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Munro, David Hugh (Darby) (1913–1966)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with James Leslie Munro

James Leslie Munro (1906-1974) and David Hugh Munro (1913-1966), jockeys, were born on 7 September 1906 and 5 March 1913 at Caulfield, Melbourne, sons of Hugh Munro (d.1925), horse-trainer, and his wife Susannah Catherine, née Dunn. The Munros were steeped in thoroughbred lore and racing: Hugh trained Revenue, the winner of the 1901 Melbourne Cup; he also had Wakeful, a champion mare which ran second in the 1903 Cup. The Munros moved to Randwick, Sydney, about 1916.

Jimmie Munro was absorbed in horses and stables. His precocious riding skills were recognized by astute horsemen Dick Wootton and William Kelso, but his father refused their offers and indentured him to himself; he completed his apprenticeship with E. F. Walker. At 15 Munro had his first ride, at 6 st. 9 lb. (42 kg), in the Melbourne Cup; in 1923 he was second on Rivoli, but won on Windbag in 1925 and on Statesman in 1928. His first big win had been on Prince Charles, owned by John Brown, in the 1922 Sydney Cup. In the 1920s he won many major races in Sydney and Melbourne on several other outstanding horses, including Phar Lap, Amounis and Valicare. In 1927 he was disqualified for a year for his ride on Songift at Canterbury.

Munro was a strong rider, proficient with the whip and with hands and heels. He had an instinctive perception of pace and tactics. Most races until his day were run at a leisurely speed with jockeys holding their mounts up for a final sprint. But Munro would often daringly clap the pace on in the early or middle stages, breaking the field up and often emerging an easy winner. In 1930 he went to Germany to ride for Baron Oppenheim; he won the German Derby on Alba, which he said was the best horse he ever rode. In 1933-34 he rode in India for A. Higgins. Back in Sydney with a high international reputation he maintained his form, but increasing weight limited his rides and in November 1938 he retired. He became a trainer next year, but was content with a small team with which, however, he had much success; in the early 1940s he won nineteen races with Tel Asur. In 1945 he was granted a No.1 licence, but he retired in the early 1950s to spend time in England with his daughter who had married a leading English jockey, G. Lewis.

Munro died at Randwick on 24 July 1974, survived by his wife Florence Ita Mary, née Duncombe, whom he had married on 14 May 1932 at St Michael's Church, Daceyville, and by a daughter. He was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery.

David, 'Darby', Munro went to the Marist Brothers' College, Randwick, and was apprenticed to his brother John. He won his first race at 14 on Release, defeating Jimmie's mount by a head. He won the 1930 Australian Jockey Club Challenge Stakes and Doncaster Handicap on Venetian Lady, and soon established himself as a daring and vigorous rider, constantly engaged by leading trainers, including Michael (Jack) Holt, Bailey Payten and Peter Riddell. In 1933 he won the A.J.C. Derby and Victoria Racing Club Derby on Hall Mark, and next year his first Melbourne Cup on Peter Pan; in 1944 he won on Sirius and on Russia in 1946. He also rode three Sydney Cup and one Brisbane Cup winners.

By 1939 Munro was hailed as Australia's best jockey. Swarthy and poker-faced, he was known, among other names, as 'The Demon Darb'. His relations with punters were ambiguous: they occasionally hooted when he lost, especially on a favourite, but cheered when he won. No one doubted his skill or courage. He was a very strong rider with a punishing whip style, but he could nurse a tiring mount with consummate artistry. He always looked good on a horse. Like Jimmie he was a great judge of pace, and dominated many weight-for-age races in Sydney and Melbourne in the 1930s and 1940s with his clever tactics. He rode nine winners at the 1940 A.J.C. Easter carnival, including the Doncaster-Sydney Cup double. Perhaps his best ride was on Shannon, carrying 9 st. 9 lb. (61 kg), in the 1946 Epsom at Randwick when he was accidentally left at the post but pursued the field, manoeuvring his mount through needle-eye openings, coming second by a half head.

In 1940 Munro's riding weight rose to 8 st. 5 lb. (53 kg) and he had a constant struggle to keep it down. He had trouble with the racing stewards and in 1941 his licence was revoked for six months. He enlisted in the army on 25 June 1942 and served in the salvage section but was discharged medically unfit on 11 February 1944. He was disqualified for two years in October 1948 because of his ride on Vagabond at Caulfield: in retrospect it seems the stewards misread his expert handling in the straight of a horse that could do no more and lost by a head. As a result of this case he failed to obtain a licence to ride in England in 1953, but he rode in California, United States of America, and France that year. He retired in 1955 and was granted a No.1 trainer's licence, but he had only moderate success.

In 1964 Munro's left leg was amputated because of diabetes. He died on 3 April 1966 in Sydney Hospital from cerebral haemorrhage, survived by his wife Kathleen Waverley, formerly Frauenfelder, née Trautwein, whom he had married on 24 June 1958 at North Sydney Registry Office, and by two daughters of his second marriage. He was buried in the Catholic section of Randwick cemetery. He had married Iris Veronica Fisher in St Aloysius Church, Cronulla, on 14 May 1934, and Elsie Joyce Dixon (Shirley Allen) at Paddington Registry Office on 28 August 1941—both marriages ended in divorce.

In 1981 Munro was featured on a 22-cent stamp.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 11 Oct 1950
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 June 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1927, 3 Dec 1930, 24 Nov 1938, 1 Apr 1940, 8 Apr 1941, 19 May 1953, 22 June 1955, 4 Apr 1966, 28 July 1974.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Munro, David Hugh (Darby) (1913–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/munro-david-hugh-darby-7809/text13455, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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