“Hector (Hec) McNeill” – By Daniel Pianto.
The name of McNeil with its spelling variants, is derived from Niall, a descendant of an Irish prince who married into the royal house of Dalriada. He was said to be descended from “Niall of the Nine Hostages” a king of Tara in Ireland who ruled around 400. They were originally confined to the islands of the Hebrides, mainly Barra, Gigha and Colonsay and a small enclave in Argyll at Taynish.
As far as the name being spelt in the manner of McNeill, most families with this surname appear to have inhabited the Island of Colonsay and were known as the McNeill’s of Colonsay, one of such families under the Clan McNeil banner and preferred this spelling of the name, with the double L.
The particular branch we are interested in for our research purposes lived on the Isle of Tiree also spelt as Tyree. Tiree is the most westerly island of several located in the area known as the Inner Hebridean Islands, to the west of the Scottish mainland. The Island measures an area of only 12 miles in length and 3 miles in width.
The landscape of Tiree is rather flat and it is known for its fertile soils and has a very strong Crofting heritage. It also claims fame as having the highest levels of sunshine anywhere in the United Kingdom and is sometimes referred to as the, “Hawaii of the North”.
The annual Tiree World Surfing Championships are held here and the current population is home to 653, yet in 1841 its population was at its highest of 800, which later saw a massive population demise which coincided, during the height of great immigration period of the 1840’s – 1850’s.
The earliest written record I was able to locate was the birth and marriage of Niel McNiel, as spelt, born in 1743 at Gortendonnel, Tiree, Argyllshire, Scotland who married at Gortendonnel in 1767, to Jannet McPhail, who was born in 1749 in Coales, Tiree.
From Niel and Jannet McNiel, we trace the line down until the descendants of these Island folk have migrated to the Scottish mainland, which the first was a great grandson, Hector McNeill (Farm Servant), and his wife, Ann McDougall, now residing in Cadder, Lanarkshire, Scotland, being married there in 1872.
The move probably coincided with the start of the Industrial revolution and the great demand for workers.
The son of Hector and Ann McNeill, John McNeill, (Ploughman), born in 1885 in Cadder, Lanarkshire, married Ann (Annie) Blair, born in 1882, on the 16th of December, 1904 at Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. John and Ann McNeill, moved to Stirlingshire and obtained employment as a Coal Miner or Pitman. Annie was believed to have been born in Northern Ireland and came over to Scotland with her Parents, James Blair and Sarah McWhirter who married in 1869 at Kirkinriola, Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
John McNeill and his first wife Annie Blair had a family of 6 children Georgina, Jean, Hector, James, John, Tom. Their son Hector McNeill, who is the topic of this article, was born at 5:40 p.m. on the 12th of August, 1907 at his parent’s home of 41 Baker Street, Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
At some stage the family moved back to Lanarkshire and lived in the No 5 Pit house in Kirkwood, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Sct. It was at this address, that Hector’s mother, Annie McNeill, sadly passed away at the young age of 35 in 1920 of Pneumonia. John McNeil then moved to the residence of 11 Dykehead Road, Bargeddie, Lanarkshire, Scotland.
After Annie’s death John remarried Margaret McGillivray and 7 more children were born, Christine, Annie, Charlie, Donald, Flo, Mima and Rena. Prior to these children Margaret had 2 children John and Bessie Speirs who lived with the Family and they both migrated to Melbourne.
Bargeddie is a village in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, just inside the suburban fringe of Glasgow, 8 miles (13 km) east of the city centre, and close to the junction of the M73 and M8 motorways. The nearest major town is Coatbridge, 2 miles (3 km) to the east.
It is known that he had raced Pigeons from about the age of 9 in Scotland, and his Father, John McNeill continued to race Pigeons there until he passed away. Hector and his Father either raced in the Coatbridge Club or the Bargeddie Clubrooms etc, which were just around the corner from where the McNeill family resided after the death of the wife and mother in 1920.
Hec wrote; In 1916, I often visited my Grandmother at a place called Drumpark. Her son had a loft of pigeons in the back yard. I used to pester my Father to put up a loft on an embankment near our home, which he eventually did. Next thing was to get some pigeons, and one evening he took me into the Barrow’s Market in Glasgow, where all sorts of things were sold, food, clothes, dogs even monkeys etc. We bought eight pigeons, the door was similar to that of a stable. Next morning, I got up early, opened the top half door and seven flew out and never came back.
The next Saturday we went back and got another two pairs. I used to go over to Easterhouse, about 4 miles from our village, and where some of the best racing pigeon fancier’s in Scotland lived. Nearly every home had a pigeon loft. I used to watch their birds home from the races and helped them clean their lofts and at the end of the season, the youngsters from these eggs and two pair of birds my father bought from Belgium.
