Victoria Shaw developed a love of horses at the age of three when her family took her to a park where there were Shetland pony rides. In 1975 they moved to a property in Sassafras in the Dandenong ranges on the Eastern outskirts of Melbourne.
Her father who had a strong interest in eventing would later buy her first horse “Cinnamon”, who was a former racehorse for a mere $250, who was destined for the Dandenong saleyards as pet food.
Cinnamon was agisted next to the famous country mansion “Burnham Beeches”, which was owned by the Nicholas family of Aspro fame. Victoria would ride her horse on the tan which went around the perimeter of the property. It was a classic case of a young girl obsessed with horses, except that unlike most girls, she never lost her interest. She had horse swap cards and posters of horses in her bedroom competing with a poster of Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran.
Through her teenage years Victoria enjoyed watching World of Sport, in particular Race caller Bill Collins, who was known as the accurate one. At age 18 she had a nasty experience with a feisty galloper when the horse bolted in a paddock and tried to get rid of her by running under trees with low-lying branches. Victoria then took the horse into the open country and she couldn’t pull her up, she was so hard-mouthed. She convinced herself to just relax and feel the excitement of galloping flat out. She thought “what a thrill”, and then blacked out. She landed awkwardly and narrowly missed a severe spinal injury. She still has a massive lump on her neck where she has a vertebra that hangs out.
These experiences didn’t dull her interest in horses. Her interest in race calling developed as she listened to calls by John Russell, Ray Benson, Brian Markovic and Greg Miles. One particular call by Markovic at a country meeting when a 100-1 chance won and she heard the excitement in his voice and the crowd noise made her hair on the back of her neck stand up and she thought “I would love to do that”.
Victoria wanted to become a radio announcer and in 1993 she visited 3TR, a radio station in Traralgon. In the foyer there was a photo of Bill Collins. Something clicked in her and she decided to sign up with a voice trainer, Bob Taylor. Taylor, who knew that she enjoyed her days at the races, was a friend of John Russell, so he rang him and Russell invited Victoria to come to the races at Flemington and call the 1997 Grand National into a tape recorder for practice. Russell organised for Victoria to use an empty broadcasting box next to his. “I was completely naïve,” she recalled. “I set up my binoculars and tape recorder and away I went.
Victoria was most appreciative of John, who introduced her to others who were interested in the industry and really appreciated the support they provided in listening to their recordings and give them a critique.
Victoria called her first race on course on New Year’s Day in 1998 at Hanging Rock. As she climbed the ladder on the tower in a sun dress to call race 4, she would never again listen to other race caller’s suggestions of appropriate attire for the day! In hindsight she thought it was a bit too soon, but there were people who wanted to have a female race caller as a point of difference. She reminisced “You really need to do a couple of years practicing before you take the challenge at race meetings. Victoria would later meet Pamela Knox O’Connor who called at Hanging Rock in 1948, 50 years to the day before when she was asked to take over from the course broadcaster who had become ‘tired and emotional’.
Victoria’s first public radio call was on 7TAB at a Devonport, Tasmania harness meeting. She also broadcast her first radio gallops call from Deloraine, Tasmania and called at the King Island track with their dual race card comprising of gallops and trotting on the grass for a couple of years.
Victoria has also now called races at tracks in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. She was the first lady to call a TAB meeting on radio at Alice Springs, and had the privilege of being the first to call at a metropolitan racecourse, Rosehill, NSW and Elwick, Tasmania. Victoria was also the first lady to call televised races on Sky and/or TVN from Newcastle, Canberra, Mowbray, Darwin and the Arabian Races at Moonee Valley.
In 2001, Victoria was appointed spokesperson for the Victorian TAB prior to its merger with the NSW TAB. This involved regular promotional appearances on Melbourne racing radio and Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton and Ed Phillips, endeavouring to promote to a female audience that there is more to a day at the races than simply champagne and a new hat.
More recently in Victoria’s own words “the biggest day of my life” occurred when she called a race on Ladies Day at Rosehill. She followed that up with a Picnic meeting at Gosford also in NSW.
Victoria remembers the echo of her footsteps as she walked in high heels along a narrow corridor towards the broadcasting booth at Rosehill, the week after the Melbourne Cup. The booth was six storeys, the highest broadcasting position at an Australian race track. One of the Judges behind her said “Do you feel like Ned Kelly being led to the gallows?” She said “yes” but when the window was opened and she saw the sun bouncing off the Sydney skyline, she looked down and saw Bart Cummings’ colours about to leave the 1500m gates, she was surprised how composed she felt and the day went well.
Victoria is a regular caller at Balnarring, Drouin and Yea St Patricks Victorian Race meetings. She is easily noticed at the race track being a tall, slim, attractive redhead as she moves around talking to Officials and Bookmakers. She follows the traditional calling principles, occasionally getting some quizzical looks from those deeply entrenched within the Industry when she has tried to vary her call.
During the week Victoria works for a Property Developer, but would like to become a professional race caller. She is grateful for the opportunities that she has been given in the Industry and enjoys them immensely. If more were to come she would be ecstatic. She also hosts ‘Fashions on the Field’ events and is in demand for guest spots around the country.
In a male dominated Industry, Victoria Shaw is a shining light promoting that ladies can chase their goals.