Vale Alan Acton

Published 12 April 2023

Vale Alan Acton

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It’s a writer’s dilemma more commonly known as “writer’s block” when “words don’t come easily”.

I am faced with it now. 

How can I do justice to compose my myriad thoughts about a larger-than-life man taken so tragically when his parting is so raw?

Words don’t come easily but memories do.

They speak louder than words being precious possessions -not of a materialistic nature.

Memories are individual and intangible possessions stored in the mind and bonded by a common thread pertaining to an individual or event.

Locked away in a cocoon in the mind akin to a vault, mazes of memories come to life when they are jaunted by an event or in this case a tragedy.

Mine were instantaneous last Tuesday (4/04/2023) as I tried to comprehend the news of Alan Acton’s untimely passing in a helicopter accident while mustering on his property. 

Disbelief, an offspring of “refusal to accept” immediately took over until reality exercised its persuasive powers.

“It couldn’t be” was my first reaction much the same no doubt to all too many that shared Alan’s friendship and fellowship.

But it was.

No doubt just like myself, after grappling with the news, sadness shadowed before fond and happy memories of a very decent, hard-working and family loving individual prevailed and lit up.

This is not a time to selfishly indulge in what Alan Acton meant to me but a fleeting opportunity to light up his passing with memories of joyful celebrations we shared in racing lives.

(By no means, please don’t interpret it as being self-indulgent).

Such as in 2018 at Rockhampton’s Callaghan Park racecourse when Mamselle Corday part-owned by Alan’s treasured jewel of his life, wife Jennifer won the 150th Anniversary Rockhampton Cup.

As good fortune would have it, I trained Mamselle Corday and Alan was so overjoyed by Jennifer’s inscription as owner of a Rocky Cup winner, that he later commissioned an exact replica of the Gold Cup trophy and surprised her with it.

We chuckled that glorious day reminiscing over a conversation I had with him about Mamselle Corday’s potential while downing an ale at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, two years earlier.  

Through my association with horse racing for which Alan had an unbridled passion, gradually over the years I got to know him from the early nineties.

I interviewed Alan and his late father Tom after the family’s Acton Land and Cattle Company Syndicate, managed by his late brother Graeme, won the Powers 2YO Classic on April 6, 1991 with Bonslot.

Almost 12 months to the day later, it was an identical scenario when the Acton’s Slotalot, a half-brother to Bonslot won the 1992 version, the forerunner to the current CYS 2YO Classic (1200m).  

It was a golden era of racing for Alan, brother Graeme, father Tom and mother Val Acton.

Their white, blue and red capped silks usually worn by Wally Welburn on the late Clem Jackson trained horses were prolific winners.

After the passing of his racing loving father Tom, Alan and Jennifer Acton raced on with new silks bearing a combination of white and green – the latter being the colour of hope and it was fulfilled.

A true-blue bush couple at heart, Jennifer named the couples filly acquired from Magic Millions 2017 Yearling Sales as Outback Barbie. 

It held special significance to the family property Wilpeena and was so named as a tribute to the tireless efforts of women of the outback.

As fate would decree, Outback Barbie provided Alan and Jennifer with a treasure trove of memories being their finest horse winning among other races a Magic Millions Quality at the Gold Coast.

I confess, it seemed I was mistaken when I commenced this trip down my memory lane with Alan Acton, as yes indeed words are coming easily.

Such as the overseas racing tours my wife Jean and I shared with Alan and Jennifer among others to Ireland, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Memories of spontaneous laughter and shrieks of self-confessed fear from the Dune Safari wild drives and camel riding in Dubai and much, much more especially so in Ireland where Alan went shopping for Jennifer.

Despite, all the glitz and glamour of the world’s best racecourses visited, I suspected Alan, a humble man at heart, was more at home hosting the annual Wilpeena Charity races until its closure about a decade back.

Rarely boastful but always proud, Alan had every right to tell all and sundry about the hundreds of thousands of dollars the iconic race day on his home track on the Wilpeena property earned for charities.

So much regret and sadness has been motivated by Alan’s passing from his accident while piloting his helicopter in his working life of mustering cattle on his property at Bingegang.

With the utmost respect, solace in many ways a gift which helps to appease and explain painful loss, lives on from Alan’s passing as he would have been at peace with himself in the helicopter.

While now that machine may be interpreted by some as the vehicle responsible for his passing, it also provided him with so much joy.

It must be remembered that Alan was a disciple of the helicopter’s usage for his regular mustering operations.

Once again, I am awakened by the opening of a memory chamber which takes me back to a Stratum yearling that Alan purchased in 2011 which went on to win in Hobart as well as four times in Brisbane.

The irony was he named it Bush Aviator, testimony to his love of flying and operating the mustering helicopter.

For me, happy memories certainly do come easily of Alan Acton.

 I trust these words while falling far short of describing in anyone’s language Alan as quintessentially a “good bloke to all”, provide some pride and joy for Jennifer and family. 

Similarly, I hope that this essay arouses fond memories of Alan Acton for all who read it.

Afterall, it was architected and motivated by sincerity and affection for Alan John Acton (14-06-1957 – 04-04-2023) RIP.

Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend an Anglican Service to celebrate the Life of Alan at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, 170 William St, Rockhampton this Friday, April 14 commencing at 11am. 

A private committal of Alan will be held at his beloved Wilpeena at a later date.

Finally, from the wordsmith Thomas Campbell as recorded in Hallowed Ground

“To live in hearts we leave behind Is not to die”.

 

Tony McMahon

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