An important chapter of Moree history closes: Sam Sabine laid to rest
Words: Bill Poulos
THE eight-year-old boy wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and watched intently through a rusty chain-link fence as the field of greyhounds charged past the winning post at the old Moree coursing track.
It was a stinking hot afternoon in 1940 and this slip of a kid that was hell-bent on becoming a greyhound trainer had just pedalled three miles from his family home at the nearby village of Yarraman to watch the pan-lickers in action.
He was on the wrong side of the fence looking in because he was on the wrong side of 16 and not allowed to click through the turnstiles alone.
But, for the next 75 years, the greyhound racing industry would be a consuming passion for William James “Sammy” Sabine.
It seems only fitting that in later life this wide-eyed eight-year-old would become Moree Greyhound Racing Club president a few times over as well as given life membership of a club he cherished.
Sadly, Sam passed away last week, aged 83.
He lived and breathed greyhound racing and many industry stakeholders travelled from across NSW and Queensland on Tuesday to bid him farewell, joined by scores of friends and colleagues who freely admitted to knowing bugger-all about greyhounds.
Sam, a staunch Labor man who was afforded life party membership at the ALP’s annual conference at Sydney Town Hall in 2011, was the go-to man when it came to anything to do with greyhounds.
He began training in his early teens and over the years threw a rug over scores of top-grade dogs, including Game Venture, Credit Account, Cindy Moree, Milo’s Conquest, Home Comforts, Sally Nicole and Game Venture’s mother, Miss Farlena.
Moree dog bookie Brian Steel, a part-owner of Milo’s Conquest, said Game Venture was probably Sam’s best greyhound.
“Milo’s Conquest won quite a lot of races in the bush, but I would say without any fear of doubt that the best dog Sammy ever had was Game Venture,” Steel said.
“He’s had some good dogs, but Game Venture was probably the best.
“Sam loved his dogs, and he was only about seven or eight when he first started mucking about with them. He often told me how he would watch the local dog races through the fence as a kid,” he said.
Moree dog caller Larry Price, who also worked alongside Sam on the NSW railways for many years, said one of Sam’s favourites was Credit Account.
“Sam used to refer to Credit Account as the ‘spotted dog’, and he won more than 25 races,” Price said.
“Sam was a master at patching up crocks that were give-aways and one such dog was a little brindle bitch called Cindy Moree.
“She won a race at Tamworth one night when Sam backed her from 12-1 into 6-4. The leading dog bookie at the time, Jack Millerd, who also owned champion dog Chief Havoc, never, ever forgave Sam,” Price chuckled.
Sam Sabine was the quintessential battler who championed the underdog. He was also the humble, behind-the-scenes man whenever the call-up came to raise money for Moree charities and vital services, in particular the Moree Hospital.
Through Sam’s hard work, tireless fundraising and constant, well-connected political lobbying, a renal unit was established at Moree Hospital 13 years ago.
In the ensuing years, Sam and his hardworking renal unit committee raised more than $300,000 for the cause – and it hasn’t stopped there.
Hospital CEO David Quirk said Sam was single-handedly responsible for getting the renal unit fast-tracked by five years.
“Sam was a great advocate of the Moree health service in general and, in particular, he was a great supporter of the Moree renal unit,” Quirk said.
“If there’s one single person responsible for the renal unit in Moree, it’s Sam Sabine.
“Through Sam’s endeavours and persistence, especially when contacting politicians and senior health bureaucrats, we were able to get the unit up and running in 2002.
“Sam certainly made it a lot more bearable for people who were on renal dialysis, because they could have their treatment closer to home. There is now much less travel for the majority of people,” he said.
Sam’s political alliances came through his membership of the ALP – he joined in 1958 – and his work with the Moree Country Labor branch.
He was also a member of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Employees from 1959 through to 1981 and served as AFULE secretary for six years from 1980.
Moree Hospital renal unit manager Jodie Slack-Smith – arguably his biggest fan – has worked closely with Sam since the facility opened.
“Sam has just been amazing for what he’s done for Moree Hospital,” Slack-Smith said.
“And it’s not just the renal unit, either. Sam’s committee has bought things for the rest of the hospital as well.
“There are a lot of people that got to meet Sam and got to know him, and all the renal patients would have a good yarn with him when he’d come up and visit,” she said.
Sam’s crowning achievement came in August last year when the renal unit fundraising committee was named Volunteers of the Year at the Hunter New England Health Service Excellence Awards.
“He was a very passionate man and I got to see that last year when I nominated the committee for the awards,” Slack-Smith said.
“I didn’t think we had a chance in hell of winning, but Sam was confident and before we went to Newcastle he said, ‘I think we’ve got this’.
“It was just amazing when we won. Everybody in the whole Newcastle City Hall gave Sam a standing ovation. They brought the house down; there was hardly a dry eye in the hall.
“Sam was really overwhelmed by that. It was a huge acknowledgement of the hard work that he and the committee have done,” she said.
Copyright Bill Poulos 2015