Trailblazing female jockey Pam O’Neill has been recognised as one of the state’s all time-greats after being inducted into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame.
O’Neill is the first female jockey to be inducted, and only the sixth in total, following Mick Dittman, Darby McCarthy, George Moore, Mel Schumacher and Neville Sellwood.
Having campaigned for more than a decade to ride alongside her male counterparts, O’Neill was granted a jockey licence in 1979 at the age of 34, riding a treble on debut at the Gold Coast as she became Australia’s first female jockey.
During her stellar riding career, O’Neill piloted more than 400 winners including a month-long stint in Japan in 1980 which landed her three triumphs.
“It’s a real thrill to be honoured in this manner, in a state where we have so many great sportsmen – I felt extremely humble and proud,” O’Neill said.
“To be put amongst this company is amazing; I got a thrill when I was inducted into the Queensland Racing Hall of Fame, but this is another fantastic recognition.”
Before acquiring her licence, O'Neill consistently campaigned the governing body to allow her to ride by writing letters, a few at first, before coming a monthly reoccurrence.
For 14 years she wrote a letter each month.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when women were first allowed to be registered as stablehands, and a few years later O'Neill became the first woman to ride trackwork.
“There always has to be one to start something off, and fortunately I was the one who wanted to do it,” she said.
“Keith Noud was our top rider at the time, and he was my main advocate – he used to help me write the letters and was a great supporter of mine and everything I was trying to achieve.
“It’s really gratifying to see what we worked so hard to achieve in this industry has been important to today’s female riders.”
O’Neill retired at 52 and now works as an administrator, where she continues to campaign for the rights of hoops across the state to ensure their work environment is as safe as possible.
She has been a part of the Queensland Jockeys’ Association since her riding career commenced, and now serves as its co-director under the national body, where she continues to work with the state’s up-and-coming riders.
“Our female riding ranks are very strong at the moment, and I think that they’re only going to get stronger as time goes on – they are riding great,” O’Neill said.
“I speak to a number of our female riders and offer some advice if there’s something I think they can work on, I just want to help them the best way I can.”
Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell paid tribute to Pam’s significant contribution and impact on Queensland’s racing industry and welcomed her induction into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame.
“Pam’s induction into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame is a welcomed acknowledgement of her tireless work for females in the racing industry nation-wide,” Mr Parnell said.
“She championed the rights for female riders and showed the racing industry that equality wasn’t just aspirational but essential.
“Her perseverance to never take no for an answer and continue to work so tirelessly will ensure that her legacy will live on within the top echelon of sporting heroes in the Sunshine State.”
The full list of 2020 Queensland Sport Hall of Fame inductees are Pam O’Neill (horse riding), Robbie McEwen (cycling), Roy Fowler (Paralympics), Barry Dancer (hockey), Dick Marks (rugby union) and Brooke Wilkins (softball).