In a sport where longevity is rarer than a 100/1 winner, Paul Barnes is a survivor. Last Friday, he decided it was time to end a long career in the racing industry that spans back to 1980.
For Barnes the formula is simple “You just don’t play politics. You just walk down the middle of that road, that’s the only way to survive.” It was that basic, yet effective approach that led to many successes for Barnes.
When you talk to Paul Barnes you hear passion and it becomes obvious that everything he does is, what he believes to be, in the best interests of the industry. There is also little doubt that one of the reasons that this self taught pioneer has outlasted so many is his underpinning, old fashioned morals.
“My integrity is worth more than anything to me. That is the way I was brought up by my Mum and that’s the way I am.”
Barnes’ first role in the industry was an unenviable one, taking on the task of re-opening the Lithgow trots. He then ventured north to Maryborough in Queensland where he also built a club from the ground up. He then took over the role of secretary at Penrith greyhounds before he began his final role at Bulli, a role which lasted some twenty one years.
Barnes built his reputation on being proactive and forthright and learnt plenty in those early days with the fledgling trotting clubs.
“When you re-open clubs you learn a lot of things. You learn to cut costs and how to do things that are successful.”
It is no doubt that this is where Barnes developed his “hands on” style. If there was ever the slightest hint of a hiccup at a meeting, he was always the first there and not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Barnes faith in his own ability and preparedness to try things may not have always endeared him to his peers at first, but more often than not, they would be onside soon after.
“When I worked for the NCA I used to get in trouble for not doing what they said, but I was successful at Penrith. I used to say if what I’m doing doesn’t work, then kick me in the ass and I never got many kicks in the ass.”
One of Paul Barnes’ most notable legacies was his notion to create and promote his own feature events rather than just take what he was given.
“I used to email and ring trainers. That’s what you had to do or you didn’t get the people. And, as you know, back then we used to get all the interstate dogs coming to Bulli. Trainers like Jason Thompson and Peter Daprain loved coming, I used to ring them up and send them info all the time. And you had to talk to the media. I’d always send all the information into the newspapers to make sure we got the coverage.”
Barnes even had his own brief stint in the media himself early on in his career and learnt some valuable lessons.
“I used to write for the paper in Maryborough and do all the trotting form. One thing I learnt is to be careful what you write. One trainer was going to shoot me after I wrote that his horse couldn’t win, even if it was running against me, he didn’t like that.”
Barnes was a believer in hosting highest quality races over the longer distances. He was a pioneer in this pursuit and made every attempt to minimise four hundred metre races, believing they weren’t conducive to quality turnover.
“I’d still like to see the grading done by the clubs. We have no say in the races we get now and sometimes there’s more four hundred metre races than anything else. Unfortunately, as a result, there’s plenty of trainers who only want to run dogs over that distance now.”
Barnes has seen plenty of good dogs at Bulli over his enduring tenure and says he’s seen none quicker than Barcia Bale. But when it came to track specialists he had another preference.
“The best actual Bulli dog I saw was Kirsty’s Crown, she won eighteen or nineteen races on the old track. And a dog of Jason Thompson’s that won a Gold Plate was also pretty handy too, Whisky Assassin.”
When I asked Barnes what he found most difficult about the job in its current form it was apparent that nothing was ever something he didn’t enjoy.
“If I had to pick one I’d probably say the tussling with GRNSW. They have introduced a lot of standards that I may not necessarily think are needed and it puts a lot of extra work back on the clubs. But that’s the way the governance of the sport is going. To be honest, I never found anything too hard about the job.”
Barnes was also at his candid best when divulging his thoughts on the upcoming inquiry into the sport.
“It’s about time. I was representing Bulli when the distribution deal was presented to us and said at the time that I’m not happy with it, it’s a joke. They just wanted to get the money and it absolutely stuffed the industry. Some people weren’t happy that I stood up and told them what I felt but it’s the truth and it has come back to bite them.”
And it is Barnes straightforward style that is one of the essential elements to his success.
“I’ve never just towed the line if I didn’t agree with something. That is why I probably wasn’t one of GRNSW’s favourite people. I called a spade a spade and if I thought I was right, I wouldn’t back down. If you believe in something you’ve got to keep going at it haven’t you?”
Barnes believes the perfect distribution model was the one they had before the TAB was privatised.
“If I could change one thing in the sport I would go back to that model. That way the clubs that are performing prosper and the ones that aren’t just disappear if they don’t improve their ways, that’s how it was and that’s how it should be. Under that scheme we were able to pay more prizemoney at Bulli because I studied the scheme and how it worked and did everything I could to improve our turnover. In four to five years Bulli went from near the bottom of the distribution pile to up near the top. But nothing will change while you have the current people running the sport.”
The Bulli club also operated the Appin Way track and Barnes laments the loss of the straight track.
“It’s a shame, it’s a good venue and the poor straight track dogs haven’t got a place to race any more. That’s the part that stinks, the dogs that can’t go around the bend, what are you going to do with them? It’s another nail in the coffin of the industry.”
When it comes to the future of the Bulli circuit, Barnes would hate to see it go the same way.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen, it’s a tough environment now, sponsors are hard to get and that’s one of the problems with it. I just hope it keeps going because I think it’s the best track in Australia”
Despite a myriad of achievements in the sport, it is that last comment that makes it obvious which one that Barnes is most proud of. After the grass track was all but washed away in floods during 1998, a new loam surface was built with plenty of input from Barnes.
“If there’s one legacy I’ve left the industry it’s the best track in Australia. That is my design and it took five sets of plans before I got what I wanted.”
If one passion drives Barnes more than racing, it is cricket and he is definitely not about to slow down in retirement. At his peak, the leg spinning all-rounder played first grade in the world’s strongest grade competition; Sydney grade. He regularly came up against both state and national players and more than held his own. He currently plays in the fourth grade Shires competition and in the over 50’s competition. Barnes also represents New South Wales in the over 60’s and recently averaged over a hundred with the willow in a tournament on the Sunshine Coast.
Paul Barnes is the sort of man you can sit and talk to for hours, knowing that you’ll come away richer for the experience. He will definitely be a loss to the greyhound racing industry.