Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Healy, Patrick Burselum (Pat) (1897–1970)

by Charlie Fox

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

This is a shared entry with Mary Estelle Healy

Patrick Burselum Healy (1897-1970), bookmaker, and Mary (MOLLY) Estelle (1915-1971), charity worker and socialite, were husband and wife. Pat was born on 8 December 1897 in Perth, fourth child of Patrick John Healy, a bootmaker who rose to be president of his trade union, and his wife Emily Harriett, née Harris, who came from a property-holding Bassendean family. Young Pat worked as a barman. On 17 May 1916 at the Jandakot hall he married with Anglican rites Annie Linda Spencer, a clerk; they had three children before being divorced in 1930.

Shortly after World War I Healy had begun his career as an illegal starting-price 'bookie' in a back lane near a hotel. Granted a licence to field at the Perth trots, he was expelled in the mid-1920s, possibly because he was mixing on- and off-course betting, and probably during one of the Western Australian Trotting Association's purges. His business prospered during the 1920s and 1930s when he operated an illegal betting-shop in central Perth. It is likely that he used bribes to avoid prosecutions, even though his premises were raided regularly. He once said of the police in the 1920s, they 'used to come and have a cup of tea and tell me I had to go off, and I went'. At St Mary's Catholic Cathedral on 5 February 1931 he married 21-year-old Frances Clare Keating; they had two children before she divorced him on 6 October 1938. He married 23-year-old Mary Estelle Coughlan on 29 November that year at the district registrar's office, Fremantle.

Molly had been born on 17 June 1915 in West Perth, fourth child of Patrick Martin Coughlan, an engine driver from Victoria, and his Western Australian-born wife Sarah Josephine, née Dudley. Apprenticed to a dressmaker at Boan's Department Store, she did some modelling and may have met Pat at a tennis club. He built a mansion for her at Dalkeith; it had a river frontage and they moved in immediately after their marriage. By 1938 his business had made him wealthy.

Following World War II, Healy used a loophole in the law and conducted his betting business by telephone. He became one of the top men, a St George's Terrace commission agent and the financial backer of many of his bookmaking colleagues. In 1954 the State Labor government legalized off-course punting and set up a string of betting shops. Healy was one of the first to be granted a licence. At one stage he employed thirty staff, ran up a yearly phone bill of over £2000 and turned over £1 million annually. He officially retired in 1960 when the Liberal government abolished the shops and established the Totalisator Agency Board. But old habits die hard. In 1970 his last conviction for illegal betting occurred, twenty-four years after his previous one. His lawyer told the court that his client 'did it really for something to do'.

Healy had risen to prominence by taking bets from other bookies who were laying-off to cover their own commitments; about one-half of his turnover was in this form. It was common knowledge that his sources of information could not be surpassed. His enemies, of whom he had many, described him as a very cunning operator—as one fellow 'bookie' put it, 'ruthless, utterly ruthless'. On several occasions from the 1930s he secretly lobbied governments for legalisation and supported whichever party best served his interests. At the royal commission on betting in 1959, he told of big donations to both the Liberal and Labor parties.

What annoyed Healy most was that Perth's Establishment excluded him. Despite his opulence and extravagance, the Weld Club routinely blackballed him. When he heard of one rejection, he exploded: 'If that club was a business, I'd buy it and sack the fuckin' lot of them'. Although he belonged to many sporting clubs, he was forced to remain on the margins of polite society. Molly, however, was at the centre of the social and charity world of Perth's smart set, albeit at the second level of the local social hierarchy. She got there by a combination of Pat's money, and her beauty, generosity and charm. She was known for her extravagance and flamboyance, as was her husband. Their parties were legendary. She dressed beautifully and expensively, frequently in her own creations, and was a regular at opening nights. She strode the catwalk at Perth's major charity functions for nearly thirty years, and regularly graced the fashion and social pages of the local press. Proud of her house and garden which she made available for functions, even to strangers, her one regret was that she never had children. Pat and Molly were generous to their kin, to their friends and to charity. Pat remained on the fringe of Molly's social world, probably by choice. That was a world she seemed to have carved out for herself. Both of them attracted love, envy and contempt in equal measure.

Survived by a daughter of his first marriage, Healy died on 13 December 1970 at Shenton Park. He left the bulk of his estate, sworn for probate at $110,789, to establish a medical research centre at the University of Western Australia. Molly died of cancer on 28 December 1971 at Subiaco; like Pat, she was buried with Catholic rites in Karrakatta cemetery. She had sold the Healy mansion to Alan Bond.

Select Bibliography

  • Sporting Globe, 30 Dec 1959
  • West Australian, 4 Feb 1961, 14 Dec 1970, 26 May 1973, 9 Sept 1980
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 2 Jan 1972
  • C. Fox, Off-Course Betting in Western Australia 1934-1954 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1979)
  • private information.

Citation details

Charlie Fox, 'Healy, Patrick Burselum (Pat) (1897–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/healy-patrick-burselum-pat-10473/text18577, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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