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Welch, Eric Wilfred (1900–1983)

by Peter Pierce

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Eric Wilfred Welch (1900-1983), sporting commentator, was born on 28 October 1900 at Clifton Hill, Melbourne, son of Lionel John Samuel Welch, an accountant from England, and his native-born wife Margaret Jane, née Gordon. Educated at Gold Street State School, Clifton Hill, and Melbourne High School, he enlisted in the 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in May 1918 and served as a private. After World War I Welch studied science for two years at the University of Melbourne, but abandoned his course when 'race meetings and poker schools clashed with the lecture times'. In 1922 he went to Rabaul, New Guinea, as a bacteriologist for the Commonwealth Department of Health and worked there until joining the Melbourne Argus as a junior reporter in 1924.

Live radio broadcasts of horse-racing began in Melbourne in 1925; in that year Welch called the first of eighteen thousand races in his career. He left the Argus to join 3LO radio as a full-time broadcaster in 1927; in that year he called the first of twenty-seven Melbourne Cups. On 14 February 1928 at the Randwick registry office, Sydney, he married Zalda Gouldston. For reasons never publicly disclosed—but probably related to a Supreme Court writ served on Welch for allegedly 'enticing' a woman away from her husband—he was dismissed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on 30 December 1933. In February 1934 he was employed by 3DB, for which he worked until 1954.

Banned from on-course calling until 1945, Welch and his competitors found improbable and difficult vantages from which to continue their work. Half a mile (0.8 km) from the winning post at Flemington, from the loft of the Pioneer Hotel he accurately picked the dead heat in the 1934 St Leger. Complementing his race-calling with broadcasts of cricket, tennis and boxing, he took his turn to be thrown from the ring at West Melbourne Stadium while purportedly describing the wrestling. For more than a quarter of a century he was an organizer, with Charlie Vaude, of the Children's Hospital appeal. Each year he described Anzac Day marches with an intimacy born of his acquaintance with many of the participants.

Welch loved to drink (not on race-days) and to gamble, but advised punters: 'Never bet on anything that can talk'. His was a cavalier life. He narrowly escaped death (a passenger drowned) when he drove a Rolls Royce off South Wharf in January 1939. He paid off his Thornbury house when Rimfire (80/1) won the Melbourne Cup in 1948. In World War II Welch was a censorship liaison officer. He later diversified his radio work by hosting a classical music programme and serving as a panellist on the quiz show, 'Information Please'.

In 1954 Welch resigned from full-time radio work and became licensee of Kirkpatrick's Hotel, Mornington. When television broadcasting began in 1956, he joined Channel Nine as a racing commentator, then worked as promotions executive until his retirement in 1965. Weathering various licensing offences, he managed his hotel into the 1970s. He died at Mt Martha, Victoria, on 25 July 1983 and was cremated. Accurate and colourful, Welch's descriptions set the standard for such subsequent race-callers as Bill Collins who said that Welch had 'the best voice ever heard on radio'.

Select Bibliography

  • Listener In, 6 Nov 1929, 10 Sept 1932
  • Truth (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Dec 1933, 10, 24 Feb 1934, 21 Jan 1939, 13 Dec 1947, 2 June 1954, 26, 28 July 1983
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 4, 6 Jan 1934, 6 Nov 1945, 3, 26 June 1954, 7 Nov 1980, 26, 27 July 1983
  • Sporting Globe, 12 June 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1934, 30 Apr 1955, 25 Mar 1965, 26 July 1983
  • information from ABC Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

Peter Pierce, 'Welch, Eric Wilfred (1900–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/welch-eric-wilfred-9041/text15925, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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