Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bryant, Ernest Bert (Bert) (1927–1991)

by Peter Pierce

This article was published online in 2014

Bert Bryant, n.d.

Bert Bryant, n.d.

Ernest Bert Bryant (1927-1991), racecaller, was born on 21 March 1927 at Dubbo, New South Wales, third of four surviving children of New South Wales-born parents Ernest Harry Bryant, carpenter, and his wife Olive Myrtle, née Doyle. Ambitious from childhood to be a racecaller, Bert left De La Salle College, Dubbo, at the age of fourteen, and persuaded the manager of the local radio station to give him a trial. After a first call at nearby Geurie, he was soon calling races throughout western New South Wales, working during the week for retail firms and a munitions factory at Dubbo. He also developed a costly gambling habit. Between March 1945 and May 1946, while working as an invoice clerk for the wool-buying firm of Butterworth & Co., Bryant forged cheques totalling £2,240 to meet his debts. In November 1946 he pleaded guilty to charges of forgery and was sentenced to two years’ hard labour, twelve months with good behaviour.

Attempting to rebuild his career, Bryant auditioned unsuccessfully for radio station 2GB in Sydney, but was hired as assistant racecaller to Tom Moon at 3UZ in Melbourne. Beginning work soon after the 1948 Melbourne Cup, he remained with the station, as caller and sports director, until 1977. From 1950 he called twenty-seven consecutive Melbourne Cups. He also described athletics and swimming for television viewers at the Melbourne Olympic Games (1956) and the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth (1962).

Although an ardent Catholic, Bryant had married Molly Margaret Parker, a saleswoman from Dubbo, at the Presbyterian Church, Artarmon, on 15 January 1949. Years later, at Molly’s insistence, they remarried at a Catholic church in Melbourne, and they raised their children as Catholics. Bryant’s home life was a vital backdrop to his broadcasting career, especially when a corgi, Zhivago, was added to the ménage, and 3UZ ran a land line to his house at Carnegie for the broadcast of the Saturday morning racing preview. His activities extended to radio quiz shows and stints with television stations GTV-9 and ATV-0. From the 1960s he frequently travelled overseas; Bryant regarded his relayed calls of the Epsom Derby in 1969 and 1972 as highlights.

In an era of great racecallers, Bryant was both peerlessly accurate and the finest entertainer. His most famous call was the match race between Big Philou and Rain Lover in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington in 1970, when he advised listeners to put on the kettle as ‘there won’t be much change in a while,’ then picked Big Philou, winner by a nose. Radio brought him a vast following in the decades before television coverage was widespread and he exploited the paradoxical intimacy of the medium. He invented and shared an argot: a tout had ‘more tips than a can of asparagus’; confounded by the victory of a long shot, he would declare ‘you deserve a gold bike if you picked this one’; while, in the event of a betting plunge, he would observe enigmatically ‘where there’s smoke, there’s blue cod.’

Recalling Bernborough’s loss at the 1946 Caulfield Cup, Bryant later confessed, ‘I should have realised then that you can’t win punting’ (Bryant 1978, 19). If his gambling streak caused him financial and personal difficulties, it was also essential to his affinity with the ordinary punters who constituted his increasingly large radio audience, which at its peak totalled 2.5 million listeners across forty-eight radio stations. Indifferent to the pretensions of the rulers of racing, Bryant ‘talked through his kick’—that is, as a punter, not only as a caller (Pierce 1994, 32).

On 7 April 1977, while recording ‘Turf Talk’ at 3UZ, Bryant suffered a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage, ending his career as a racecaller. He continued as a compere until 1983 when 3UZ ceased to cover racing. After retirement, he worked for a bloodstock agent, but in 1985 was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter, he died on 3 April 1991 at Brighton, Melbourne, and was buried in Springvale cemetery. He left behind one of the most colourful and original contributions to the life and language of the Australian turf. Bryant was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2003.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Bryant, Bert, with Neil Phillipson. The Bert Bryant Story. Adelaide: Rigby, 1978
  • Gilgandra Weekly (NSW). ‘Forgery Alleged, Dubbo Youth Committed for Trial.’ 8 August 1946, 6
  • Gilgandra Weekly (NSW). ‘News of the Week.’ 21 November 1946, 2
  • Pierce, Peter, with Rhett Kirkwood. From Go to Whoa: A Compendium of the Australian Turf. East Melbourne: Crossbow Publishing, 1994
  • Pierce, Peter. ‘Urgers, Emus, Gorillas and Angora Goats.’ In They’re Racing: The Complete Story of Australian Racing, edited by Garrie Hutchinson, 91. Ringwood, Vic.: Viking, 1999.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Pierce, 'Bryant, Ernest Bert (Bert) (1927–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bryant-ernest-bert-bert-16119/text28061, published online 2014, accessed online 14 October 2019.

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