Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William James (Bill) Williamson (1922–1979)

by Brian Stoddart

This article was published:

William James (Bill) Williamson (1922-1979), jockey, was born on 19 December 1922 at Williamstown, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents William James Williamson, machinist, and his wife Euphemia Agnes, née Whitehead. Fascinated early by horses, Bill left Mordialloc-Chelsea High School at age 14 and was apprenticed to the trainer F. H. Lewis; he and his brother the jockey Robert Lewis were Bill's great-uncles. Williamson's first winning ride was in 1937 on Lilirene, coincidentally the last winner that Bobby Lewis had ridden. On 5 January 1942 Williamson was mobilized for full-time duty in the Militia. He served in Melbourne as a driver with the 119th General Transport Company and as a clerk at the Bulk Stationery Store. Discharged from the army on 30 October 1944, he returned to the racetrack.

On one occasion in 1946 Williamson missed his train and had to hitchhike to a race-meeting at Albury, New South Wales. Engaged for five events at the meeting, he triumphed in all of them. On 17 January 1949 at St Paul's Church of England, Caulfield, Melbourne, he married Zelma Ava Dickman, a hairdresser. His first Victorian jockeys' premiership came in the 1951-52 season. He rode Dalray to victory in the 1952 Melbourne Cup.

Williamson won five more Victorian jockeys' premierships. Horses ridden by him took first place in the W. S. Cox Plate and Brisbane Cup (Hydrogen in 1953), the Duke of Edinburgh Australian Cup (Sunish in 1954), the Caulfield Cup (Rising Fast in 1955 and Ilumquh in 1960) and many other major events. He set a Victorian record in the 1953-54 season, securing the jockeys' premiership with sixty-seven and a half winners. In October 1954 he suffered life-threatening injuries in a fall during the running of the One Thousand Guineas and was out of racing for about nine months.

After riding successfully in Malaya in 1959, Williamson moved to Europe in 1960. Based first in Ireland then in England, he enjoyed wins in numerous important races, often in the company of three other expatriate Australian jockeys: George Moore, Neville Sellwood and A. E. 'Scobie' Breasley. Williamson was victorious in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, Paris, in 1968 and 1969. The second of these rides, on Levmoss at 50/1, drew from Lester Piggott the compliment that Williamson was 'the best big-race jockey in the world'.

Sleepy-eyed and laconic, Williamson was known to racegoers as 'Weary Willie' because of his impassive appearance, whether his races ended in victory, defeat or controversy. His outstanding qualities as a rider were his ability to judge a horse's pace, his patience and his sense of timing. In 1971 he rode in France for the Aga Khan. On his retirement in 1973 he was appointed racing manager for the Indian shipping magnate Ravi Tikkoo. Williamson returned to Melbourne in 1977 and took a position as assistant-starter with the Victoria Racing Club. He died of cancer on 28 January 1979 at South Caulfield and was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery. His wife and their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Cavanough, The Melbourne Cup (Syd, 1978)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Horse Racing (Syd, 1988)
  • G. Hutchinson (ed), They're Racing (Melb, 1999)
  • People (Sydney), 21 Oct 1953
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 8 Feb 1974
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Jan 1979.

Citation details

Brian Stoddart, 'Williamson, William James (Bill) (1922–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Weary Willie

19 December, 1922
Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


28 January, 1979 (aged 56)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia