Regardless of whether you consider race calling a profession, hobby or passion, Darren McAullay has made a living for the past 38 years enjoying the one constant of his life – horse racing.
With his ocker accent, larrikin sense of humour, great storytelling ability and lifelong passion for thoroughbreds, ‘Macca’ has all the natural hallmarks of a great race caller.
In a journey that has spanned four decades, McAullay has gone from humble beginnings in the Goldfields in the late 1970s to being the voice of thoroughbred racing in Western Australia.
Igniting the passion
McAullay was born in Kalgoorlie in 1962 with racing in his veins, as his father was an apprentice jockey for trainer George Grljusich.
“Whatever his passion was for horses, I inherited it,” he says.
“It was the colour, the excitement and power of the horse that was as overwhelming an experience that I had when I was younger.”
McAullay’s early passion for racing manifested in the bike races he and his friends would have on Saturday mornings around Wallace Park.
“Our mums would make us racing colours, we’d find sticks off trees to use as whips and we’d all go in to a draw to get a bike,” he says.
“If you got the three-speed bike you were the favourite, and if you had my little banana seated one-speed bike you were gone right from the word go!”
Of course, the boys’ improvised track wasn’t without its dangers, as McAullay recalls.
“There was always a bit of loose gravel on the corner of Parsons and into Bourke Street where the home corner was, many a catastrophe occurred on that bend,” he says.
After leaving school at 15 due to a “lack of interest” but having a passion for race calling, McAullay found work as a postie for Australia Post, riding up to 30 miles a day on a two-speed push bike around the streets Kalgoorlie.
“The great thing about it was that it kept me really fit,” he says.
The next year, he began reading the sports news at the local ABC, working in the drive time slot with a man named Bryan Dennis, now better known as the satirical singer/songwriter Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson.
McAullay looks back on that time fondly.
“He was a wonderful bloke, and I was his postman when he lived on Piccadilly Street,” he says.
“It was a great education – and I learned a lot of really good songs!”
The First Call
At age 16, McAullay got his first chance to call races at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Racing Club as a junior caller.
“My first call was at Kalgoorlie. It was the main race- a sprint race- and the two horses Blue Portal and Martremo went head to head to the line,” he says.
“We had a dreadful angle calling the race, but I remember getting it right that Blue Portal won it a nose to Martremo, and the photo went Blue Portal’s way.”
It was this call that began McAullay’s career in Perth.
John K. Watts, who was the king of Perth breakfast radio alongside Barry Martin on 6PR, heard McAullay’s call of the race on the radio while he was driving around that afternoon with his wife, and was instantly impressed.
“They heard that one call and eventually offered me, in my second year of broadcasting, the chance to become a junior broadcaster at 6PR,” McAulley says.
“I got a bit lucky. If he hadn’t been listening that day or his wife hadn’t asked him to bring that guy to Perth then we wouldn’t be here today.”
The people you meet
With four decades of experience in the racing industry, McAullay has certainly encountered his fair share of colourful identities.
“Through the 1970s and 1980s when I grew up in Kalgoorlie, there were people like Peter ‘Porky’ Graham and Bob Myers who were larger than life in all aspects,” he says.
“Then in the 1980s when WA was going gangbusters through the WA Inc period, there were some colourful racing identities, the George Wades of the world. Then there was Laurie Connell.
“There was also big name bookmakers and pro punters who we only ever knew by nickname, we’d them ‘Shifty’ or ‘Fox’ and that’s what we’d call them, even though they’d been there for decades.”
The ugly side of racing
McAullay has seen more than his fair share of bad accidents.
“I’ve seen a lot of falls,” he says.
“They’re an unfortunate part of racing, but they happen, and some are worse than others.”
There is one race that McAullay describes as his toughest to call, the dramatic 2008 Perth Cup, won by Damien Oliver riding Cat’s Fun.
“Five horses fell in the first few 100 metres, and there were horses scattering back and running in the opposite direction,” he says.
Adding to the drama, Cat’s Fun stormed home to beat Exhilarating at the line.
