The famous race caller and Victorian politician, Bruce Skeggs, has passed away in a Melbourne nursing home at age 81.
Skeggs was a longstanding Victorian Parliamentarian but equally famous for his career as a race-caller. He was a Liberal member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1973 to 1982, representing Ivanhoe. He was the Liberal member of the Legislative Council from 1988 to 1996, representing Templestowe Province.
Born in Sydney, he studied voice production and microphone technique and enjoyed singing with bands conducted by his mother, Ethel. At age 11, he won a talent contest called Australia’s Amateur Hour and the local paper ran a story likening him to Nelson Eddy.
Through his uncle, Bob Skeggs, who trained pacers and trotters, Skeggs developed a lifelong interest in harness racing. As a teenager he appeared on the Quiz Kids program, conducted by John Dees on the Adelaide radio station 5DN.
Skeggs was covering a trotting meeting at Boort, near Bendigo when the course commentator failed to turn up. There was a call for a volunteer and Skeggs – being no stranger to microphones – offered his services.
As a trotting commentator from 1948–1982 and the official Trotting Control Board Victoria commentator 1955-1982, Skeggs called 20 inter-dominion championships and set a world record 34,000 trotting calls. The Inter-dominion Hall of Fame website refers to him as the ““Voice of Victorian Trotting” for more than 30 years.”
He was well loved and sought after as a commentator. He was the winner of the Australian Harness Racing Awards Joseph Coulter Media Award. Skeggs was also the President of the Cranbourne Harness Racing Club.
In local government Skeggs was a long term City of Heidelberg councillor, including a year as Mayor in 1990-91. In addition to these formal duties, Skeggs lent his weight to countless community projects, not the least being the establishment and management of the community radio station 96.5 Inner FM.
The ultimate recognition of Skeggs’ contribution to the Australian community came in October 2000 when he was invested with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for “service to harness racing, to the Victorian Parliament and local government, and to the community.”
Bruce was also witness to one of the biggest stories of the century: the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. He was in New York for a World Freedom and Democracy League conference at the United Nations and watched the whole thing unfold from his hotel window about 3 kilometres away.
Married to Evelyn (née Gronn) since 1958, a marriage that produced four children – Philip, Julie, Robbie and Margaret – Skeggs, though confined to a Melbourne nursing home, he retained to the end a love of racing and radio.