THE WAY IT WAS...



There has been many versions put about for how the IRPF came into being and its on-going relationship with the PRF and, historically, I think it now pertinent to put the events in their proper perspective, both for the record and for the lessons it contains.

In early August 1970, the Federation's transport unit was on its way to the wheat-belt town of Meckering, some 170 kilometres east of Perth, to liberate training birds on a Tuesday. At about 5.00am, not far out of Meckering, the truck failed to take a long sweeping downhill bend on the approach into Meckering and crashed through the guard rails of the bridge spanning the Meckering creek. The normally dry creek bed was swollen from recent rains and the truck crashed through into the creek and landed on its side and in doing so drowned almost half the birds in their baskets and sustained substantial damage. Those birds not drowned, or injured, were later freed at the site to find their own way home. One of the first and most unsavory tasks, as the newly appointed Federation Secretary/Treasurer, was to hand over long strings of empty bands to their owners. Little did I know, at the time, what trauma was in store and the rough ride that we were about to take. Bert Sampson's preserved rough notes, being part of his 1971 address to the Annual General Meeting adds some flavour to the happenings of the day;

"Truck accident. Sad experience, one we hope will not be repeated. Fortunately, the driver was not killed. It was surprising more birds were not killed. Just the same, impossible to estimate how many birds were later lost as a direct result of invisible damage and shock suffered. Our thanks go to all who so spontaneously came to our aid. There were so many that helped, but I feel our special thanks should go to 1) Mr RA Cook for organising the break down truck and advising Mr Burge. 2)  Mr J G Burge who went to the scene of the accident to assist and organise and for waiting at Northam Hospital to bring Driver&& back to Perth&. Our special thanks to you Jack. 3)  All Board members plus Messrs. G & E Stevens, 4)  to Mr D R Beall for services then and subsequently checking on truck repairs, efficiency and progress.... and our thanks also to those members who also offered to assist. If anyone has been inadvertently missed in this acknowledgment, would they please accept our apologies. It is history now that we had to resort to private transport for the last Southern Cross and Kalgoorlie races. The Zanthus and Rawlinna birds went by rail. To Mr Ted Stevens goes our thanks for organising this and the assistance given him by Mr A Pearce and Mr J Burge. The Rawlinna birds were freed a day earlier than arranged through a member of railway staff assuming he should release birds. This was regretted, but on the other hand, as the weather progressed it turned out to be a blessing in disguise"

The wash-up from the crash is that it set the Federation back many years, from an already imperiled position. In 1970/71, the politics of the day had seen a number of inter-connected factors come into play. From 1968 - 1970 the vagaries of the then Board of Delegates, through lack of business acumen, a substantial amount of sectional pressure, possibly arising from clear unrest regarding the traditional Eastern line of flight and a fierce allegiance to individual home clubs and not the Federation, saw the major cash reserves of the Federation systematically voted away into Federation race prize money. It was an amazing turn of events that is not likely to happen again. Astonishingly, also, Federation fees, and the per-basket charge to clubs (charges were not raised per pigeon at federation level) had not changed in almost 15 years. The Board of Delegates had successfully averted any increase in the basket rate, well beyond safe limits of financial management. On the other hand, there were regular increases in the per-bird entry fee, which operated at club level, and clubs actually prospered during this period when the Federation was being slowly strangled. There were no limits on birds, per basket, and many well-meaning club officials crammed birds into every tight space in order to avoid additional Federation charges and to siphon off more of their own per-bird rate. Such was the mentality of the day. The Federation's headquarters were located in Subiaco and were sub-let to the very strong Amalgamated Club, principally located in the Wembly, Mount Hawthorn area, but, it was also open to anyone in a 20km radius of the Perth GPO and was openly touted, by themselves, as the 'premier club'. An amateur club, the Suburban Club, also occupied the other end of the Subiaco headquarters, but, the perception of the day was well entrenched, within other clubs, that the Amalgamated Club was the Federation and certainly many of the stalwarts of the sport, in those days, did actually hold membership with this club and held very strong sway in Federation proceedings.

When the dust had settled on the truck crash, the truck involved was found to be not insured! The previous replaced truck was in fact insured and then only for its residual value, which was very nominal in the current situation. Insurance policies had not been updated. In effect, the insured value was about 20% of the repairs required to put the damaged and actually uninsured unit back on the road - even then, we had to do some fast talking with the insurance company to secure these funds, as the old vehicle was still operating, but owned by someone else.

