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A pioneering spirit

7 September 2022 Written by VRC

With her appointment to the Victoria Racing Club in July 1991, Mrs Sally Chirnside made Australian racing history when she became the first woman to be elected to the Committee of a Principal Racing Club. Mrs Chirnside will be honoured with a new race named after her on Sofitel Girls’ Day Out, The Sally Chirnside.

The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) Board and broader community was deeply saddened by the passing of Sally Chirnside, who passed away in June this year.

Mrs Chirnside became the first female Committee Member of any Principal Racing Authority in Australia when she was elected to the VRC Committee in July, 1991, having finished second to the most successful Lexus Melbourne Cup-winning owner Lloyd Williams at her first attempt in 1990.

Her election was widely lauded, including by training legend Gai Waterhouse – who at the time was still a year away from being granted her licence.

“Women in racing are rejoicing,” wrote Waterhouse in the Sydney Morning Herald, also noting that Mrs Chirnside’s exemplary credentials made her a perfect fit for the Committee.

Mrs Chirnside and her husband, grazier Andrew, bred and raced a number of top horses including the Bart Cummings-trained Lord Dudley who was the Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year (1975-76), winner of the Australian Cup, Blamey Stakes, VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes and VRC St Leger at Flemington.

Mrs Chirnside’s husband’s family had a long history in thoroughbred racing stretching back to the 1840s. Mrs Chirnside’s appointment to the VRC Board re-established the family’s prominence in the Sport of Kings.

“We acknowledge her incredible contribution to the industry and the remarkable legacy that she leaves”.

On the other side of iconic Melbourne sports fields, Mrs Chirnside’s father was a Melbourne personality known as “Pop” – Francis Vine - who played 105 games for the Melbourne Football Club, including his debut in the Grand Final in 1926, when the Demons won by 57 points – their first win since 1900.  Vine was Club Captain in 1932 and 1933.

Her mother, Elizabeth (Betsy) Vine was a member of the Cuming Smith family who owned Cuming Smith & Company chemical factories in Melbourne, who established the first fertiliser manufacturing plant in Australia in Melbourne. As the company evolved into CSBP, through numerous mergers and acquisitions, its reputation and standing as a trusted and knowledgeable local fertiliser business within WA’s farming communities and agriculture industry continues today.

From the time she commenced her role on the VRC Committee, Mrs Chirnside knew what she stood for and where she could make a difference.

“It is a priority of mine to keep prizemoney at its present level,” Mrs Chirnside told the Fairfax papers at the time, adding later: “Catering, marketing and the apprentice school are my targets. I don’t want to run the TAB.”

Just two years into her tenure on the Board, Mrs Chirnside’s influence in the racing world was recognised when she was asked to present at the 1993 Asian Racing Conference at the Hong Kong Jockey Club on the topic of “The Contribution of Women to the Racing Industry”.

Mrs Chirnside served on the Committee until her retirement in April, 2002, by which time Racing Victoria had become the state’s Principal Racing Authority.

“Mrs Chirnside will be remembered by all involved at the Victoria Racing Club and the thoroughbred racing industry as a woman who broke through the glass ceiling with determination, dignity, passion and a sense of grace,” VRC Chairman, Neil Wilson said.

“We acknowledge her incredible contribution to the industry and the remarkable legacy that she leaves”.

“She will be sadly missed at Flemington and by all throughout the thoroughbred racing industry.”

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