John Cannon needs little introduction as he is a well-known Armidale businessman with a terrific sense of humour. We hope you enjoy hearing his story as much as we enjoyed interviewing him.
>What was life like for you growing up?
I was born in Tenterfield. My first job was as a little boy weighing up sugar and dates and things at the grocery store. They used to pay me 15 bob a week. They used to make me walk down through the underwear and all the ladies’ wear to the back office where the old biddy used to say, “What do you want?” And I’d say, “Can I have my pay please?” and she’d give me my 15 bob.
Then I graduated from there to a job with the Ford dealer at Tenterfield. My father was the mechanic there and they put me on the spare parts. I lasted there for a couple of years until Mr Smartypants Howard Dunn, who had one arm (they used to call him “Bloody Whingy”) accused me of pinching money from the petrol.
Bear in mind that in those days there weren’t mixtures of petrol – if they wanted Super and Standard we’d mix it up. If it was ten of this and ten of that, I’d put it in as 20. So he sacked me, and I was out of a bloody job.
So then I had a bit of a stint at a place by the name of Penny’s, which was something like Coles, and I learned to drive in the truck. Well …
I drove the truck without a licence and went down to the Police Station with the boss. The copper said, “He’s already been driving the truck hasn’t he?”The boss said, “No, he hasn’t.” The copper said, “I’ve seen him driving it. What’s your name? Here’s your licence.” He wrote out the licence – that was a bit lucky.
> How did you come to live in Armidale?
I had to get out of Tenterfield, because there wasn’t much future for a boy of my age and ambition. So I got a phone call from J T Fossey Tamworth (because my cousin was working there, and he told a great lot of bull about how good I was with spare parts and that I knew every number). They rang and said I could start on Monday. Of course I had a bit of a problem, because when I lobbed there I wasn’t quite as clever as my cousin had told them I was.
The bloke there was a Pommy – he was an expert and could quote the numbers of every part that you could think of in a motor car. I was determined not to be beaten by him, so I would take all the books home at night and burn the midnight oil until 1 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning. The old landlady used to say to me, “John, you’re wasting the power.” And I said, “I’ll pay you a bit more money for the power. I’ve got to learn these numbers.”
So, finally I became pretty darn good at it. Mr Fossey took a liking to me, because I was a pretty keen worker and I wasn’t a clock watcher. It didn’t matter what time I finished, as long as the job was done.
So they shipped me out to Gunnedah as the parts manager of J T Fossey. Mr Fossey also gave me some shares, because I had some money in the bank and I didn’t know what to do with it. So there I was … a little boy with shares in J T Fossey.
There was trouble in Gunnedah – the salesmen were rorting the system. So I dobbed the blokes in and the boss came over and said, “Well, we’ve sacked the two trouble-makers, so you’re the boss now.” I said, “That’s bloody lovely.”
So I was there until I was offered the job in Armidale. In the meantime, I’d finished up with cancer of the bowel – which was a bit of a setback just at the time that I was being appointed as the dealer here in Armidale. But next thing I knew I was not the little boy from Gunnedah or Tenterfield … I was the Ford Dealer at Armidale. I thought I was going to be made forever. But it didn’t quite seem to happen that way.
> Tell us about your involvement with the Jockey Club …
I got my first taste of horse racing in Gunnedah in 1957 when I first arrived there. Then I became the committeeman of the Gunnedah Jockey Club. When the new Ford Falcon came out I sold three utilities quick-smart to the leading trainer of the north, Arthur Gore, and to Clyde Ether (who owned a horse that won the Grafton Cup) and his brother. So I sensed what racing and gambling was all about.
Together with a friend from Tenterfield we boought a horse by the name of “Hard Hit”. It won a few races. So when I lobbed up in Armidale City, Ron McFayden the bookie suggested to the Armidale Jockey Club that if they wanted to put on a young committeeman he knew a bloke that was moving up from Gunnedah.
So I got on the committee as a junior boy up here and learned the ropes and finally finished up as the President of the Jockey Club, which I have been for somewhere around 29 years now.
> How are you involved with the community?
Ever since I came here I’ve been involved in the city. I was told by the Treasurer of the Armidale Motor Traders, Mr Mick Vivien, and also by the Holden dealer at the time, Mr Stan James, that I shouldn’t get too anxious about Armidale because it takes 13 years before you’re termed an Armidalian.
So I got involved in anything that was going, because when you’re a car dealer you’re supposed to be known. So I was a Lion’s Club member and I transferred to the Jockey Club and I participated in the original street parade that used to start downtown and go to the showground.
I organised the original Autumn Festival Parade and picnic in the park, which was pretty darn successful and put Armidale on the map somewhat.
I’ve been involved in the Australia Day event because I wanted to have it at the race track – I believed it was the nicest and most central spot to have it. Horse Racing’s been my love and it always will be. You’ve got to do something you love.
> Can you tell us a funny story?
Well, there’s one funny story that’s only just happened in the last 18 months – after I’d been to the races at Armidale on Mooney Valley Gold Cup Day. I was feeling a bit funny and I decided that I’d have an early mark. I went and grabbed Kira and Scooby (my two dogs) and took them for a run down to Uralla, then brought them back.
I’d won money at the races, so I thought I’d better call into the TAB Armidale in Marsh Street to pick up my money. I also decided to have another bet. I put my hand in my pocket to grab my keys and walked out the door … but there was no car! It didn’t take me long to find out what had happened, because there were police everywhere and blue lights down at the Wicklow corner.
The dogs had barked at Justin Hardman’s guide dog walking past the TAB and knocked the car out of gear. It got up so much momentum from the rocking and rolling that the car took off and went all the way down to the roundabout, only grazing one car on the way. The car was hard up against the give way sign when I arrived.
The policeman said, “Is this your car John?” and I said “Yes.” He said, “Have you been drinking?” I replied, “I haven’t had a drink for 17 years. But let me tell you something – I could bloody-well do with one now!”
A witness saw the black dog appearing to steer the car … maybe he did do that, because how did he get it away from all the cars parked on the kerb? How did he miss running over children and skateboarders and little old ladies?
> What do you see for the future?
Here I am down here, pumping petrol 7 days a week to pay my penance for being a naughty boy when I was younger. I’m trying to live until I’m 90. I’ve been told by the doctor that I’ll live until 75. So as soon as I turn 75-and-one-day I’ll sue the doctor, because everyone seems to be suing everyone else these days. I hope I can at least make 75 – I’ve just got to pad it out and survive. How can you survive on a pension? You’ve got to go for it.
I’m planning my funeral, because I want to have it at the racecourse. I’ve spoken to Lou Denealy, and I’m going to do my own service. It’s going to be pre-recorded. And I want to have the two dogs tied to the side of the coffin. I want to be the last person to leave the track after the last drunk walks off.
So that’ll be something different. It should be a good turn-up – particularly if there’s free grog. Whether I get to Heaven or Hell, who gives a bugger? It doesn’t matter.
> Thank you John.