The purpose built van compartment was crumpled and beyond repair, as was about 40% of the baskets. A check on the Federation's bank statements, remembering, as the new Secretary/Treasurer, I had only just inherited the job, was in the red to the tune of minus $10.00 and there was no further genuine income in sight. In those days, as stated, the year's income was generated from the price per basket and it came in the first half of the season and flowed out in the latter half, as entry numbers fell away and operational costs exceeded income. We were in the last half and it was all out-goings and it became very obvious that there had been a complete lapse of financial security on a number of fronts.

Arising from the truck crash itself, and the how and why the crash actually happened, plus a number of related issues concerning the way funding control had been delegated for personal use by the truck driver, the driver was sacked and attempts were also made to recover moneys that had been misappropriated. As part of the shake-up, the Board of delegates system was quashed and replaced by a Board of Control system, initially made up of Barry Day, Jim Ligertwood, Ted Stevens, Ray Philpot, Bert Sampson, Stan Gardner and myself. The new Board was charged with responsibility for operating the federation, in a professional manner, and particularly without allegiance to any club, or any faction. This formula has now been expanded and remains in place today. The accounting system, which prevailed at the time, was in a disastrous state and the new Board resorted to blindly sending out roughly reconstructed accounts to all clubs and 'weather the flack' and it actually collected a lot of unaccounted outstanding moneys that had not been voluntarily paid for services already rendered, which also gives some indication of the club parochialism that prevailed at that time. There was a widespread 'them and us' attitude between clubs and the Federation. For example, the Federation sponsored Junior racing and allocated two baskets to clubs that notified they had juniors and these were at a nominal fee - it was actually $0.50c per basket (approximately 1.5 cents per bird) and it became a standing joke that the Junior basket entries were the only baskets that failed to reduce, in line with the bird entry numbers, as the season progressed. Penny-pinching off the Federation was openly admitted and very much permeated right through the delegate system of the day.

To meet the post-crash transport dilemma, existing basket fees were raised by more than 100% to match the present value of funds necessary to operate in a sustainable manner into the future. A levy of $5.00 per annum was placed on the membership, over a three year period, to offset direct loan moneys required to replace baskets, the truck van body and the basket racks and essentially to get the truck back on the road. We also needed cash reserves to launch the 1971 racing season. In fact, the truck was a write-off, after only running 80,000 kilometres, but we couldn't replace it. There was also the crash induced chassis misalignment that could not be rectified and we burnt out a number of differentials and rear axles on account of this misaligned 'crabbing' action that developed and the truck became a financial 'black hole', until we could eventually quit it. For 1971 we hired a private mechanic, John Backrack to drive the truck and keep it going - as it was prone to frequent breakdowns. It is not surprising, at the outset, that the banks wouldn't touch us. At the time, I was sworn to secrecy, but I can now safely and proudly say that Bert Sampson lent the Federation the funding shortfall, interest free, and to pay back, as we could, over 3 years. For a number of years Bert had filled the position of Federation Vice President and in many respects was the long time de facto President, without actually carrying the necessary clout to do the job. Our long time and popular President R A (Bob) Cook was also President of the now City of Bayswater and many demands were made on his time and he finally relinquished his 17 year record reign as Federation President during 1971/72. It is also worthy of note that Bob subsequently went on to fulfil the President role for the City of Bayswater (my own city) for 17 years and he is well recognised for his contribution. In 1971/72, however, there were many things that were not right and required solid direction from the top and it wasn't happening. There had been substantial unrest regarding the vagaries of the existing Eastern line of flight - there were many, even in those days, that were greatly disturbed about the way the Eastern line of flight was behaving. Alternatively, the Northern and North-eastern lines of flight, which had been explored by the Mount Lawley club (renamed Whatley RPC) over a number of years, through their invitation races and had proven extremely successful and a 1967/68 minority group, called the NCF, began to flourished out of those initial experiments. In 1971 the program of racing was created to allow the first half the season to be flown up North, taking in Mullewa, Wannoo and Carnarvon and then a swing back to the Eastern line to complete the last half and the longer races. It was a disaster - one of the worst races on record is still known as the Southern Cross smash, there was seemingly no explanation for why the birds persistently flew south and not west. Place names on maps, as release site, were changed and re-changed, instead of looking at the weather and the education program being dealt to the birds. A subsequent 1971 referendum, hoping to incorporate full northern lines of flight programs into the Federation's rotation of activity, to provide some organisational stability, had produced a 55% majority to stay on the Eastern line of flight in the belief that it had to be tackled head on for a number of years to be mastered. Subsequent analysis of voting proved that the 55% existed, almost uniformly, in each club, despite club Delegate assurances that certain clubs were committed 100% to one way or the other - therefore, so much for open "hands up" voting. Nevertheless, the 55% majority carried the day and along with it a profound resentment from a large contingent of the organisation.

