Western Australian Racing Pioneer
One of the best known members of a pioneer Western Australian family Ernest Augustus Lee Steere was born in 1866 and was Vice Chairman of the Western Australian Turf Club (WATC) in 1919, Chairman in 1920 and holding the position for 21 years until 1941.
Sir Ernest’s pastoral life began when he rode with packhorses to the Murchison and started work on a station, and in 1888 he bought Belele Station, in the Meekatharra district and bought small businesses in towns including Geraldton, Meekatharra and Cue.
Generous in his philanthropy and with a variety of interests, he was heavily involved in the Pastoralists Association, and was a director of many public boards and companies. He did as much to promote the secondary industries as he had done for the primary industries of the State, and in a stroke of luck for the industry, one
of his keen interests was thoroughbred horse racing.
Under his chairmanship the WATC made significant changes and commenced innovative initiatives, a legacy to the Industry still evident to this day.
An increased focus on the distribution of income made from horse racing was a top priority from his first year as Chairman, with the June 1920 Annual General Meeting noting that the funds made from racing, rather than benefitting any individual, should go to; the encouragement of breeding, stake money, making racecourses safe, making on course surroundings comfortable and attractive to Club members and patrons, and most significantly, to enable a Club to donate as much as possible to charities.
With his rejuvenation of racing, a renewed emphasis on two year old racing was introduced, with the highlight for locally bred horses being a re-established Breeders Plate. The Ascot Racecourse itself likewise saw a revitalisation programme, with its fixtures opened to a wider public and the totalisator invented by his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir George Julius, installed.
Key developments included specific training facilities to lessen the strain from one individual course taking the bulk of trackwork, a new stand for trainers, the relocation and construction of a more commodious bar midway between the saddling paddock and enclosure, bricking of the bookmakers ring, erection of a ladies’ cloakroom, and the erection of a more up to date totalisator.
Industry participants were not excluded from the agenda of the committee under his leadership, with the Benefit Insurance Fund introduced in the 1930’s. Meanwhile, the Club itself saw the completion of new multi-story premises at the corner of Howard Street and The Esplanade in Perth city in 1924.
An avid owner, his gallopers included one of Western Australia’s greatest racehorses, Eurythmic (WA Hall of Fame Inductee 2007), who won the 1920 Caulfield Cup having won the Karrakatta Plate, Sire’s Produce, WATC Derby, Perth Cup (dead heat) as well as the WATC St Leger before taking on Victoria and winning a remarkable 12 of 13 starts as a four year old, including the Sydney Cup. In addition to Eurythmic, his all red colours were worn by the very handy Second Wind who was runner-up to the mighty Phar Lap in the Melbourne Cup of 1930, and the good mare Maple, fellow Caulfield Cup winner (1928).
Sir Ernest lost two sons during World War II and had the two Caulfield Cups melted down and donated the gold to the war effort, while another son, WA Racing Hall of Fame Inductee (2007) Sir Ernest Lee Steere Jnr followed in his father’s footsteps as a breeder, owner and WATC Chairman. He died in 1957 aged 91 years.