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OAM bestowed upon Pam O’Neill

By Richard Goodbody

Pam O’Neill has been formally recognised during the Australia Day Honours with an Order of Australia Medal for her services to racing as a jockey.

The trailblazing hoop, who piloted more than 400 winners during her time in the saddle, fought for more than a decade to secure her jockey’s licence, paving the way for women to ride alongside men in Australia.

After 14 arduous years, O’Neill was granted a licence in 1979 at the age of 34, riding a treble on debut at the Gold Coast to become the nation’s first female jockey.

Her contribution to racing has not been confined to the saddle, however, with O’Neill continuing to work as an administrator through her roles with the Queensland Jockeys’ Association and the Australian Jockeys’ Association.

Today’s OAM is the latest in a long line of honours for O’Neill, who was inducted into the Queensland Racing Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame in 2020.

O’Neill also has a Winter Carnival feature named in her honour with the Princess Stakes now run as the Listed Pam O’Neill Stakes.

“I feel very humbled and proud because it’s your peers who nominate you,” O’Neill said.

“I don’t feel special, I just wanted to do something (ride), and at that point, women were being decimated against.

“I came in on equal terms with the men, and equal pay, and there’s still a lot of women fighting for that same right.”

Having grown up in Ascot, O’Neill said racing was in her blood, having spent a lifetime connected to the sport.

O’Neill has served as the Secretary of the QJA since 1997 and has been a director of the AJA since 2001.

Her former AJA colleague, Des O’Keefe, was also recognised during today’s honours with an OAM.

“I’ll always be involved in racing in some form,” O’Neill said.

“I just love the industry and love the horse. They’re a beautiful animal.

“It’s always been dear to my heart and it always will be.”

Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell said an OAM was befitting of O’Neill’s contribution to the industry.

“Pam is an iconic figure, not just for Queensland racing, but Australian racing,” Mr Parnell said.

“She championed the rights for female jockeys, paving the way for equality and a more inclusive industry, and we are all better off for her incredible deeds.

“She continues to serve the industry with great commitment and vigour and we are delighted to see her honoured with an OAM.”