One bird I remember clearly was a Sandy Cock which won six out of seven young bird races. One race he arrived home and six other birds, not mine, landed on the loft, when we could not see two hundred yards owing to the Fog.
On race days our neighbouring Fancier’s used to sit on the embankment just below our loft and our birds sometimes wasted time through them sitting there. We had a broody hen sitting on eggs in another shed, so Dad tot the nesting material from under her and spread it on the embankment where these chaps sat usually. They did not sit down very long before they started scratching themselves . The Red Mite did a good job on this occasion and our birds did not have any trouble landing any more. We were moderately successful with these crossed with our own birds and my father raced them until his death.
Hector was also interested in Showing Pure Bred Bull Terriers in Scotland and was also a very keen Rifle Shooter, which his son, Graham later on developed a love for as well.
The young Hector McNeill, decided to immigrate to Australia. He firstly travelled to London, and boarded the Ship, “ESPERANCE BAY”. He finally arrived in Port Melbourne on the 21st of October, 1926.
However once settled in Australia, he established his lofts, named in honour of his new home and identity, “True Blue Lofts”, in 1927. Hector also enjoyed showing Fowls and over the years went into Egg Laying Competitions, which resulted in meeting many other competitors who also kept and raced Pigeons. I
Hec describes his early Pigeon days in his new Country from the following story he wrote;
“When I was a little over a year out here (Australia) and frequently visited my girlfriend at Coburg. They had a fowl house down at the back of the yard and one day an unrung red chequer cock landed and went into the fowl house. I bought a blue chequer hen at the Vic Market.
After I married I built a loft and bought 7 pigeons from Ollie Cross for 17 schillings and 6 pence. These birds produced many winners for me. Their best effort was winning 3 out of 4 Mildura races including the Melbourne Centenary Race in which I finished 3rd Club, clocking my second bird after losing ten minutes looking for the rubber on the floor, covered with shavings. My wife found the rubber among the shavings, after I had clocked my second bird. This was one of many races lost through bad luck”.
Hector McNeill met and married Ethel Olive Simmons, in 1928 in Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria and had two children;
* Joyce Ann McNeill – Bateman. She sadly passed away at the age of 24.
* Graham John McNeill who passed away in 2013 aged 71.
He established a home at 5 Lever Street in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg, Victoria, Australia and remained here until his passing. The first loft was a Double story and then it was replaced with a ground loft, made with Wooden Slats along the front length of it. His birds were so tame, they could quite often be caught on the landing board. He certainly had a special affinity with the birds, being able to feed them by putting seed in between his teeth and the birds were very tame.
When, “True Blue Graham”, was photographed, he was simply placed in a white wooden box with an open front, outside of the loft and he stayed in this box long enough to have his picture taken.
Amongst these original Pigeons, he later obtained Pigeons from a Mr Charles Youngman, who was a very good flyer in the Brunswick Homing Club. The latter flyer’s bloodlines were based on the Delaney, Soffle and Hansenne, Jurion, Wegge and Barker strains. Delaney being the legendary, Tom Delaney of Richmond.
Other lines included the birds obtained from Les Abikhair, who sadly passed away aged 54 in 1962, known as the (The Wizard of Ivanhoe). The “All Alone Blood”, based on Les’ Reference A, sold at Les Abikhair’s disposal sale in 19th August 1962 for the sum of 60 Pounds. Hector was a good friend of Les’ and obtained birds prior and after Les’ Sale in 1962.
From the many tributes published in the Pigeon Fancier when Les passed away, including a notice from Mr. A. C. Long on behalf of the Ivanhoe Club members wrote the following; “His proudest moment was timing in, “All Alone”, 1st Federation Young, 300 Miles, the only bird home on the day”.
“All Alone”, was a 1st Fed – 300 Miles winner, being the only bird home on the day out of 2,433 birds with a velocity of 752 yards per minute. She appears in the catalogue of Les Abikhair’s as Lot No – 17 – BBH – 54 – 7539. Her breeding was from a Ward Weilman Cock and a Tom O’Shea Hen with the bloodline’s of “All Alone”, consisted of a mixture of O’Shea Weilman Ward and Vincent Blanden / Vernon Carkeek.
Hector obtained work with the Royal Automotive Club of Victoria, (RACV), first starting in Road Patrol, Transport Department, then became in charge of the Transport Department and finally became a purchasing officer, at the Patrol Depot, located at 63 Acland Street, St. Kilda.
When Hector first started at the RACV, they had a total of 28 Vehicles including 3 Tow Trucks. In the late 1960’s they had grown to 150 Patrol Vans, 9 Highway Vans, 5 Pilot and Escort Cars, 30 Driving School Cars, 5 Admin Cars and another 30 Cars at Head Office.
