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Thoroughbred Associate Nominee: Marjorie Charleson

Hall of Fame

Marjorie Charleson’s greatest achievement during the Golden Era of WA racing was to attract the great Kingston Town across for the running of the 1982 Western Mail Classic (Kingston Town Classic).

The strategy to have Australasia’s champion racehorse at Ascot came perilously close to being foiled when the scheduled flight to bring Kingston Town to Perth fell through.

In desperation to salvage Ascot’s Nos 1 attraction, Charleson rang her cousin in her native New Zealand and asked him to arrange a New Zealand Airlines’ plane to fly across Kingston Town.

Thanks to Charleson’s “charm” the “King” landed at Ascot and Perth Racing celebrated one of its greatest days when Kingston Town, with pin-up jockey Malcolm Johnston, exploded home in the Classic, receiving a standing ovation from a packed crowd of appreciative racing patrons.

Charleson came to Australia from a sheep farm on NZ’s South Isle to pursue an acting career with the NZ Players.
She launched a successful career in Melbourne in 1955 firstly as a copy writer before becoming a television commercial producer and writer.

So much did her career blossom in advertising and public relations that her clients included GJ Coles, Arnott’s Biscuits, Peters Ice Cream and the launch of Alpine cigarettes.

Her decision to travel to Perth was not seen by Charleson at the time as being a permanent migration, as her ultimate goal was to wind up at her cousin’s wildlife park at Nairobi in Kenya.

She was “stopping over” in WA to further her career as a documentary film-maker, where she make a documentary for Utah Mining called Picks to Pellets during the Iron Ore boom of the 1960s.

Charleson has never been afraid to voice her own opinion and it was her frankness on the poor state of racing at Belmont Park when she was asked her thoughts on Perth’s thoroughbred racing, at a cocktail party for the launch of the Hunt Club season, that saw her come to the attention of a PR (then WA Turf Club) committeeman.

Thus began an outstanding working relationship with WATC secretary Harry Bolton, a man of vision and who had no prejudice about working with women in executive roles.

Charleson became the first PR officer to be appointed by any racing club in Australia and despite sexual bias from some committeemen rose to become the nation’s most successful PR officer.

Charleson attracted the who’s who of trainers including Bart Cummings, Colin Hayes, Tommy Smith, George Hanlon and Geoff Murphy to bring their star thoroughbreds to race at the Ascot summer carnival.

“NO” was not a word in Charleson’s vocabulary and she persuaded NZ trainer Ian Steffert to bring across “Iron Horse” Magistrate, who as a nine and 10-year-old and had had pins holding together a hind leg, when he won consecutive Perth Cups in 1981 and ’82.

Magistrate, was ridden by the great NZ staying jockey Bob Skelton, who had won the 1976 Melbourne Cup on Van Der Hum, on a quagmire.

Charleson actually attracted, a record 28 interstate horses, to the 1974-75 summer carnival – a feat that will never be equalled.

She brought Fashions of the Fields from Melbourne to Perth, introduced fund raising at major meetings, was a strong advocate for the running of the Powder Puff Derby for female riders and introduced breed horse parades to show off WA best stallions to the public at the races.

During Charleson's 16 years as PR’s public relations officer she brought national and inter nations stars to Ascot including actors, singers, comedians, sports stars and the West Indian cricket team. The world's best jockeys converged on Ascot to ride in the Exhibition Stakes.

She did not let her dismissal without notice stop her passion for thoroughbred racing, regularly commentating at Stallion Parades at Ascot or Belmont Park and produced and wrote in her thoroughbred magazine Westbreed. In 1998 Charleson bought Racing West from David Morgan and merged the two WA magazines to become a national publication called Race Breed Australia.

Ill health forced Charleson to discontinue Race Breed in 2010, but this year she was recognised for magnanimous contribution to the WA thoroughbred industry by PR with the inaugural running of the Majorie Charleson Classic at Ascot.

She still lives five minutes for Ascot and 10 minutes from Belmont Park near the Belmont Forum shopping centre.

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