All in a day's work for Ipswich's turf king

Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club.
Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. David Nielsen

ACCORDING to statistics, the average a person stays in a job these days is less than two years.

Don't tell that to Darrel Bell, the man who for almost four decades has put his heart and soul into making the track and gardens at the Ipswich Turf Club shine all year round.

While the social aspects of the Ipswich Cup seem to get all the attention, at the end of the day it is still a day for horse racing, and Darrell with his team work tirelessly to make sure the behind the scenes work is done on time, to order and looking sensational. They are the ones behind the scenes who put in the hard yards.


Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club.
Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. David Nielsen

Over the years he's seen the track survive floods, drought and countless thunderstorms. It's all in a day's work for Darrell who has lived his entire life in Ipswich and spent the last 37 working on the track and gardens at the Ipswich Turf Club.

"I left school in grade 11, I was at Ipswich State High School and I just wanted to work," Darrell said. "My first job was in a furniture factory, the on in Thorn Street. I only had one other job before I started working at the Ipswich Turf Club, back in 1980."

Darrell says that even though he's been there so long, every day still seems different.

"I wake up and I get excited about going to work, every day is different. There's so much to do and of course it all depends on the racing schedule. Last week you can be racing on a Friday, the next could be on a Wednesday. So every day is similar but different.

"My job involves everything, the training tracks, the gardens, the rails, cleaning the buildings and maintenance. For events like the Ipswich Cup the preparations are a bit different. The grounds and the track have to be absolutely immaculate. There's the amount of marquees and cold rooms that all have to be brought on the ground, toilets too, there's lots of work to be done.

"On the day itself I'm usually on the barriers. It's a lot more work for me but everything has to be perfect," Darrell said. "It's vital to the Turf Club, as your weekly events don't get big numbers, so you need the big events to work, for you."


Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. Pictured with Ipswich Turf Club operations manager Steve Harling.
Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. Pictured with Ipswich Turf Club operations manager Steve Harling. David Nielsen

When you're dealing with a racetrack that is over 1km long, it takes lots of work to keep it in perfect condition.

"My job is to keep the track in shape. That's mowing, spraying, fertilising, all different types of machinery go on it, including putting holes in the track to break it up. It lets air and water deep into the roots of the track, so every two or three months we do that.

"When the condition of the track is described as 'good' it would be slightly moist, with very little rainwater on it. A 'soft' track is rain affected, with only a small amount, whereas a 'heavy' track would mean water on the track, and its very heavy under foot.

"Normally horses prefer a good track, or a soft track ," Darrell explained. "If there's lots of water out there it shouldn't affect the safety of the track. We keep the grass about four inches high, which creates cushioning and a good cover. The horses don't penetrate the track too much when you have that kind of cushioning."

Darrell knows what a big Ipswich Cup means to the club and the community, and over the years has seen it get bigger and bigger.

"I adore the Ipswich Cup, so many people come and the atmosphere is just amazing," he said. "It really has a reputation around the country now, people talk about it for months afterwards, plus attendance-wise its unbelievable. Over the last 30 years I've seen it grow in reputation, and many people come to the cup, and the club has come up with so many good ideas."


Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. An old QT file photo.
Darrel Bell has worked for 37 years as a groundsman at the Ipswich Turf Club. An old QT file photo. File Photo

Darrell has seen it all over his almost four decades, and nothing worse than the 2011 floods which saw the entire track go under, and meant a week-long clean-up.

"When the track went under in the floods, it was a massive job to get all the debris off the track, it took lots of work. There was a wrecker's yard down the road and we ended up with hundreds and hundreds of tyres that had floated over to the track area, it took us a whole week to clean up the place. It took about a month for the track to come back to where it was. If you can't race horses the club loses money and other tracks have to pick up the slack."

A resident of Yamanto, Darrell still loves his job, and is proud to be a part of something that is so important to the Ipswich community.

"Years ago Ipswich had a really bad reputation and it has progressed enormously. The Mayor is on the committee here and he's been a revelation for the city," he said. "He's helped put us on the map and the Ipswich Cup is representative of how progressive the city has become."

If you're heading to cup, say g'day to Darrell if you see him. Chances are he'll be around somewhere.

"I like being outdoors, and the people I work with," he said. "I hope to retire one day, and I won't be doing much gardening! I'm hoping my wife and I can take a caravan around Australia."

Topics:  horse racing ipswich cup ipswich turf club

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