Julie York was introduced to racing by her parents at a young age, when she attended her first race meeting at Warwick Farm. Julie was immediately mesmerized by the cheers of the crowd and the skill shown by legendary hoops such as George Moore aka ‘Cotton Fingers’ and George ‘Georgie Porgie’ Podmore. Little did she know that her initial introduction to racing would be the beginning of a lifelong ambition.
Growing up on a sheep farm in Hoxton Park, Julie began riding horses at the tender age of five and had her own pony called Ginger. When she told her parents of her dream of becoming a jockey it was like water off a ducks back and quickly dismissed as childish banter. Julie recalls, “I was just a kid and my parents didn’t take me seriously. Back then it just wasn’t the done thing, a female jockey.” But her parent’s reaction would not sway her determination and on finishing school she took work as a strapper at Warwick Farm before obtaining her track work rider licence in 1961.
Despite women being denied both the right to acquire an official jockeys licence and ride on professional racetracks, Julie still managed to gain a licence to ride in ‘amateur women only’ races. In 1974 women were finally allowed to participate at provincial and country clubs across New South Wales. That same year, the Coffs Harbour Racing Club would make history by hosting the World’s first registered race meeting for women riders only. Although the meeting was refused TAB coverage, it didn’t deter record crowds from attending the significant occasion. Julie rode 2 winners on the day, opening her account early with a win on Kind Beast in the opening race. It was a successful day, one that Julie, then aged 30, remembers vividly.
“The riders came from all over Australia and it was an important occasion. Edgar Britt was our patron for the meeting and one of my greatest career highlights was when he awarded me the ride of the day (Kind Beast). This was a huge honour for me. In the main event of the day I rode a horse called Carnival Prince and won the “World Book Cup.”
Julie’s achievements on the track would soon be rewarded and she was selected to represent Australia in the 1976 International Women’s Series which would see her ride around the world. “In 1976 I represented Australia in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and in the same year in New Zealand, against 16 other riders from all over the world. They were all able to compete against men in their own countries (except in NZ). This was the break-through for women jockeys.”
In Australia the issue of licencing female riders as professional jockeys was gaining media attention, placing pressure on the AJC to change their antiquated rules. It would take another 3 years before the AJC would amend the rules of racing to allow women to gain their jockeys licence and compete at a professional level against men.
Those changes took place in 1979 and QLD Jockey Pam O’Neill became the first Australian woman to secure her licence. Julie gained her licence 10 days later but it would be no easy feat as she was required to compete in 10 barrier trials to prove her ability.
To complete the task she travelled by mail train from her hometown of Coffs Harbour to Sydney on the Friday night for Saturday’s trial. At completion of the trial she would then endure the long train ride home. Julie wasn’t intimidated by having to do the trials in front of well-known stewards but she had to approach Metropolitan trainers she hardly knew for the rides. Neville Begg, Theo Green, Mal Barnes and Pat Quinn were some of the trainers who contributed to Julie completing the 10 trials successfully. This process would take her 3 months to complete but like the common theme in Julie’s life, she persisted, succeeded and reaped the rewards.
Her big ambition, set when she was first legged onto a thoroughbred was to be a jockey and she finally accomplished her goal at 35 years of age. Not only had her dream come true but she became the first female from NSW to do so.
When asked what she thinks of the current female riding ranks she offers the following insight. “On the face of it, it seems that women have achieved equality in the racing world. I do admire the women jockeys of today and I am only sorry that their emancipation arrived too late for me. However, without we women who ‘bucked the trend’ in the 70’s they would have found the going a lot harder.”
Julie who is now in her 70’s, has long since retired from the racetrack but can be found on the odd occasion at the Coffs Harbour Racing Club. She still keeps an eye on the local racing scene and believes that improvements can still be made in the promotion and funding of country racing.
Away from racing, she enjoys breeding Labrador puppies for the Guide Dogs Association and this demands most of her attention. Julie affectionately names each Labrador after some of her favourite turf heroes, including Sunline and Let’s Elope.
It is safe to say that Julie York is an unsung hero of the Australian racing industry. Her determined efforts to break down barriers while promoting the cause of female jockey’s has paved the way for current riders. The young country girl who dreamed of becoming a jockey has achieved so much more and should be recognised accordingly.
Fillies Form would like to thank Julie for providing an insight into her personal life and professional career.