Young man's brave act saved life

ON an April night in 1924, Murwillumbah's School of Arts was packed with the town's residents to see Basil Conaghan presented with a gold medal in recognition of his brave action in saving the life of Alfred Bellman two months earlier.

The young Mr Conaghan had seen Mr Bellman being dragged behind a bolting horse and he had promptly mounted another horse and given chase.

He succeeded in jumping on to the back of the runaway horse and bringing it to a standstill.

Witnesses to the incident had no doubt that the young man's quick thinking had saved Mr Bellman's life. Basil Conaghan's bravery was recognised not only in Murwillumbah but also in his home town of Sydney, where the state treasurer, Sir Arthur Cocks, was so impressed that he sent a donation of ?5 towards the cost of the medal.

On one side was engraved “For bravery, BC” and on the other “Presented to Basil Conaghan by the residents of Murwillumbah for bravery 10/1/24.”

His daring deed should have come as no surprise - Basil Conaghan knew a thing or two about horses because he rode them for a living, working as a jumps jockey in Sydney.

He lived in Maroubra until the mid-1930s, when he moved south to live in the Melbourne suburb of Caulfield.

Basil Conaghan's life continued to prosper. In 1940 he married Mavis Hemphild and switched from racing horses to training them. Two of his notable wins were the 1959 Caulfield Guineas with Prince Lea and the 1965 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington with jockey Des Lake aboard Ripa.

By the late 1970s the Caulfield trainer, born in 1904, was in semi-retirement but he hardly ever missed a race meeting, whether he had a runner or not.

As in his younger days, when he sported a bow tie for his photo in the Daily News, Basil Conaghan was always smartly dressed and invariably carried his shooting stick.

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