In finality, the culmination of depleted funds, lack of sound management, especially at a time when it was needed, a proposed major increase in basket fees; the truck levy ($5.00 was $5.00 in 1971); the referendum outcome to go fully East, which was seen by many as being short-sighted, selfish and sheer bloody minded, by little more than half the Federation's membership, all collectively precipitated the walk-off by 71 members to form another federation, which was roughly the 45% that was reflected in the referendum.

The new federation was originally called the North Coast Federation (NCF) and eventually realigned itself and its title to that of the Independent Racing Pigeon Federation. If ever Western Australian metropolitan pigeon racing was at its lowest, it was 1970/71, and it took at least ten years for the PRF to recover and about a similar time for the IRPF to gain its feet. The lessons from the Meckering crash and the subsequent snowball of events are very plain for those that lived through it. Of utmost importance to the rank and file membership are the following:

1)  The membership consistently look for stability and good management of their organisation, above all else, and includes the proper management of their pigeons.

2)  Irrespective of initial resentment, the rank and file membership does, indeed, accept that an organisation needs to retain healthy reserves, both in terms of asset life, and cash set aside for a rainy day.

In 1970, there had to be a trigger for these interconnected issues to spill over and the Meckering truck crash was the trigger, it brought forth tales of mismanagement, anger and a hopelessness that both the flying conditions and the management was not likely to change in the short term. A set of conditions were now in place that essentially demonstrated that the existing federation had nothing left to offer. It had been carelessly stripped of its cash and assets. There were no funds and essentially no assets to leave behind and no incentive to stay. It would be fair to say that the IRPF resulted by default in 1971/72. There was deep resentment on both sides and calls of disloyalty, but, with the advantage of time, and reflection, it is easy to see that it was an event that had to happen, in the circumstances. A healthy competition between both federations followed and the sport flourished throughout the late 1970's and well into the 1990's, before the global effects on the sport slowed progress down, as it has done elsewhere. Unlike its new cousin, the IRPF, which was keen to flex its muscles and try out new ideas, the PRF remained highly conservative and slow to embrace change. In late 1972, however, the new Board of Control, when faced with the threat of more defections to the IRPF, stepped in and nullified the referendum result to institute a rotation of lines between the North-eastern and Eastern directions, to create a period of stability and time to rebuild. The Board also initiated guaranteed prize money and this was, confidentially, underwritten by individual Board members and designed to project a resurgence of purpose and direction.

In terms of nullifying the referendum, which was then virtually only months old, it was a daring initiative and required a lot of talking and pacifying and ultimately was endorsed by the membership, at the following AGM, who all participated in the give and take required to avoid any further upheaval. 1972 was a time to take stock of events and begin to rebuild. The 1973 program, devised for the Northeast line of flight, is shown here to illustrate the way the line was flown in the early period and close study will illustrate how much change from then to now has taken place. It was a very successful program and it set the scene for the next 20 years, until the Eastern line of flight was abandoned. Essentially, that was the way it was.

Pigeon racing runs in long and short cycles and there is a need to be vigilant and adjust and respond to these longer cycles of ebb and flow and meet adversity with good sound management. Currently, we are moving further into an ebb cycle and this needs to be met with innovation and good sound management, and in particular with a keen eye towards racing our pigeons in a successful manner, which goes to the very heart of the membership. In any downturn, good management is the key to on-going success, plus a willingness to adapt to change... and, with a good measure patience, it will flow back again.

Leo Turley
PRF Historian
July 1999