Tommy Woodcock – the Story Behind THE Photo

Filed in Archive, Blog by on November 29, 2014 2 Comments

Tommy Woodcock and Reckless pic

At last Tuesday’s launch of Nicolas Brasch’s brilliant new book, Horses in Australia: An Illustrated History, the legendary Age photographer Bruce Postle disclosed the story behind one of Australia’s iconic photographs.

Tommy Woodock (1905–85) is best known as Phar Lap’s strapper. Before important races, Tommy would sleep outside Phar Lap’s stable. Reputedly, Phar Lap would refuse food from anyone but Tommy. In 1932 Phar Lap was poisoned in California, probably by mobsters, and died in Woodcock’s arms.

However, the photo of Tommy that most people remember is of him reclining on an air mattress in the stable of a more recent champion racehorse, Reckless. The horse is lying next to Tommy, appearing to nuzzle him with a blissful smile.

Bruce suggested the photo to Tommy three weeks before it was taken. Bruce wanted to shoot the pose the day before the Melbourne Cup in 1977. Tommy initially refused, and said, “I’m 74 and if people see me sleeping with a horse they might think I’m funny.”

But Bruce “kept at him and at him and at him”.

The afternoon before the Cup, Bruce “went home, grabbed the li-lo and I drove down to the stable.” Tommy saw the trouble Bruce had gone to, so he relented and lay down on the air mattress.

What Reckless did next surprised even Tommy. According to Bruce, “Without a word of a lie, he looked at Reckless and Reckless looked at him, and this big stallion dropped down and put his head on his chest.”

The Age splashed the photo across the entire width of the broadsheet’s front page. This moving portrait of such an extraordinary relationship between a man and his horse was re-published “in most papers around the world”.

Pictures may tell a thousand words, but it takes the spoken or written word to tell the story behind the photo that seals its wow! factor. And there are 180 pictures in Brasch’s book.


You can click this link to watch Bruce Postle tell the full story at the launch.


(Visited 2,553 times, 1 visits today)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jane Creagan says:

    Thank you so much for printing this story. My Grandfather and my Father were Horsemen. I grew up with stories of horses all my life.

    This is beautiful and reminds me of my unique Colonial Australian history. Years ago we were nothing without Horses.

    They were our transport, part of the family, only now a few of us have horses in our Daily Lives.

    • Euan Mitchell says:

      Many thanks for your positive feedback, Jane.
      Bruce Postle certainly brings the world of horses to life with his story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.