Bill SmithBill Smith

Lived: 1893 -- 1975 jockey picture
Nationality: Australia Australian
Circuit: Australia Australia

Bill Smith was a slightly successful jockey and trainer during the 1940s and 50s, racing at courses all over Queensland, Australia; he was also the first female jockey to race in Australia. Born Wilhelmena Smith, the daughter of British immigrants grew up in an orphanage in Western Australia; a presumably unpleasant place from which she fled at the age of sixteen. Wilhelmena made it to Adelaide and almost immediately assumed the identity of Bill in order to secure employment on a boat. After years of sailing up and down the East coast of Australia, Bill settled on dry land working in stables around the Cairns area.

During the 40s and 50s Bill trained and raced his chestnut stallion Sydney Two at the Cairns track, including competing in the Cairns Cup. Unbelievably, his true identity remained secret until his death in 1975. Although the nickname 'Girlie' implies that Bill's contemporaries had a suspicion that the slight man with the high-pitched voice was in truth a lady, Bill's caution prevented them from obtaining any proof.

Bill was known as a lone wolf...

-- in the jockey community and notoriously private. He arrived with his silks on under his clothes and refrained from showering with his colleagues. When he took a dramatic fall at Cairns race course during the 50s, Bill refused to allow the paramedics to touch him, let alone examine him for injuries.

Throughout his life, Bill Smith held archetypically male jobs - a sailor, jockey, miner and brewer - and for a short while before his death ran a pub in the Cairns area. It was not until he died from illness that the secret of Wilhelmena was revealed.

So, while her achievements to pave the way for female jockeys went entirely unrecognised during her lifetime, Bill Smith was announced the first female jockey of Australia posthumously. Her life is considered a metaphor for the struggle of women in male dominated sports and she is hailed as a pioneer, icon and legend for her extraordinary choices and the determination which saw her through.