Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott Racing

Vale Bill Waterhouse

By Rob Waterhouse

End Of An Era

Bill Waterhouse’s death on Friday marks the end of a wonderful era in Australian horse racing.

When Bill was at his peak when racing was at its zenith, times we all look back upon with great nostalgia. Racing in the 1960s and 1970s were times where the crowds were large, but more importantly, nearly all racegoers were actually racing ‘fans’ - all punters, in stark contrast to today.

In those days, the Sunday papers’ racing coverage was all about the betting. A newspaper report on a race always detailed the big bets recorded on the winner and mentioned other betting moves. Racing was betting and vice versa. Racing is poorer that this has changed.

It is no exaggeration to say the leading bookmaker had ‘rock star status’ in those days, on and off the course. Bill Waterhouse most certainly did. As evidence, a letter simply addressed to “Bill Waterhouse, Sydney” would always be delivered. No doubt, his 6’4” (193 cm) height and good looks helped.

Stood Out

Bill’s bookmaking career was stellar.

His father, Charles, who started fielding in the 1890s, was the smallest holder on the Sydney courses till his clerk, the sixteen-year-old Bill, exerted some influence. They were soon a force in the betting ring.

Later, bookmaking in his own name, he became the leading bookmaker at the Dogs (including Rooty Hill live-hare coursing), the Trots, the now extinct Ponies (Victoria Park, Roseberry, Kensington, Moorefield and Ascot) and, of course, the Gallops.

As the top holder in Sydney, he was invited to field at the Melbourne Carnivals for over a decade, on the rails. They regarded Bill as a major drawcard. For two seasons in the 1960s, he fielded in the United Kingdom, amid great publicity, on their rails.

Bill returned to bookmaking in the early 2000s to train his grandson, Tom. And what great job he did. Bill was so proud of Tom and Tom, quite rightly hung on Bill’s every word.

He found it a great joke when he won an award from the Sydney Turf Club as ‘the most improved bookmaker’!

He and Tom were soon the top turnover bookmaker in Australia. They expanded the business to Melbourne. Bill and his grandson took the business online as, which soon became a house-hold name.

Bill had, as a bookmaker, all the skills required. While he always looked at the form, he had strong associations with great form people (Barry Terry, John Munro and Don Scott). He was fast with figures. He had tremendous sense of value. And great courage.

It was said that he was the fastest and clearest ticket writer ever.

Bill was innovative in many ways. He establishing a private ‘teleprinter’ (notwithstanding there was no teleprinter involved) prices service from the Melbourne betting ring to messengers/runners just outside the Sydney courses to take to Bill. This gave Bill a big advantage in those days.

Bill was unique as a large bookmaker: no other ‘top holder’ has ever lasted more than a few years, nor covered different the codes. Bill was a force in the late 1930s up till the 2010s. Amazing.

He loved racing in general. At one stage, he and his brother, Jack, had 80 racehorses in work.

Lots Of Careers

Apart from racing, Bill had many careers.

As a young law student, he audaciously bought the entire cargo of liquor, diverted from Singapore when it fell. He also, sourced liquor from wineries in the Riverina. He established himself as a major liquor distributor when alcohol was in short supply.

Bill and his brothers built three big hotels. The new Hotel Charles at Chatswood became the top hotel in Australia, based on liquor sales. He created the first ‘drive in’ bottle shop there and was a pioneer in live bands in hotels.

As a developer, he and his brother Jack, built Sydney’s block of strata’d units. He had observed the law had changed allowing strataing and grabbed the opportunity very successfully.

They went on and built many buildings.

After graduating at Sydney University, he practised at the bar as a barrister for five years. Among many interesting cases, he famously managed to achieve an acquittal for the daughter of a grateful rails bookmaker, on a murder charge. Murder was still then a hanging offence.

Bill established TAB-style betting shops all over Fiji in 1962, which are still going strongly.

Bill Waterhouse had another extraordinary career as a Diplomat – serving as the Honorary Consul General for the Kingdom of Tonga for 44 years – the longest serving diplomat in Australia and for Tonga. He served under three Kings.

During his tenure he saw the Tongan Community grow from just a few hundred islanders in the mid- 70s - to over 25,000 today. Bill always took time for Tongan people. If they lost their passport, he would issue them an ID letter - even on weekends, to travel home urgently – there was no fee but they did have to endure a lecture on how to protect their passport like cash. He also sponsored Community projects such as the first dual language Tongan/ English storybook “A Little Seahorse in Love’ for the schools of Tonga.

Along with his daughter Louise, by now an Honorary Consul for Tonga (she says her father was the world’s best delegator!), helped bring the ground breaking Seasonal Worker Programme to Australia – which provides much needed labour to Australian farmers and very valuable financial capacity for the  people of Tonga.

Bill had regular columns with all the Sydney papers (at different times). They still make great reading. A lot to be learnt from them.

Bill is a best-selling author with his “What Are The Odds” selling over 50,000 copies (a best seller is anything selling over 10,000). It is arguable the “What Are The Odds” is Australia’s racing’s most important book.

Inspiration Gave Of Himself

Bill’s friends and associates all say that he was generous in his ideas and in giving inspiration.

One long-time friend said recently: “No one ever talked about money or business, in our circles, except Bill Waterhouse. He was forever asked questions about plans and offering advice. We were smart enough to  follow that advice closely, buying and developing investment properties and have reaped the rewards. Thank you, Bill.”

Another said: “I only started out in business on my own because of Bill’s counsel. He was always very sound.”


Bill Waterhouse was consumed by family. He and his widow, Suzanne, to whom he was married for 65 years, lived at Kirribilli, within 200m of where the Imperial Hotel once was, where he grew up.

He loved his grandchildren, Tom and Kate, their spouses, Hoda and Luke and great-grandchildren’s (Rose, Sophia, William, Grace and Layla) very regular Sunday visits.

He was forever joking with them or ‘acting the goat’ with the little ones. An ad will have to be placed for someone to play Santa at Christmas this year as, sadly, Bill won’t be doing it this year.


It gives his family great solace that Bill leaves the earth a very happy man. In his later years, he was at pains to regularly declare how grateful he was for his life and that recognised he was a wonderful one. He also noted he was indebted for having a close family. His normal response to a question about his health was: “Top of the world”. As recently as Tuesday, when he was ‘under the whip’, his only concession was: “9½ out of 10!”


All in all, Bill Waterhouse’s was a great life.