Con “Chubby” Holloway
|Region:||South East Queensland|
Backing your judgement
By Grant Stockwell
With his sawn-off shotgun loaded, the hooded assailant lay in wait for the cashed-up bookmaker's return to his gated 4.5ha north-side estate.
Just as he did every Friday night upon his return from the Albion Park trots, the bookie pushed the remote control to open the electric gates that sealed the tree-lined driveway.
But on this night, Con "Chubby" Holloway knew something sinister was unfolding.
The gates again failed to open and as the car slowed to a standstill, a balaclava-clad bandit shoved his sawn-off shotgun through the open car window.
" 'Give me the bag with all the F..... money' were the first words he said," Chubby recalls.
"I told him the only money I had was in my pockets, I used to send my bookmaking bag and the money with the security van from the course.
"I was just lucky this night, I ran into a bloke who owed me some money just before the last race and he gave me about $3000 and that was all I had on me at the time."
After a struggle in which he was gangster-slapped across the head, Chubby escaped to bet another day. The very next day in fact.
My first recollection of Chubby Holloway also involved plenty of fear – all of it mine.
I remember hiding under the bed at my auntie's home paralysed with fear as the hulking man with the deep voice boasted how he ate little boys who took their shoes off.
In those days, I was a small boy in short pants with big dreams of making it big in the sport of Kings, an aspiration I shared with the big bloke whose frequent stopovers for lunch I dreaded.
A lot changed for the man I knew simply as Chubby and yours truly in the next three decades, not least my failure to become a champion jockey and him becoming one of Australia's most fearless and successful gamblers.
From humble beginnings as a scoundrel schoolboy on Cribb Island to the housing commission house he called his marital home, Chubby always gambled with fate – and more often than not he won. In his heyday as Brisbane's premier odds maker, he built a palatial home, drove limousines and travelled the world first class.
His luck afforded him every materialistic extravagance he dreamed of, but Con 'Chubby' Holloway's prosperity deserted him where it mattered most – his health.
While the walls still vibrate when the deep octaves rumble off his lips, the one-time man mountain is now a shadow of his former self.
He is battling chronic back pain and the debilitating effects of a heart transplant which has overcome countless cardiac arrests, and counts the hours between heavy doses of medication.
But Chubby is nothing if not a fighter – a fact not lost on his arch betting rivals and the scores of sorry souls he left in his wake on the floor of the Eagle Farm factory where he used to work with my uncle and father.
Then, Chubby was a typical Aussie larrikin - a man's man whose intimidating presence defied his generosity and gregarious personality.
Each morning he'd wheel by my uncle's house to pick him up on their way to Elders at Eagle Farm where they drudged away for $28 a week working as labourers.
When the kitty was on empty, Uncle John and Chubby would come home for lunch, devour a pile of corned beef and relish sandwiches and head back to work.
But when the weekly pay packet arrived, they'd head to the public bar at the Hamilton Hotel for a few beers, a few bets and whatever else came their way.
Chubby's penchant for a punt had grown since the day he plonked two bob on his first winner as a nine year old and his willingness to risk the last dollar would change his life forever.
"We went up to the pub and John said 'I'll buy you a beer Chub', I said I was right because I only had $8 and I couldn't return the shout because I wanted to have a bet," he recalls.
"A horse which I thought was a good thing was racing, it was the outsider so I had it in the treble with the field in the other two legs, it won, the treble paid $2600 and I was away."
Considering you could buy a house for a few hundred dollars at the time, Chubby had won a small fortune.
But with his wife Rose and three young kids at home, Chubby's fear of a losing streak drove him back to the old factory.
To his amazement, Lady Luck kept smiling and within 12 months he took out a bookmakers licence and would bet on the greyhounds, the harness racing and the gallopers.
"I thought you had to be a mathematical genius to be a bookmaker," he says. "I quickly worked out that wasn't the case, being a successful bookmaker is all about forming an opinion and backing your judgment."
And back his judgment he did.
His fortune was now opening doors he never would have knocked on. But a routine doctor's check-up uncovered life-threatening illness.
"There was a small mole on my shin, I thought it was a freckle but it was a melanoma. I was told it would have to be removed immediately or I would lose my leg in three months."
Worse was to follow. Doctors also discovered an irregular heart beat sparked by cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed.
With his name on the heart recipient list, Chubby went about his business turning over millions each year on the punt and almost two years later on the eve of his youngest son Paul's wedding in March 1999, his name came up.
His most prominent recollection is being more concerned about his son's wedding going ahead than the impending life-saving surgery.
"I couldn't get serious about it," he recalls.
In addition to his fight for life, Chubby had a law suit hanging over his head. A professional Sydney punter sued him for placing his bet on the wrong horse and 10 years after Chubby successfully defended the claim before racing stewards, the verdict was overturned in a civil court.
Illness forced his retirement from bookmaking in 1996, and Chubby's income declined.
The Sydney punter was offered a $90,000 settlement which he refused before a judge awarded him $108,000 plus court costs.
But bitterness doesn't enter Chubby's mind.
He's thankful for the wonderful times, his wife of 42 years Rose, his four children, 10 grandchildren and the long list of lifelong friends he has made.
"I wouldn't have got through it without the support of my wife Rose, we've been married for 42 years and she has been there for me through the good times and the bad".