Richard (Darby) McCarthy was one of the most gifted jockeys this country has produced. He rode more than 1000 winners and at one time rode throughout Europe, living in Paris in a mansion with the services of a maid and a chauffeur. He kept company with the Aga Khan, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.
In a previous post I mentioned that Frank Reys was reticent about declaring his aboriginal heritage during his riding career, thinking it may be detrimental to his opportunities. This was never the case with Darby McCarthy as he was always in demand, but perhaps there is more than one way to face discrimination.
The film of Darby McCarthy's life (and trials) is currently in production and due for release in time for the Spring racing carnival in 2009. The major theme of the film will be the 1976 disqualification of McCarthy for alleged race fixing at a minor Victorian country race meeting at Hamilton. Racing authorities would impose a seven year disqualification as his penalty.
Darby McCarthy rode Rickshaw's Luck into fifth place in the Black & White Whiskey Handicap and was then charged with 'run-of-the-mill interference'. At a later inquiry that lasted for three months he was somehow implicated in allegations that the race was fixed. Their circumstantial case was built around the fact that Darby had flown to the course in a light aircraft with a party of big punters. One of the punters was penalised and 'warned off' attending racecourses for life, but this was subsequently overturned in the Supreme Court.
Later the VRC would cut the seven year penalty given to McCarthy to two years; then without explanation it would be completely removed. But the conviction would still stand and throughout this process there was never any indication whether this implied him any less guilty. The penalties decreased, then finally disappeared, but the stigma would still remain. At the time Darby said: "If I'm guilty, give me life; if I'm innocent, give me nothing."
Darby has long suspected that racism was a factor in the penalty that subsequently left him a shattered man, leading him to a nervous breakdown and requiring care in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. In his early days there was the often told story of his grandfather who was shot dead by settlers (in front of his son) in 1912. And then there was the mysterious death of his own father (this time no son as witness) in a police cell after a day at the races in 1965. Although a man of great celebrity, with wealth of a million pounds in stakemoney (now equivalent to ten million dollars), Darby McCarthy has no doubt that his status was measured not by deed, but by his birth.
When interviewed about the film he said,
"There's a lot to tell about my life. It's a human interest story - a black man in a white man's world."
John Cain, who was then an opposition Member of Parliament, but later to be Premier of Victoria, was a leader in the public outcry and campaign to overturn this travesty of justice. His reading of the official stewards' inquiry transcripts left him in no doubt that Darby had been a victim of the pervading class structure of the then (since reformed when Cain came to office) VRC. In the extracts the stewards referred to those concerned by their Christian names of Tom, Bill or John; but one (and only one) of those present was referred to by surname: McCarthy.
Darby McCarthy has been offered a full pardon on the stipulation that he does not pursue his quest for a million dollar payout that he instigated three years ago. A recent review in 2007 headed by Racing Victoria Limited chairman Graham Duff, came to the conclusion that Darby McCarthy was not guilty and was a victim of a serious miscarriage of justice. Racing Victoria does not see itself as liable to pay for the sins of its forerunners, this also a theme that has played out in the politics of the nation as a whole in relation to the broader issue of race relations.
Darby no longer sees a monetary compensation as important. There is much to be said for the redeeming feature of an apology to right the wrongs of the past.
The film "Darby" (based on Lauren Callaway's 2004 biography, Darby McCarthy-Against All Odds) is being made by Lisa Duff, who has a previous credit as producer of the award winning Last Train To Freo. She currently teaches film-making at an aboriginal TAFE in Sydney and is active and interested in aboriginal issues. Lisa Duff is also the daughter of Graham Duff, the current chairman of RVL. Graham Duff gave the biography to his daughter to read, believing that she would be fascinated by the power of the story. It is fitting that the catalyst to a very public apology would be the chairman of the reformed body that so wrongly convicted him in the first place.
This film may go some way to reclaiming the pride and place in history that had been denied one of our greatest riding talents by a dubious penalty.
We began this story with Darby in Paris. And will finish there as well. Although Darby McCarthy failed to grasp the French language, he did say that he always felt comfortable in France... "where the locals would treat you as a person, irrespective of colour."