“That was the hardest race I’ve ever had to call because it was over two miles [3.2km] with a big field and the big fall,” he says.
“Then I was trying to keep my eye on the field coming into the straight for the first time and then watching the horses up the back hopefully not coming the other way.
“That race fatigued me mentally more than any other day I’ve had at the races, it was a really tough day.”
The dramatic 2008 Perth Cup, called by McAullay (Footage, Sky Racing, YouTube: rubicon nz)
The best call
Despite calling thousands of races, McAullay says that one call stands out in his mind, the 2008 Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot, remembered for the epic tussle between sprinters Takeover Target and Apache Cat.
“It was the first time the Winterbottom had been run as a group one race and two of the best sprint horses in the world came to Perth,” he says.
“It was a big thrill to call it, the race was a tactical cat and mouse battle between Jay Ford [Takeover Target] and Corey Brown [Apache Cat].”
“When they went to the line all you could see was white hitting the line and there was only about a half-an-inch between them.
“I declared Takeover Target had won it, and for a moment I went into complete anxiety thinking I’ve got this wrong, but the photo went up and Takeover Target had won by a nose.”
McAullay rates his call as one of his finest.
“I was tactically able to call the race very well and then nail it right on the line, to get the margin right, the result right and to deliver something that the punters watching this race would think was one of the best they’d ever seen.”
Video: The thrilling conclusion to the 2008 Winterbottom Stakes (0:07- 0:34) (Perth Racing)
The qualities of a racecaller
McAullay’s approach to race calling has been consistent since the early stages of his career, thanks to the words of his former boss.
“Back when I started out, the manager of the ABC in Kalgoorlie told to me to imagine that you’re calling for people who are visually impaired,” he says.
“I’ve never forgotten that and I’ve tried to stick with that all the way through.”
When it comes to the qualities of a race caller, McAullay says it is the same for all callers.
“It helps to have a photographic memory, that’s the one good thing,” he says.
“You’ve got to do something in a very short space of time.
“It’s a process, you have to identify the horses and riders and then bring your own bit of theatre to paint a picture with words.”
In the words of his colleagues
Outside the box, McAullay serves as the executive officer of the Western Australian Racehorse Owner’s Association, alongside his good friend WAROA president Harvey Crossman.
Crossman says that aside from his knowledge and qualities as a race caller, McAullay’s greatest personal quality is his loyalty as a friend.
“We’ve worked closely with each other for the WAROA for over a decade and he’s been with me through some tough times personally,” he says.
“And he also does his best to try and help other people out without expecting in return which is the sign of a true friend.”
Retired WA harness racing commentator turned author John Hunt, who has known McAullay since his days at 6PR, says McAullay was always willing to help him.
“Darren has always been a very supportive person,” he says.
“Since I retired [In 2008] I’ve written two books [Princess; The Miss Andretti Story in 2011 and The View From the Clouds in 2014] and he made sure that I got a lot of publicity for both of them through his contacts in the media.
“He’s always looked after his mates, and as a matter of fact I wish I could have done more for him during his career.”
In addition to serving as TABradio’s lead race caller since the mid ‘90s, McAullay runs his own media company, Macmedia Marketing, and is a staple of TABradio’s breakfast show The Sports Daily.
Work colleague and friend Wes Cameron, who also serves as the manager of Racing Communications at Racing and Wagering Western Australia, says McAullay is amazing to work with.
“When you get Darren you get knowledge, but you also get somebody who knows how to prepare,” he says.
“He’s been recognised as one of Australia’s great racecallers for a long period of time and it’s great having him aboard.
“He’s a very adaptable, consummate professional who knows the racing industry like the back of his hand.”
A passion for broadcasting
For something that started as a passion, and then became a hobby and a profession, Darren McAullay has not only made a fantastic living, he’s etched his name into WA racing history.
“Everything I’ve been doing today, the role at WAROA, public speaking, it all came from that one passion for broadcasting,” he says.
“I can’t call it a job because it’s a profession, but it’s more like a hobby that I’ve been fortunately paid for.”