He was a long serving, well respected and much-admired worker within this organisation, of which he eventually retired from.
It was whilst in Australia, Hector received word from Scotland that his Father, John McNeill has passed away on April 3rd 1941, aged only 55 years old. The work as a Coal Miner and living and working in such an environment would have surely contributed to such an early death. At this time, John McNeill was residing at the family home at 11 Dykehead Road, Bargeddie, which is still in existence in 2021.
From a series of letters of the era, Hector raced Pigeons for many years firstly as a member of the Old Coburg Homing Club joining in 1930, until 1956. Then in the years thereafter flew in the Northern Invitation Homing Club of which was formed in 1956 and as a foundation member and only life member, Hec resigned from this Club in January of 1966. The club secretary for a period of 11 and a half years. The new North West Homing Club, formed in 1967, of which McNeill, was a foundation member and inaugural secretary.
NEW CLUB – THE NORTH WEST – 1967 – The VHA has approved of the formation of a new club, the North West. Teddy Bell has been elected President and yours truly, secretary. Eight members have submitted their names, so we have to start all over again. Trophies have been promised. A new ringer was donated by Sam Flood, and we also have one unit and a nice little bank account.
His wife, Ethel, also flew in the New Coburg Club in her own right with much success. This later became known as the Coburg Club.
It was noted that the partnership of E & N. McNeill were placed third in the race from Lakes Entrance with a velocity of 819 m.pm, in 1982 flew with the Coburg Club being under the Association of the V.R.P.U.
The change to various clubs came about because of certain politics and the behaviour of the minority of members and at the time saw huge breakaways and divisions.
It ultimately took its toll on Hector who in 1967, officially resigned as the V.H.A Publicity Officer, after having contributed to the Pigeon Fancier Federation and News Magazine for many, many years, with Alex Walker J.P as its Editor. Hec was the Interstate Representative from Victoria as well.
Hec writes in his regular column in 1967, This will be my last year as V.H.A Publicity Officer. I find with increased duties at work, and being Secretary of the Northern Invitation Club, which has grown to 34 members and will be higher next year. I do not have any time to look after my own affairs.
I intend to keep this monthly article going and I hope to give news and hints which should be of value to everyone. I would like to thank, Tom Meehan, W (Bill) Wright, Bill Anderson and Eric Nancarrow, and many others who have helped me in the past. Also, I hope that all fanciers now how much work, Alex Walker is doing for the pigeon fraternity. The Pigeon Fancier book is the best that has ever been published in this Country….
He was such a dedicated contributor and would submit monthly race results, news and other items of interest, and his contribution to this magazine did not end after he resigned from the position. He continued to supply the Editor with wonderful reading and I mention that quite often, the Victorian section of this magazine could often be comprised of up to 5 pages, from my knowledge continued to send in reports or personal letters to the Editor for publishing, up until the early 1980 era.
Many of our older current flyers would remember reading the Hec McNeill, “Spotlight on Pigeon News”.
Hector McNeill, raced with his fair share of successes, over a great many years with some of his Pigeons being imported by International Fanciers, and an advert by Hector offers the local fancy a chance to secure some of his birds in his first advertisement, published in the Pigeon Fancier;
FOR SALE SQUEAKERS AT A FAIR PRICE – FIRST CLASS RACING PIGEONS – AUGUST 1962.
Owing to few losses in 1961 and 1962, I have five pairs of stock birds and twenty youngsters for sale. My birds have proved their worth in inland races to 500 miles, and in the longest over-water races in the world – Tasmania to Melbourne. Fancier’s own rings if desired. Hec. McNeill – 5 Lever Street, W. Coburg, Victoria.
On the 1st of May 1965, Hector McNeill decided to go back to Scotland for a holiday after being away for 39 years. The following article of his visit titled, “Scots Wha Hae”, appeared in his monthly article in July 1965.
I left Melbourne at 1600 hours on 1st of May on my trip around the world via Nandi (Fiji), Honolulu and San Francisco, where I spent four hours, then on to New York where I visited the World’s Fair, where I stopped for over 10 hours. This was a marvellous site.
While there I decided to buy a few souvenirs for my friends, I tried a few souvenir shops at the Fair and on examining them found that they were either made in Japan or West Germany. Imagine this with all the American know how, impossible to buy souvenirs made in America. Needless to say, I bought nothing there.
On returning to the J.F. Kennedy airport, I saw some spoons with the crest of the World’s Fair on them. Luckily, I only bought one at the duty-free shop. In Glasgow when I arrived on the 3rd May 0800 hours, I examined the spoon. What do you think? yes, it was made in West Germany.
