seven standardbreds with his son Brett, is an honorary member of the Showmens Guild Of Australasia.
Reluctant to talk about his expertise with horses, Mr Towns specialised in equine jumping and buck riding.
“It’s not show jumping like today. It was a single jump to test how high a horse can actually jump. There used to be a lot more of it back in the day, but the shows have all changed now. There’s more commercialism, vehicles, and rides.
“The best jumper I had was a farm animal cross called Big John. He won at just about every show I went to – 56 titles in total, I think. Man, he could jump. I think seven foot eight was his record,” Mr Towns said.
“My daughter, Katrina, broke the world record on him. Then there was Johnny Reb. He was a skewbald who won numerous Horse-of-the-Year titles,” he added.
Mr Towns has loved horses since the time he was gifted a pony as a young boy.
“I took a shine to them early. None of my family were involved in racing, but we all went to the Shows. I grew up going to them. They have played a huge part in my life,” Mr Towns said.
He was born in Orbost, a historic town in the Shire of East Gippsland about 375km east of Melbourne. Just seven minutes away is Newmerella – the village a lot of the Towns racehorses have been named after.
“I wasn’t well educated. In fact, I left school in my primary years. I didn’t like the place. I used to put one over my parents. I’d be sick but as soon as the sawmill down the road went off, I’d come right, because I knew what time it was.
“My first job in the late 1940s was helping out on our dairy farm in Orbost, and then I went and cut railway sleepers with a broad axe. We loaded them down at the local railway station. That was a tough job because we had no circular saws in those days.
“I did dairy farm work and hauled timber for a while before I travelled throughout Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland doing septic tank deliveries,” Mr Towns said.
Then, aged 19 he got a job educating horses for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
“I trained horses for the Olympics as the riders couldn’t bring over their own. They were broken down gallopers and trotters, farm horses and some rogue types that needed educating.
“A year later I went to Buchan where I met my darling, Coralie. We got married and as well as Brett we also had two other older children named Katrina and Mark. Sadly, she died 15 years ago.”
One day while Mr Towns was talking to a mate in Beenleigh, it was suggested to him that Fernvale was an economical and picturesque place to live.
“I used to travel from Show to Show and when I made a few ‘bob’ I decided to look for a place to live and settle down. Get off the road in other words. In 1972 I moved into a 10-acre block at Fernvale and have been here since,” he said.
He said the 1969 Van Hall gelding, Bachelor Van, provided him with his first training and driving success. That was at Rockhampton in the early 70’s.
The father and son team currently comprises some nice horses including Newmerella Sharkie, Newmerella Molly and Newmerella Ladykay along with some other young horses they have bred.
“Newmerella Ladykay, I think is racing the best of them. She’s a rising 5-year-old Mr Feelgood mare, who has won eight races. I named her after Kay Seymour – a lady I respect so much.
“I wanted to call the filly just Lady Kay but that name was taken 20-odd years ago. I have so much respect for Kevin and Kay and what they’ve done for the industry.
“They are the kindest couple you know. They even gifted me a pacer named Take Seven. There were no strings attached. That was an unbelievable offer, and I believe they are still gifting horses to youngsters.
"Take Seven was a nice horse too, who won 12 races. I love Kevin and Kay and what they have done for the industry. They are my forever friends," Mr Towns said.
Mr Towns remembers clearly when he received the gift horse from the Seymours.
“It was about 2013 and I was battling some health problems. I'm sure their gift lifted my spirits,” he said.
Mr Towns said he had no champions over the years, but did have some nice ones like Delectable Dolly (29 wins), Goanna, Ruxton, Kid Gallahad, Valley Of Stone, Shanghaicharlie, Free Melody and Laguna Beach. Then there was Peppermint Pattie. She was Brett’s horse and won 34 races and more than $100,000. She won 17 races in her three year old season alone.
“It hasn’t been easy but I’ve absolutely loved working with horses over the years. I’ve had a lot of injuries and broken bones, but I still wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I think the biggest changes I have seen over the years has been handicapping – and they still haven’t got it right.”
According to Racing Queensland statistics released today (Friday) Mr Towns has trained three winners this season and 606 since his records were first taken in May 1983.
He has also had some success in the gig but left most of the driving to son Brett.
Mr Towns has many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Brett's wife, Glenda, and granddaughter Crystal Towns, who is engaged to Trent Dawson, are heavily involved with harness racing, while Brett's other children Luke, Gabrielle and Kimberley prefer to support from the grandstand.
There may also be another generation yet to be involved with Crystal and Trent’s daughter, Matilda already owning her owning mini trotter at the ripe old age of two.