Stawell Gift Dinner tonight (BOOK HERE)

Next Thursday we have our Stawell Gift Dinner in Melbourne. It’s going to be a belter.

This year we feature 82 year old J.D. O’Donnell (Preston) who is going to tell us the story of the 1955 Gift. He won it!

He has a classic 1950s northern suburbs Melbourne tale – and of course there is a great yarn about The Punt in it.

He trained in Fitzroy – at the Brunswick Street Oval for a time.

He was off 8 3/4 yards. He won 750 quid from the race. The stable won 4000 pounds from the bookies. But they needed to – they’d lost a packet in a failed attempt the year before.

He started the final equal favourite at 6/4 with Stan Rath after beating the fancied Dal Brennan in the semi final.

He won the final by a foot. Stan Rath was second.

He was trained by Jimmy West, a classic old-timer. Depression era, returned soldier, gambler. Westy “rescued” J.D.O’Donnell from Monty Hirst who had a reputation for using his runners as he needed to.

J.P. O’Donnell’s story is a classic battler made good. Chronic asthmatic as a kid. Missed a lot of school through illness. Irish Catholic and all that has meant over the time.

He tried various sports as he grew older, including cycling (I think he had a crack at a Melbourne to Geelong road race and nearly killed himself?) Tried boxing. Found out the hard way he was not very good. He has some cracking boxing stories.

His running stable was full of characters. Trustworthy rogues. Bob Wishart (won the Bendigo 1000 some years later), Keith Webster come to mind.

He got so obsessed about winning Stawell that when he got a tooth ache during his preparation he instructed the dentist to pull all his top teeth out, not just the crook one.

J.D.’s favourite runner was probably Barney Ewell, who an American sprint champion, and Olympian.

J.D. O’Donnell (Preston) has a wonderful story to tell and he’s telling it over dinner at the Royal Melbourne Hotel, 629 Bourke Street, Melbourne, from 7pm next Thursday March 12. $50. Two courses. Drinks at bar prices.Come along. BOOK HERE.

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Suppose I’d better go.

  2. Paul Young says

    Well Dips, yep, you’ve got no excuse.

    I’d like to go……..but I’ve already been to Melbourne for the Keilor, Stonnington & Avondale Heights Gifts in the last three weeks, so I’ve run out of “brownie points”.

  3. sorry to hear that P.C.

    Can’t stretch it a bit? You’ll remember the evening more than the baking you cop when you get home.

    I’ll be at Stawell again this year. See you under the grandstand.

  4. I went to 3 Stawell Gifts back in the 70’s when I lived in Adelaide. Felt like a precious piece of Australian history even then. Dips Senior must have been a hell of an athlete, and a better bloke. Dips’ story of his 3rd place in the Stawell Gift was one of the first Almanac pieces I read 5 years ago, and sticks in my mind as one of the best “inside the bubble” pieces of writing about competitive sport that I have read.
    Any chance of a podcast of Thursday night for the non-Melbourne Almanackers? I know that Stone Cold is a social media whiz, so it would be great to share these events with the widest audience.
    I checked the RBA’s inflation calculator – the 750 pounds first prize would be worth $25,000 today based on CPI changes. More tellingly 3,500 pounds bought a 3 bedroom weatherboard house in Box Hill in 1955. Hard scrabble times – and weren’t we all the better for it?

  5. Rick Kane says

    Go Preston!

  6. Paul Young says

    “He was trained by Jimmy West, a classic old-timer. Depression era, returned soldier, gambler. Westy “rescued” J.D.O’Donnell from Monty Hirst who had a reputation for using his runners as he needed to.”

    Interesting……..I didn’t know Monty Hirst all that well, but I assume he was similar in the way he approached his coaching to my old coach Ferg Speakman as they were similar ages and from similar working class upbringings. Basically they were tough, ruthless and had one race in mind. If you weren’t capable of winning the RACE, the coach treated the athlete with disdain. You simply didn’t question them and you certainly wouldn’t want to suggest to try something different. Much the same as the ‘old school’ footy coach. If they were alive & coaching today, with the same approach, Monty and Ferg would not have appealed to too many modern day athletes. They’d be lucky to have a runner between them.

    Monty did coach three Stawell Gift winners including John Dinan in 1980, so he was pretty good ‘in the day’.

  7. Paul Young says

    Should be noted – 1952 Stawell Gift winner Lance Mann passed away last Friday (13th March 2015). Lance was a very good footballer, playing 80 games with Essendon during the 1950’s.

    In 1952, Mann won then Wangaratta Gift, then the Stawell Gift – a rare feat in those days given the prestige of Wangaratta & Stawell. Amazingly a week later (April 16) he won the Bendigo Guineas (120m) in 11.8 to become the only person to win at Wang, Stawell & Bendigo in the same year.

    Mann had been backed heavily to win the Bendigo Thousand Gift in March but he was beaten in the semi final by the eventual winner, David Hobbs. After Bendigo, he won a non-penalty backmarkers 120m at Lilydale.

    He was the third Essendon footballer to win the Stawell Gift after George Stuckey (1897) and Clarrie Hearn (1929). He was the favourite at 4/6 going into the final after running 12secs dead in the semi final. Incidentally it was an Essendon quinella with Norm McDonald running 2nd.

    Man was coached by Pat Kennedy who also trained Bill Howard – the first man to win two Stawell Gifts.

    After he retired from playing in 1959, Mann was an assistant coach at Essendon in 1960 & 1961.

    He moved back to Albury and remained there until his passing last Friday.

  8. Thanks for that Paul, I wasn’t aware Lance Mann had passed away. Sad news. A very highly regarded athlete.

    Re: the Monty Hurst comment, I say that my old man was “saved” from Monty because Monty wasn’t sure he had what it took to win Stawell. The other factor, if the truth were known, was that Monty and my Dad were both very volatile characters. That may have had something to do with the split!!

    I remember Ferg Speakman quite well too.

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