On arrival at the Prestwick airport, there were a dozen of my relatives waiting for me. After getting through customs and being introduced to my relatives, (it’s 39 years since I left Scotland), we got into the cars off to where I was to stay at Bargeddie, about 40 miles away.
My friends produced a bottle of whisky and a glass and we had a drink. A few more miles and I was again asked to have another yin. I politely refused telling them if I had been endeared to whisky I would not have been able to afford the trip that I had made to see them.
Home at Bargeddie, where I had breakfast, then over to the local Inn, where I had breakfast, our party gradually increased until there were thirty people in our crowd. I give you fair warning, be very careful if you ever go to Scotland, they will kill you with their hospitality. A shout there is out a glass of beer, it’s a half a dozen of whisky neat and a bottle of stout. I asked why and I was told one brew kills the germs in the other.
I had four days in this location, then off to Inverness, where I spent two days at Arderseir, near Fort George, before returning to Bargeddie. I then thought I would have a visit to some of my work mates.
You would be surprised to know that in Bargeddie, with over one thousand families living there, everybody knew I was back from Australia, what surprised me was that nearly every house had a pigeon loft. Most fanciers keep an average of fifty birds including stock. So that one can see that they have to have good birds to last out the season.
It was in Bargeddie, I presented the Dave Riddall’s trophy to the local club which they were very grateful to receive. The secretary, Mr Wilkie, has promised to send results of all of their races and a photo of the winner of the trophy. I have a photo of the trophy presentation but unfortunately it is not good enough for publication.
I watched two races from 155 miles, the first at Jock McShannon’s, he got second. This was on a day that was overcast with no assistance, velocity for this race was 1200 yards per minute.
The next race was at Airdrie, where the great Dan Gillespie has his loft of about 60 birds. I saw the birds arrive home, two together, one for Dan and the other for Stewart next door. Stewart’s bird dropped first and beat Dan by six seconds.
My next visit was to that famous loft at Armidale, where the world-renowned birds of Dr Anderson are housed. The Doctor bought the entire stock of John McAlpine and employed Mr McAlpine as loft manager, (he was a very successful long-distance flyer). In 1914 he sent six birds to Rennes (France), all were timed in winning three positions in the race.
I was introduced to William McAlpine and his wife through a friend of my Father’s, a Mr S Jamieson, and duly visited the McAlpine lofts twice. Again, hospitality was tops. I handled Barcelona Blue, a pigeon bred by W. McAlpine, that held the record from Barcelona to Scotland, (1,000 miles), for some time.
Since then a blood brother has broken the record, this bird is named, Barcelona Triumph, and it flew 1025 miles to break the record in 1963, which I think still stands.
The McAlpine Lofts are full of 700- and 500-mile birds. These birds have not flown it once, but have flown it four or five times. I notice that Squills Annual, had a few particulars of the above birds. The cock birds that have flown the long-distance races are slightly larger than our average size birds, the hens are exactly the same size as ours.
For three months of the year, the birds are not let out owing to the wintry conditions, when there is three or four inches of snow all-round the loft, results prove that it does then no harm, as they still fly the long distance. Any new blood that comes into this loft has to prove its worth.
In a letter received from Scotland 1967, Hec writes, that the pigeons I presented to Mr Andrew Smith from Brechin in Scotland, left on Melbourne on Monday morning and arrived safely in Scotland, Tuesday afternoon and after a slight hold up in Edinburgh, were in his loft about 6 that evening.
Mr Burton also sent 6 birds. One of the 4 I sent, one cock presented to me by Mr Martin O’Shannassy, had won races up to 250 miles, also flown Tasmania five times including 5th Fed, from that race point. A blue cheq cock flown 620 and breed winners, two blue cheq hen flown 520 miles and won and placed in club and section races.
Mr Smith has flown with a lot of success in the long-distance races. Conditions for racing in Scotland are much different to our racing out here, with many Federation racing from the north, south and west, with large batches of birds crossing each other’s line of flight, where out here our biggest trouble is with Mr Hawk!
The progeny of the birds sent over will be very interesting to Mr Burton and myself and also many fanciers in Australia. Who knows? We may be able to work up a trade with British fanciers.
Hec notes, he had a letter from Andrew Smith saying that the birds Mr Burton and myself had sent to Scotland had settled down comfortably and were now down on eggs. The next thing we are waiting to learn how our birds perform against the Scotch birds. I think they will do all right for Aussie’s, but competition is very tough.
In part of an article we find Hector McNeill has written an excellent account of his endeavour to outsmart the Falcon with the novel idea of Tossing in the evening;
I have been giving my birds a couple of 20-mile tosses at night time, usually Mr Hawk has had his feed for the day and leave the birds alone in the evening. First night we went to Pretty Sally where the birds were released should have been able to see Melbourne. They cleared off.
