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Sir Brian Hurtle Crowley (1896–1982)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Sir Brian Hurtle Crowley (1896-1982), grazier, horse-breeder and racing administrator, was born on 18 February 1896 at Waverley, Sydney, only son of New South Wales-born parents Charles Brian Crowley, grazier, and Agnes Moore. Brian Crowley grew up with his five sisters at Waverley, Sydney, and rode his pony daily to Scots College. Leaving school in 1910, he worked on his father’s stations and on 1 August 1916 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. From February 1917 he served on the Western Front as a gunner with the 7th Field Artillery Brigade. On 4 October at Passchendaele, Belgium, while acting as telephonist to the forward observing officer during an attack, he set a `splendid example of courage and determination’, ensuring that vital messages were transmitted. He was awarded the Military Medal. Sent to England for officer training in June 1918, he was commissioned on 3 January 1919 and promoted to lieutenant in April. His AIF appointment was terminated in Australia on 17 June.

On 5 July 1922 Crowley married Dorothy Ida Sweet at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Phillip Street, Sydney. His father transferred to him the family property, Oreel, at Merrywinebone, west of Moree, in 1926. On 27 000 acres (10 927 ha) he bred horses and ran some 15 000 medium-fine-woolled merino sheep, buying his rams from Eulalie station. Almost 6 ft (183 cm) tall, he had blue eyes with a twinkle, and wavy auburn hair. He suffered badly from sunburn and always wore a solar topee when working outside. With his self-taught store of knowledge, Crowley travelled many miles to treat horses for neighbours. He played cricket for the Collarenebri club and was a good tennis player. In 1954 he set up the Oreel Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd.

Interested in pony-racing from his school days, after the war Crowley won many races in Sydney with his chestnut mare Ellinga. He joined the Australian Jockey Club in 1921 and later the Sydney Turf Club. In the early days he trained his own racehorses and Dorothy, a notable horsewoman, rode track-work for him (Brian always rode `steady stock horses’). He recorded the breeding, dates of birth and death, sex and colour `of every horse he ever owned’. For many years his dark blue and orange colours `were carried successfully in the north-western districts’. His first Sydney winner was Blue Blood in the 1936 Corinthian Cup at Rosehill.

Widely known as an authority on blood lines, Crowley paid sixty guineas at William Inglis & Son Pty Ltd’s sale in 1942 for an unkempt Royal Step-Lambent filly and named her Flight. Trained by F. J. Nowland, she won 24 races out of 65 starts and £31,185, becoming the greatest stake-winning mare of her time and an idol of Sydney turf patrons. From Flight’s Daughter by Star Kingdom Crowley bred Skyline, winner of the Golden Slipper Stakes and AJC Derby in 1958, and Sky High, winner of the Victoria Derby and the Golden Slipper in 1960.

A committee member (1944-74) of the AJC, Crowley was elected chairman on 17 August 1962. He repeatedly urged the government to introduce off-course betting through the totalisator and claimed that racing in New South Wales `would be of little consequence’, as the AJC could not match the spectacular increases in prize money offered in Victoria, where the totalisator had already been introduced. In 1964-66 he was the AJC member of the Totalizator Agency Board. Chairman of the third Asian Racing Conference, held in Sydney in 1963, he represented Australia at the fourth conference, in Manila, and the seventh, in New Zealand. Under his guidance, the AJC committee preferred to distribute increased prize-money in a well-balanced program `to giving very big prizes for two feature events’. Despite the success of the totalisator, Crowley believed that on-course bookmakers `gave a great deal of atmosphere to race meetings’. Knighted in 1969, he retired as chairman in 1974 and was appointed a life member of the AJC in 1979.

From 1961 Crowley had lived in Sydney: at Collaroy until he moved to Darling Point in 1971 (his wife preferred to live at Moree, but entertained for him in Sydney). One who `liked to get things done properly’, he `always dressed meticulously’. He belonged to the Union and Australian clubs, and enjoyed taking his grandchildren (at boarding schools in Sydney) to lunch on Sundays at Elanora Country Club. A music lover, he `spoke with an unusual lilting, slightly raspy voice’. Sir Brian still had several horses he had bred in training with Albert McKenna at Randwick when he died on 25 July 1982 at his Darling Point home. He was buried in South Head cemetery. His wife and their son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Barrie, The Australian Bloodhorse (1956)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Apr 1944, p 8, 25 Aug 1944, p 5, 18 Aug 1962, p 1, 15 Apr 1963, p 5, 24 Sept 1963, p 26, 25 Sept 1964, p 16, 2 Oct 1966, p 46, 14 June 1969, p 10, 26 July 1982, p 24
  • Moree Champion, 27 July 1982, p 16
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Crowley, Sir Brian Hurtle (1896–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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