***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
Mr Speaker, in the weeks since his passing, colleagues, protégés and admirers have all sought to find the words to say what Les Carlyon meant to them, what he meant to our country.
But in all truth without Les, there will never be the right words.
Now John Harms, he's a great sport writer himself, he recalled the first time that he picked up a copy of Chasing a Dream.
A phrase on the first page caught his eye, so he folded down the corner down to mark the place.
He then turned to page two – and realised he couldn’t fold the corner both ways.
So John went to work with a pencil: there were asterisks, square brackets, marking sections and making notes.
I think that sums up Les Carlyon.
Magic in every sentence, a gem in every paragraph.
Never spent a sentence in vain.
Artistry and craftsmanship in equal measure.
Nothing for the sake of it though, no ornamentation in his writing.
I am lucky enough to be the Member of Parliament for Flemington and Moonee Valley race tracks.
And Les wrote as he liked to see the horses raced – gamely, for speed, not overburdened by the science of strategy.
Just the right words.
All his working life, Les possessed a brilliant knack for finding the right words - and a visceral loathing for the wrong ones.
For example, Les couldn’t stand it when people spoke of racing as an ‘industry’.
After all, he’d never heard anyone on the train home from Flemington talking about what a great day they’d had at the ‘industry’
Or, as he put it:
“Packaging is an industry.
Yet no-one stands alongside the production line to applaud a cardboard box.
No-one suggests a cardboard box has character.”
Really, that was the essence of Les’ work: character.
The character of unfashionable, unstoppable winners like Vo Rogue.
The character of Galleywood who rose from his fall in the Warrnambool Cup, like “Lazarus on four legs”.
The character of wily trainers like Vic Rail, or the brilliance of Bart.
Les said that if Bart Cummings ever took up fishing:
“the trout would leap from the water to impale themselves on his naked hooks.”
He wrote of the character of famous races, of Kingston Town’s third Cox Plate, down past the school, round the tight corner, moving in a few strides, from “has-been to immortal”
And through it all, the character of our country.
Mr Speaker, grave disservice is often done by people who compare sport to war - and it often takes, in fact it takes a very special gift to write about both.
But Les was a great historian, for the same reasons he was a wonderful sports journalist.
He didn’t blunder off into lazy clichés or indulge in cheap sentimentality.
He didn’t write backwards from a conclusion he’d already formed.
Les was an observer, a student of behaviour, someone who understood heart, and passion and luck and triumph and disaster.
He could see a deeper truth – and share it with us all.
Whether it was watching Bonecrusher move into the gates, eavesdropping on Bob Hawke and Andrew Peacock exchanging pleasantries in the mounting yard on Derby Day.
Or bringing to life the letters and diaries of diggers long gone.
Finding the humanity amidst the unimaginable death and devastation of Gallipoli and the Western Front.
Deriving for us, some sense of what Australia truly lost on those battlefields and what we might yet gain.
I remember, in 2016, when we were in this House marking the centenary of Australia’s first battles on the Western Front, I rang Les and asked if he would be able to have a look at the draft of some remarks I was preparing.
I sent it through and waited with anticipation for some of Les’ vivid prose.
He rang me up soon after and said.
“Thanks for that Bill, it reads well.”
He said more.
“The Western Front was probably the worst tragedy Australia experienced.
You might want to give some thought to all those healthy young men who came home missing a limb or disfigured or with their lungs ruined by gas.”
That was it, for me that’s Les Carlyon.
Simple, profound observations.
And then another layer of insight, a different perspective, a more compelling angle.
The right words.
And his words will always be with us and for that we should be grateful.
May he rest in peace.