On arriving home there were no birds home. I put on the yard light and got two home at intervals in the dark. The other two fancier’s birds I took up got none that night but we had them all early the next morning. None the worse for their night out.
Next evening, we were up much earlier. Let the birds go, they flew around for a few minutes then they split up in all directions. Six came over our direction with Mr Hawk in hot pursuit, he singled one out and then his mate came over to help.
They knocked some feathers out of this bird, but he managed to make it to the trees. There was a line of pine trees about 200 yards long and the two Hawks were like Sentry’s on duty. They patrolled the pine trees singly. We ran over and managed to get the bird, it was injured on the wing and had lost some wing feathers.
The sooner we start a Hawk fund the better. They seem to be everywhere. What hope has any pigeon returning from the long races to beat this menace?
Another article of similar vintage begins; Many times, I have been asked how do our birds out here compare with those in Great Britain. So, let’s take a look at conditions in both countries, thousands of birds race in different directions into Scotland, England and Wales. Ireland races from the southern direction also.
These countries have their good races and bad ones too. Liberations crossing one another must make it difficult for the birds to fly a set course, yet they do it every year. Mr Falcon also accounts for a lot of damage and death to many racers. I read in a pigeon paper from overseas that Mr Falcon kills 125,000 pigeons in Britain per year.
While in Scotland, I saw two races from over 100 miles, the weather conditions were such that I reckoned the velocities would be about 1,000 yards per minute. I said so to Dan Gillespie, one of the best fanciers in Scotland. His estimation was 1,500 y.p.m. After the birds were clocked the worked out at 1,550 y.p.m. Another factor over there is not much open country, which lends itself as a help to tired birds.
Fanciers do not keep the large number of birds that we do out here. Therefore, birds have to be good to be kept in their lofts. Money is not so plentiful over there either, so this angle is also studied. Some birds fly the 500- and 600-mile races five or six times.
Here in Victoria, I have raced for about 40 years, conditions are altogether different, we do have some liberations where one flock crosses the other. We race north 600 miles and south 300 miles. We have out good and bad races too, even though weather conditions are checked before each liberation.
Mr Falcon takes his toll on our races even 10 miles from Melbourne. With wide open spaces birds do not get the same protection from Mr Hawk as he does in Britain. As we all know, many parts of Australia are heavily timbered, a natural habitat for the Hawk. I think this accounts for slower velocities. Plus, the fact that many birds do not fly the long races more than once.
Before the started poisoning the rabbits, it was not uncommon to see about 200 birds in the first batch from a race. Today we see one or maybe half a dozen. Many of these do not return on the line of flight. Veteran racers and many new fanciers do fly large teams here. I do not say that all these birds are good, but when you keep pigeons for many years you won’t bring any doubtful birds into your loft. In conclusion, I firmly believe that our pigeons are as good as any other birds overseas.
Owing to Quarantine Regulations this cannot be done. I already sent some home to a Mr Andrew Smith, Bank Place, East Lothian a few years ago. Several Overseas visitors have called out at our home to see the birds and also the pigeon fancier gets to some fanciers over there. Arrangements were completed by Mr. I. McKinnon, 7B/3 Darling Point Road, Darling Point, Sydney.
Appearing in, “The Canberra Times” – Monday 9th of November 1967, Page 3, was the horrific article was reported, titled, “Protest over killing of pigeons”, of which Hec McNeill, commented on the inhumane way the School used to control pigeon numbers.
“PROTEST OVER KILLING OF PIGEONS”
MELBOURNE, Sunday – Several pupils at the West Coburg State School have been taken up a petition protesting at the methods used by the Education Department to kill pigeons at the school.
The pupils say they were horrified to see the pigeons die in agony in sticky substance which has been placed on the roof of the school. So far at least 12 pigeons have died on the school grounds, but scores of others are believed to have died.
A local pigeon-fancier, Mr Hector McNeill, said the substance had been placed on roosting areas of the pigeons. “They get some of it on them and it slowly creeps over their whole body until they cannot move”, he said. “They just have to stay where they are until they die from either exhaustion or hunger”. He added, “It’s not just a way of getting rid of unwanted birds, – it is murder. An official from the R.S.P.C.A said tonight that the society would investigate…….
Ken Knox, a Journalist, reported an article in “The Age Newspaper” – Melbourne – Monday, September 30 1974, Page 19, titled;
“By Hec, they’re not just pie in the sky!”
Graham was not the easiest subject for an interview. You couldn’t coax a, “yup or a nup”, from him. “He’s really very friendly”, Hec McNeill said. “About as affectionate as any of them”. “They’ve all got different personalities”. Some are excitable, some nervous. They’re just like people really. They even get runny noses, like people too.”
