Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kerr, David McFarlane McLachlan (1867–1955)

by John Ritchie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

David McFarlane McLachlan Kerr (1867-1955), bookmaker, was born on 30 December 1867 in Edinburgh, son of Dickson Kerr, lathsplitter, and his wife Catherine, née Kerr. Migrating to Sydney in 1885 as footman to Lord Carrington, he married Sydney-born Annie Elizabeth Butler, daughter of a school-teacher, on 8 February 1893 at St Thomas's Roman Catholic Church, Lewisham. He showed an early interest in Labor politics and made good as a grocer at Newtown, Marrickville and Erskineville.

Kerr began his career as a bookmaker at the pony tracks of Sydney and in 1903 advanced to the major metropolitan racecourses. He established his reputation by offering to take bets on any sporting event, whatever and wherever, and his style earned him the title, which he adopted as his slogan, the 'Longest Odds Bettor on Earth'. He once laid a bet of £300 to nothing and another of £50 to a cigar and won them; in the 1913 Melbourne Cup he laid odds of 1000 to one against Golden Shore and bet the punter who accepted £10 to £1 that the horse would run last; it finished second-last. In 1923 he paid out £15,000 to £45 on the Epicure-David Doncaster-Sydney Cup double.

His betting stand resembled a sideshow: his bagmen bore his name emblazoned in bold block letters on their leather satchels and, bedecked in straw boaters, his team of clerks noted the bets while Kerr walked among the punters engaging in badinage while laying the odds — he teased female punters for being 'pests personified'. He had a rule that, on taking silver or gold in payment of a wager, if he missed when he flipped the coin into the assistant's bag the crowd might scramble for the money. Nicknamed 'Andy' and known for most of his life as 'The Coogee Bunyip' because of his fondness for swimming there, he was generous to charities and owned such diverse interests as the Gaiety Theatre, the Variety Magazine, a jewellery shop in Market Street and the Bondi Casino nightclub. In his heyday from 1903 to 1930 Kerr was a natty dresser with a three-piece suit, wing-collar and striped tie; blue-eyed, 6 ft 3 ins (191 cm) tall, slim and clean-shaven with spruce fair hair, he smoked cigars and flaunted diamonds in his tie-pin, ring and cuff-links. He belonged to Tattersall's Club, enjoyed cricket, fishing and motoring, and treasured an illuminated address presented to him in 1911 by Sydney's leading sportsmen. His fortunes collapsed utterly during the Depression, he became a commission agent and, though he retained his dignity and wit, he never regained his place as a dashing leader of Sydney's turf world. He adopted a philosophical attitude, saying that 'Lady Luck' could give 'a lift or a raspberry'.

In 1941 Kerr wrote a series of 'Random reminiscences' for Sydney Truth and Sportsman; after his wife died he married a widow, Charlotte Elizabeth Weston-Campbell, née Parker, cakeshop proprietress, on 6 April 1942. He frequently revisited Coogee, recalling past times with other old identities, and indulged his hobby of cooking at the home of a granddaughter at Kirribilli. Predeceased by his three sons and three daughters, Kerr died there on 9 October 1955 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Newspaper Cartoonists' Association of New South Wales, Sydneyites As We See 'Em 1913-14-15 (Syd, 1915?)
  • J. Holledge, The Great Australian Gamble (Syd, 1966)
  • W. F. Wannan (compiler), Australian Folklore (Melb, 1970)
  • People (Sydney), 24 May 1950
  • Grit, 30 Oct 1941
  • Sun (Sydney), 18 Dec 1954, 29 Oct 1975
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 16 Oct 1945
  • Daily Examiner (Grafton), 13 July 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

John Ritchie, 'Kerr, David McFarlane McLachlan (1867–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kerr-david-mcfarlane-mclachlan-6938/text12039, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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