HAPPIER DAYS: Bill Oliver and his wife Roma.
HAPPIER DAYS: Bill Oliver and his wife Roma.

Honouring a South Burnett racing stalwart

Vale Bill Oliver: 15-10-1932 to 6-10-2016

SUCCESSFUL betting plunges, football memories, a career in the DPI and some fiercely competitive family sporting contests was recalled when the life of Bill Oliver was celebrated on Friday, October 14.

Oliver died just short of his 84th birthday in Kingaroy last week. He was a towering South Burnett figure in primary industries, sports administration and horse racing and a much-loved family man.

Oliver, his wife Roma and their four girls moved from Biggenden to Wondai in 1968.

Despite spending stints in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Maroochydore, Bill and Roma's true homeland was the South Burnett, to which they retired in 1991.

Oliver was a passionate rugby league administrator at a time the South Burnett was one of the most prominent nurseries for footballing talent in the state. He was made a life member of both the South Burnett and Wide Bay rugby leagues and managed the Queensland side in 1975.

He had a lifetime love of horse racing and was the on-course caller at South and Central Burnett tracks through the 1970s and early 1980s.

He was also a prominent figure in the Department of Primary Industries, where he worked in the dairy sector from 1962 to 1985, before switching to the Queensland Fisheries, where he helped launch a scheme to stock major freshwater storage dams with fish fingerlings in the mid-1980s.

Former long serving Wondai Shire Mayor Percy Iszlaub AM said Oliver's foresight changed the fortunes of dairy producers in the district.

"It was quite remarkable what Bill did with the dairying industry. He revolutionised it,” Mr Iszlaub said.

"A few farmers told me the procedures Bill advocated for almost doubled their production.

"Later with the fisheries, he introduced fingerlings into the dams which gave us a vital recreational distraction and lifted tourism, something that continues to this day.”

Oliver played a key role in luring the touring English rugby league team to play a game against Wide Bay in Wondai on their 1970 tour.

"It gave local football fans the chance to see a top international side up close. Bill organised a formal dinner after the game and the English players had a ball,” Mr Iszlaub said.

"Sometime later there was a report that filtered back from England how the highlight of their tour was visiting this little town called Wondai.”

Brisbane Broncos Chairman Dennis Watt, who started both his rugby league and journalism career in the South Burnett, described Oliver as an administrator "ahead of his time.”

"He was an architect and driver of rugby league during the halcyon days of the game in the region and a passionate advocate for local players,” Mr Watt said.

The competitive instincts Oliver had in his working life were also evident on big family occasions. During one memorable Easter rugby league contest, 'Grandad Bill' returned to the afternoon drinking session dripping with blood after coming off second best with a garden of rose bushes and a gravel road.

While rugby league remained an interest in his life, it was racing where Oliver's greatest passion lay. Close friend Rick Humphries recalled a number of orchestrated 'plunges' over the years. "Bill would plan them meticulously, often with runners trained by (fellow close friend) Barry Green,” Mr Humphries said. "He would line a number of us up to go to different bookies. He would stand in the middle of the betting ring and the signal for us to go was when he lifted his hat. Some landed, others didn't, but gee we had a great time doing it.”

Bookmaker Wayne Gannon can remember many punting duels with Oliver.

"He was a good judge and a punter I respected highly,” Mr Gannon said. "Not much got passed him. He was very hard to beat.”

For many years, Oliver wrote the 'Turf Topics' column in the South Burnett Times and mentored callers like Ross Stanley, who still broadcasts today.

Oliver's love of racing remained until the end. One of his last treasured gifts was a cap of the great race mare Winx, which hardly left his head in his final weeks.

Oliver's eldest daughter Teresa died tragically in 1971, but he is survived by his wife Roma, daughters Patty, Wendy and Jackie, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

His funeral was held at St Mary's Catholic Church, Kingaroy, on Friday.

* Nathan Exelby is Bill Oliver's grandson and is the Racing Editor for Brisbane's Courier and Sunday Mails.