It is no exaggeration to say the leading bookmaker had “rock-star status” in those days, on and off the track. Dad most certainly did. A letter simply addressed to “Bill Waterhouse, Sydney” would always be delivered. No doubt, his 6’4′ (193 cm) height and good looks helped.
A career that stood out
Dad’s bookmaking career was stellar. His father – Charles, who started fielding in the 1890s – was the smallest holder on the Sydney courses until 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, Bill became the leading bookmaker at the dogs (including Rooty Hill live-hare coursing), the trots, the now-defunct ponies (Victoria Park, Roseberry, Kensington, Moorefield and Ascot) and, of course, the gallops.
As the top holder in Sydney, Dad was invited to field at the Melbourne Carnivals for over a decade, on the rails. They regarded Dad as a major drawcard. For two seasons in the 1960s, Bill fielded in the United Kingdom, amid great publicity, on their rails.
Dad returned to bookmaking in the early 2000s to train his grandson, Tom. Dad was so proud of Tom, and Tom quite rightly hung on Dad’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 bookmakers in Australia. They expanded the business to Melbourne. Dad and his grandson took the business online as TomWaterhouse.com, which soon became a household name.
Dad 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 a tremendous sense of value and great courage.
It was said that he was the fastest and clearest ticket-writer ever.
Dad was innovative in many ways. He established a private “teleprinter” prices service (notwithstanding there was no teleprinter involved) from the Melbourne betting ring to runners just outside the Sydney courses, who would take the messages to Dad.
Dad was unique as a large bookmaker: no other “top holder” has lasted more than a few years, nor covered different the codes. Dad was a force in the late 1930s up until the 2010s.
He loved racing in every sense. At one stage, he and his brother Jack had 80 racehorses in work.
Lots of careers
As a young law student, Dad audaciously bought an entire cargo of liquor, diverted from Singapore when it fell to the Japanese. He also sourced liquor from wineries in the Riverina, establishing himself as a major liquor distributor when alcohol was in short supply.
Dad and his brothers also built three large 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 pioneered featuring live bands in hotels.
As a property developer, Dad and his brother Jack built Sydney’s first block of strata-titled units. He had observed the law had changed to allow strata-titling and grabbed at the opportunity.
After graduating from Sydney University, Dad practised as a barrister for five years. He famously managed to achieve an acquittal for the daughter of a grateful rails bookmaker on a murder charge. At the time, murder was still a hanging offence.
Dad established TAB-style betting shops all over Fiji in 1962, which are still in operation.
Dad was also a diplomat, serving as the honorary consul general for the Kingdom of Tonga for 44 years. Serving under three kings, he became the longest-serving diplomat in Australia and for Tonga.
During his tenure, he saw the Tongan community grow significantly. He always took time for Tongan people. If they lost their passport, he would issue them an ID letter – even on weekends, if they needed to travel home urgently. There was no fee but they did have to endure a lecture on how to protect their passport. 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 then an honorary consul for Tonga (who says her father was the world’s best delegator), Dad helped bring the ground-breaking Seasonal Worker Programme to Australia. The program provides much-needed labour to Australian farmers and valuable income to the people of Tonga.
Dad had regular columns with various Sydney newspapers (at different times). They still make great reading. He is also a best-selling author with his What Are The Odds having sold over 50,000 copies, and arguably Australia’s racing’s most important book.
An inspiration to others
Dad’s friends and associates say 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 asking 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.”
A family man
Bill Waterhouse was consumed by family. He and my mum, Suzanne – who were married for 65 years – lived at Kirribilli, within 200 metres of the site of the Imperial Hotel, where he grew up.
He loved his grandchildren, my wife Gai and our children, Tom and Kate, as well as their spouses, Hoda and Luke, and their great-grandchildren (Rose, Sophia, William, Grace and Layla), who were very regular Sunday visitors.
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 Dad is no longer around to do it.
It gives his family great solace that Dad 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 recognised that his 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 that he was feeling “9½ out of 10!”
All in all, Bill Waterhouse’s was a great life.