Graham – or to give him his correct name, 73 VHA 26222 – neither billed nor cooed his opinion. He’s one of more than 20,000 pigeons which are in racing in Victoria each Saturday at this time of year, and few have done better than Graham.
His owner, Hec, (who started racing pigeons in Scotland when he was nine and who is still going strong at 67), said, Graham had recently streaked down from Hay, (N.S.W), to Melbourne in 4 hours, 17 mins.
Three events were conducted simultaneously in that race, (club, sectional and overall), and Graham’s time brought him 2 firsts and an eighth, out of a total entry of 8,720 birds.
Early this month, racing the 482 k.m from Hillston, (N.S.W), Graham gained a first and a second against a field of 6,515 birds.
There are at least 2,000 owners in Victoria now and, while a love of pigeons might be the driving force for most of them, money can’t be overlooked either. First prize in some of the big races is often $1,500. To win events like that, birds have to average very close to 100 k.p.h, (about 60 m.p.h).
That’s not always easy for five or six hours on end, Hawks are a big problem and, like recently when they crossed the Divide, so are hail and rain storms. But if the prizes are high, so too are the prices. Good birds sell for around $200 to $300. That might be a lot for a ¼ kg pigeon, but in England the record price is 5,000 Pound, (now about, $8,000).
Hec McNeill, who owns the, True Blue Loft in West Coburg, is one of Australia’s better-known breeders. He has sent birds to as far away as Thailand, Scotland and New Zealand. The progeny of some he bred were recent winners in Japan…….
The article appearing in The Age Newspaper – Melbourne, on Thursday July 6th 1978, written by Peter McFarline.
“TRUE BLUE’S A BIRD IN HAND WORTH THOUSANDS”
There is a champion thoroughbred out West Coburg way, by the name of, “True Blue Graham”, who won’t be at all familiar to TAB punters. He hasn’t won a leg of a daily double, upset a trifecta or even been heavily backed on course in a feature race. But he has been instrumental in putting a colour television set in the lounge and a motor mower on the lawn of his owner.
And in the intensively competitive world of pigeon racing, there can be no higher accolade than that. Standing 15cms, “True Blue Graham”, is still spoken of in revered terms at the home of Hec McNeill, even though his activities these days are directed towards the mating game.
Most of us who spotted, T. B. Graham, or any of his stablemates in the street, would still be inclined to offer him a bread crumb or the toe of a shoe. But Mr McNeill, of his 600 fellow members of the Victorian Homing Association would recognise a thoroughbred on sight.
Pigeon racing has become an important sport, with V.H.A offering more than $58,000 in prize money in 1977 and about $60,000 for the 1978 season, beginning on July 22. It also involves a large investment – as much as $3,000 for a man like Mr McNeill, who at the age of 72 still races 60 birds and keeps 20 for breeding.
The V.H.A is by far the biggest organisation in the business, numbering in its membership , a Judge, an M.P, Doctors and a former Test cricket captain, Bill Lawry.
There are three other organisations in metropolitan Melbourne, the Eastern Pigeon Federation, the Western Pigeon Federation and the Victorian Racing Pigeon Union.
As estimated half a million birds contest VHA races every season and at an average 40 cents every fee provide the basis for the prizemoney.
Hector McNeill’s Best Producing Pair were 11055 & 50881 and were the Parents of Hec’s Best Ever Performed Race Bird – “TRUE BLUE GRAHAM” – BCC – VHA 1973 – 26222
His Sire – DARK CHEQ COCK – VHA 1969 – 11055 – 3rd Club 520 Miles – Carrieton. He died in 1979.
Sire – 6085 – Blue Cheq Cock – 3 Wins and 2nd Hillston, 1st Tasmania, 2nd Dubbo.
Dam – Dark Cheq Hen – 47180.
His Dam – BLUE CHEQ HEN – VHA 1969 – 50881 – Won 2 420 Mile races in succession. She died in 1982. When mated to 11055 produced winners all over Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, and my home shire, Lanarkshire, Scotland. All birds in Loft are related in a small way to this Pair.
A GENUINE REDUCTION SALE – TRUE BLUE LOFTS, ESTABLISHED 1927 – NOV – DEC – 1978.
Owing to illness I have to reduce my Stock Birds and my Young Bird team bred for 1979, with sixty-two years in the Sport of Pigeon Racing my Birds. They have made a name for themselves in most States of Australia, winning probably more than their share in West Australia, Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. I only took part in a few V.H.A races this season.
