Australia’s first female racing editor and an institution at the country’s big race meetings, Caryl Williamson, has died.
The racing editor for Australia’s national news agency AAP for 24 years, Williamson was one of the lucky ones whose passion became their job.
And whose words became as legendary as the horses she wrote about.
“Already a champion, Makybe Diva became a legend when she added the Cox Plate to her incredible record at Moonee Valley today.” Williamson wrote in October 2005, a week and a half before racecaller Greg Miles exclaimed “a champion becomes a legend” when the great mare won her third Melbourne Cup.
Miles’ commentary has gone down in racing lore, but it was Williamson who coined the phrase first.
That was typical of her three decades as an AAP racing writer. Low public profile with little limelight, but highly respected and a valued mentor to those who knew her.
Trainers, jockeys, owners and officials, from the wealthiest sheikh to the humblest strapper, knew Caryl and of her vast racing knowledge.
She covered more than 20 Melbourne Cup carnivals and every one of Sydney’s major meetings since the early 1990s, but was just as happy on a Wednesday at Canterbury where she virtually had the mounting yard to herself.
She also covered the scandals and inquiries that make racing writing the colourful vocation it is, and led the way with her meticulous and highly praised coverage of the 2007 equine influenza outbreak.
Not a big punter, her prolific reporting was never clouded by a result that didn’t go her way.
Racing Victoria offered their condolences on Tuesday night.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of esteemed AAP Racing Editor Caryl Williamson,” they tweeted.
“Caryl devoted her life to racing journalism with great success and was a welcome face in Melbourne each year for the [?]spring carnival[?].”
Originally from New Zealand, Williamson started at Australian Associated Press as a casual copy-taker in 1984 and introduced herself to journalism when she offered to contribute to AAP’s annual Class Racehorses book in the late ’80s.
From there, she claimed a permanent place on AAP’s racing desk and in 1996, became the first woman to head an Australian media organisation’s coverage of one of the country’s biggest sports.
She remained, in 2020, one of the few women in mainstream media anywhere in the world reporting on racing’s daily goings on.
It’s fair to say no woman has written more about Australian racing than Caryl Williamson.
She died peacefully at her Sydney home on Tuesday, aged 67.