Vale Lawson Cockburn

In a lifetime devoted to harness racing, Lawson Cockburn touched almost every aspect of the industry.

The popular Darling Downs horseman spent time as an owner, breeder, stud master, trainer, driver and administrator.

After almost 70 years involved with the game, Lawson passed away late last month at 86 years of age.

Lawson grew up on a farm and around horses, but had little involvement with the pacers and trotters until he was a teenager and that came by chance.

He worked his way through the ranks, driving and training, as well as preparing youngsters for yearlings sales before he helped pave the way for the next generation by becoming an administrator.

The respected industry figure was the president of the Darling Downs Harness Racing Club from 1981 until 1999 as well as serving a trio of three year terms on the Queensland Harness Racing Board.

Lawson’s son John followed him into the industry and still prepares a small team to this day on the Darling Downs.

According to John, his late father took on the volunteer administrative positions with an aim of helping out fellow participants in the sport and becoming a voice for others.

“He was there to look after the participants more than he was there for the administration side of things,” John said.

“He was always wanting the participants to have a fair go.

“He enjoyed the industry and the fact that he could help a lot of people with their problems, he was best known for that.

“If someone in the industry had an issue or a problem, he always stepped up to the plate to help them out.

“That is how he connected with people in the industry, he was always there to give advice and help out.”

Brad Steele, chairman of the Albion Park Harness Racing Club, recalls working closely with Lawson in a prior role of his when he was running the Redcliffe track.

Steele quickly pointed to Lawson being awarded a Harness Racing Australia prize –  the Distinguished National Service Award – in 1998 to underline his impact on the sport.

HRA states that the award is handed to a person “for important achievement, substantive effort, enterprise, endeavour, creativity and professional excellence on a national or state basis over a long period of time.”

The late Lawson Cockburn.

Steele says the awards description summed up Lawson.

“He was very approachable and consultative,” Steele said.

“He was down to earth, knowledgeable and was experienced in all gambits of harness racing.

“He had a great impact on racing.”

Lawson passed on the passion and love for the industry to his son John, who won a couple of premierships as a driver at Toowoomba, and trained a handful of winners last season.

The entire Cockburn clan have dedicated their lives to the standardbred code but it was pure luck that they ended up being involved in the sport.

Lawson was a talented junior tennis player in his teenage years and after a game in Brisbane one day, his parents took him to the Brisbane Exhibition.

John can pick up the tale from there.

“He saw a trots race and he told his parents that he would have one of those one day,” John recalled.

“Two years later he bought his first trotter at a sales on the Downs.

“He did not know what to do with the horse when he bought him, as we were not into harness racing as a family.

“We had been around horses on our farm but not trotting as a sport and that was his first trotter and he would go on win 25 races with him in the end.

“From seeing that one trots race as a 16-year-old, he just loved it.”

Lawson won races at Redcliffe, Rocklea and Ipswich, among other tracks, during the late 1950s and early 1960s as a trainer and driver.

He was also prolific winning races as an owner and breeder.

Steele referred to Lawson as a “pioneer” in the breeding area for Queensland standardbreds.

“He was a leader back in the day in terms of his breeding,” Steele said.

“His family is now entrenched into harness racing, as well.

“He bred some great horses.”

The family ran their Kennoway Stud property at Oakey as a commercial stud from 1978 up until 1990.

John recalls that they would produce 25 yearlings every year to take to the sales with his late father one of the early instigators of the Standardbred Breeders Association in the Sunshine State.

The Cockburns stood the great Able Bye Bye as well as The Houseman, who sired one of Queensland’s champion pacers in Wondai’s Mate.

“He was the first horse in Queensland to win a national siring award, winning the Globe Derby award,” John said of Able Bye Bye.

“He was the first Queensland-based stallion to win an Australian award and he won four of them, two juvenile and two Globe Derby awards.

“He was a good sire and that was one of his best achievements.”

When Lawson stepped away from training and driving, he still kept a keen interest in the game as an owner.

One of the last horses Lawson raced was a trotter named Supper Waltz Wilson, who twice won races off large handicaps of 70 metres and was also placed off a 90 metre handicap.

According to John, Supper Waltz Wilson was one of Lawson’s favourites in his latter years.

“That was his best horse at the end, he was a great old trotter,” John said.

“I think he won 22 races for him and five at Menangle.

“I think he held the track records at the Gold Coast and Albion Park there for some time.”

Away from harness racing, the Cockburns ran a farm from their property, farming dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep and cereal crops over the years.

The family held a private funeral for Lawson Cockburn last Friday.

Lawson Cockburn with his late wife Zelda.


By Jordan Gerrans