My wife flew in the New Coburg Club and the Birds performed well there; winning second Young Birds and 3rd Old Bird Average. Over the years they have won hundreds of prizes for us, in Clubs from seven to thirty-six members. Stock Birds and Youngsters one price – $60.00 each. Particulars on Application: Hec McNeill, 5 Lever Street, Coburg West – 3058. Phone: (03) 3863987.
1978 – I talked it over with my wife and decided to join her up in the New Coburg Club, but first before we did anything , I spoke to the VHA Official, and he said it was ok. I was quite happy to fly our birds in the young bird series on my own, although there would have been no competition for me, at least I would have had an idea how they were going against the open flyers, but his was not to be….I got a phone call one night that there was someone who was trying to stop us being dual flyers.
So, I sent a letter to the VHA delegates meeting and got permission to fly dual. Then a motion was put in by a club to stop us. My wife and I were the only ones affected by the motion.
At the next delegates meeting the motion was defeated and we were allowed to fly. By this time, several races had been decided and my birds had a jump of 367 kilometres in their first race in the old bird series. You can imagine how the above upset me. I will finish the notes and results for the VHA this year, but next year will not be available for the liberation committee or the publicity officers’ position.
Thanks to all the delegates who voted for my wife and I, we thank you, but still can’t understand why all this happened. I was near enough to getting rid of all our birds.
1982, was the worst series I had in 63 years in our sport. I managed a few seconds etc, and lost first Fed. I was in Hospital recovering from a heart attack and my wife was clocking the birds. The race she should have won a friend came in to help my wife clock. He was standing in the yard when the bird came down to the landing board and saw our friend and flew off and returned seven minutes later. We got second club.
1983, Young birds were fortunate to get three wins including 2nd best out of 2027 birds and first Federation, 1067 entries. One second, two fourths and a seventh in seven races.
Old Birds – Mum ( Ethel McNeill), was very sick, birds got 3 tosses at 20 Kilometres, sent 22, got 18 on the day, 4 Sunday, many birds lost. Not bad for 140 Kilometre jump. Only flew part of the series owing to Mum’s sickness and myself having heart attacks.
Ron Braid looked after the birds while I was ill. Mum died on the 4th of December while I was in the Melbourne Hospital, recovering from a heart attack. I was fortunate to get out of Hospital one day prior to the Funeral. My son made all the arrangements for the Cremation.
I gave my birds one toss from Oakland’s Junction, 18 Kilometres and then were jumped some to Castlemaine 70 miles, others jumped to 105 miles and 155 miles, then sent 10 to Young Bird Derby and got 10 home in good time. The following advertisement appeared in, “The Australian Pigeon Fancier – 1982”.
“1927 – 1982 – True Blue Lofts – Reduction Sale”.
Owing to ill health I have decided to reduce my team of Stock Birds and Racers. I have had a lifetime experience, starting when I was nine years old and am now getting on towards seventy-five years old. During that time my birds have proved themselves in competition. Winning Club, Federation, Averages and Smash Races.
They have been responsible for winners in nearly every state of Australia and have also flown well in Japan, winning the Prince Takamui Cup in a 300-mile race. Also, In Indonesia and Thailand. Students called while studying in Australia and I gave them some to take home. Also, did well in New Zealand and Scotland.
Last year, Ron Braid won the Coburg Club 400-mile race and had the best time in the V.P.U Liberation. He gave Ernie MacDonald a brother to it and he won the 600 miles and got Bird of the Year. I gave Ron the hen responsible for both birds. 1981 Rung Birds – $50 each – Flown Birds – Mostly 500 Milers -$80 each. Winner including Smash Winners – $100 : All plus freight. Further enquiries contact: Hec McNeill, 5 Lever Street, Coburg, 3058 – Phone (03) 3863987.
In a letter from a young chap in New Zealand in 1970, that Hec had received, he offers his advice on the reader’s disappointment.
It begins; A young chap over there gives a fair reason regarding teenagers leaving our sport. He is very disappointed after paying big money for birds from over there and with good pedigrees, and trying them out, finds they are no better than his own mediocre birds.
My advice to anyone starting to race pigeons is to buy their stock from a fancier who is a consistent top flyer, don’t buy from “Joe Smith”, who won some races many years ago. Also, some fanciers do not sell their best. In fact, I was told I was a bloody fool for sending my best birds to Queensland some years ago. They told me I was not right in the head. I may not be, but the birds I have sent to New South Wales, Queensland and West Australia have done, 0.K, for the fanciers who purchased them.
When you send birds to other fanciers and they win and are placed in races up to 720 miles, it is just as big a thrill as winning one’s self. After all anyone who sends birds that are not what they are cracked up to be, gives himself a bad reputation.
I know that some people could not win with the best of birds, but I am certain that most fanciers can get the best out of their birds. If I was starting off in pigeon racing and know what I know now, I would find out the oldest and most consistent fancier still racing and winning, and buy my stock from him.
