Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Noel Leonard McGrowdie (1920–1961)

by W. Boyan

This article was published:

Noel Leonard McGrowdie (1920-1961), jockey, was born on Christmas Day 1920 at Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, fifth child of native-born parents Charles Christopher McGrowdie, a jockey who had become a racehorse-trainer, and his wife Alice Josephine, née Brown. After his father moved his business to Toowoomba, Noel helped around the stables. At the age of 7 he started to win show events and from 11 drove cattle during his holidays. He completed his schooling at St Mary's Christian Brothers' College and was apprenticed as a 14-year-old to Les Roberts, a horse-trainer at Toowoomba. His indentures were later transferred to the leading Brisbane trainer George Anderson. McGrowdie was so small and thin that Anderson 'set him to digging in the garden every spare moment to build up his muscles—and the other boys soon lighted on the name Digger'.

The nickname stuck among the racing fraternity, and the digging paid off. McGrowdie became a 'pocket dynamo' of a jockey. In 1936 he won his first race, leading all the way on Thought Reader in the Tattersall's Handicap. He was rejected for military service in World War II because of his size; the manpower authorities put him to work on the wharfs and allowed him to ride locally. Keen to try his fortune in Sydney, he moved there on being released from duties in 1943. At the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Randwick, on 7 September 1946 he married Marcia Therese Simon with Catholic rites.

A vigorous, lightweight jockey, McGrowdie was first past the post in most of Australia's top races, over all distances. In Brisbane he won the Doomben Cup (1943), Doomben Ten Thousand (1947, 1951 and 1952), Brisbane Cup (1947 and 1950) and Stradbroke Handicap (1952). In Sydney he took the Epsom Handicap (1943), Metropolitan (1944, 1945 and 1957), Australian Jockey Club Derby (1947), Sydney Cup (1951, 1952 and 1958) and Doncaster Handicap (1955 and 1958). And in Melbourne he was victorious in the Oakleigh Plate (1948, 1954 and 1956) and the Victoria Racing Club's Newmarket Handicap (1954). Riding Straight Draw (which started at 13/2), he won the Melbourne Cup in 1957. He triumphed in twenty-seven other cup races on tracks between Rockhampton in Central Queensland and Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales.

Having contracted to ride in Singapore and in the Malayan cities of Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Penang, McGrowdie took his family to Singapore in January 1961. His fifty-nine victories in his first season—including the Singapore Gold Cup and the Selangor Cup—established him as the top jockey on the circuit. He won the sultan's gold vase at Ipoh in September 1961 and was heading the premiership in his second season when he was killed in a road accident on 9 September 1961 at Parit Buntar, Malaya. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he was buried in Randwick cemetery, Sydney. His estate was sworn for probate at £20,028.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Jockey Club Racing Calendar, Jan 1991, p 16
  • private information.

Citation details

W. Boyan, 'McGrowdie, Noel Leonard (1920–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 December, 1920
Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


9 September, 1961 (aged 40)
Parit Buntar, Perak, Malaysia

Religious Influence

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