These fanciers do not bring mediocre birds into their lofts. If they did they would soon lose their position among the winners . Pedigrees are not worth the paper they are printed on in most cases. Performance is what you want!
Hector’s wife, Ethel Olive Simmons – McNeill passed away in 1983 and sadly Hector himself passed away on the 16 th of January 1985, aged 77. His remains were interred at the Fawkner Crematorium.
“UNRESERVED AUCTION SALE – LATE HEC MCNEILL – TRUE BLUE PIGEONS”
STOCK BIRDS, RACE BIRDS, YOUNGSTERS, S.T.B CLOCK, BASKETS, ETC.
To be held at Victorian Racing Pigeon Union Rooms, 13 Domain Street, Glenroy.
Thursday Evening, 21st February 1985 at 8 P.M.
Birds may be inspected from 6:30 P.M onwards.
In the early twenties, Hec McNeill built his, “TRUE BLUE LOFTS”, and raced pigeons for over sixty years. Trophies dated many years before most of us were born and up to 1984, testify to his success at all distances. “Federation Winner of Young Birds –GLENTHOMPSON – 1983,was Hec McNeill”
Most of the stock birds relate to Blue Ch Cock – V.H.A 73 26222 and I quote from Hec’s stud book – “The BEST PERFORMED pigeon that I have ever owned. He won enough money in the WEST SECTION V.H.A, to buy us a Colour T.V and other goods and when used at stud bred, WINNERS, with every hen I put him across. “TRUE BLUE GRAHAM”, youngsters have won for flyers in TASMANIA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA, SCOTLAND, JAPAN, INDONESIA and ROCKHAMPTON”, end of quote.
In later years Hec exchanged pigeons with one of TASMANIA’S top flyers by name of George Rettas, and the listings show to the extent that Hec placed on these imports. I was told George’s birds originated from JURION-STOKOE and are HIGHLY prized in Tasmania.
Hec’s own family are the fruits of a Life Time in pigeoneering and present a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY to anyone to obtain pigeons that have featured in the placings from the first to last races.
This sale consisted of 122 Lots, which included, 74 Birds, 1 Lot of Fantails, 1 S.T.B Clock, 2 Lots of 12 Bird Baskets, 1 Training Basket, 7 Lots of Nest Bowls – (27), 5 Feed Bins, and other items which included, Books, Magazines, Thimbles, Sieves, Hoppers, Baths, Basket Lining, Wire Mesh 2 Metres, A Grit Crusher, Drinkers and Feeders etc. From this Sale the total amount raised was, $2,270 and 65 Cents
It was very pleasing to see that the Victorian Homing Association acknowledged the outstanding contribution that Mr McNeill, gave to the Pigeon Fraternity in Melbourne by honouring him with the annual presentation of ;
“The Hec McNeill Trophy – Presented to the Winner of the 10 Bird Special Race”
Donated in honour of the late Hec McNeill, who was V.H.A Press Correspondent over many years. He would submit VHA race results to, “THE AGE NEWSPAPER”, for printing on a Monday and was also a great contributor to the Australian Pigeon Magazine during the 1950 to 1970 era.
In concluding my article, I would like to end with Hector McNeill’s own words, which are rather haunting, being in a sense, becoming his own Prophesy. When people ask about Hector McNeill, people say who is he? This has happened to myself many times and I am aware that Mr Leo Turley of W.A, a very close friend and correspondent of letter exchanges, with Hec, for many years, had the same response when he enquired from Fanciers many years ago.
Many people would be unaware of the vast amounts of personal correspondents that Hec wrote to enquiring minds such as Juniors, Novices and his many older fancier friends. At the peak of his articles it was not uncommon for him to receive over the course of a year, 500 or more letters. Which he would personally reply to at his own expense, to keep his friends updated and to also assist people by providing them with sound advice they sought in regards to any issues they encountered, they needed to fix or solve.
These words of advice could be gleaned from this older experienced fancier.
“July 1970 – It is surprising how many old people are quickly forgotten. Many of these in our sport have been instrumental in starting many new fanciers by giving gift birds and advice. Many old fanciers would enjoy a visit from fanciers and have a chat over happenings of times gone by and of the news in our sport today.
Perhaps it is the Jet age we are now living in.
Everyone seems to be in a hurry and every minute of the day is used up. I visit Bill Hort, an old member of the Richmond Club at least once a month. He had to give up his birds owing to ill health, and now he and his wife have a lot of time on their hands. I am sure he would be glad to see any of his clubmates and have a chat about the birds”.
I encourage everyone to take heed of the above words of the True Blue – Scot, Hector McNeill.
Affectionately known by all as, “HEC”……