When Catherine Hoe visited Gunnedah for the unveiling of Nurse Annie Egan’s memorial in Anzac Park last November, she made many connections to the community her aunt grew up in.
Recently a picture popped up on her Instagram feed from Mittagong Antique Centre of a bookie’ bag that once belonged to bookmaker Richard (Dick) O’ Young – and she immediately “thought of you folk at Gunnedah”.
“What a beauty,” she wrote in an email to Gunnedah and District Historical Society. “Does anyone know of R. O’Young?”
Of course, we do – Dick O’Young and his family played a prominent role in the town’s commercial history, with Dick’s father Alec Luke O’Young opening Gunnedah’s first Chinese restaurant and the first Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store (supermarket).
The shop next door was extended to include fresh fruit and vegetables, with Dick making home deliveries in an old 1929 Chev. Dick’s sister Ruth later opened a photographic studio in the shop adjoining O’Young’s Cash ‘n’ Carry.
He also grew tobacco and raced greyhounds, and Dick gained his bookmaker’s licence.
Born in Gunnedah on May 22, 1922, he was the youngest child in a family of five. He was two-years-old when his mother Bertha Choi died and his father later married Gladys (she was known around town as Aunty O’Young), who took on the care of Dick and his sisters Ruth, Marjorie, Grace and Eileen.
Dick’s father owned a store that sold haberdashery, groceries and fruit. The shop continued to support the family during the war and the depression, producing vegetables in the family market garden for the army camps in the area.
Gladys O’Young made sure that the children received a good education – Dick went to Gunnedah Public School and St Mary’s College before boarding at De La Salle College in Armidale.
Luke and Bertha O’Young came to Australia in the early 1900s and travelled a winding road to Gunnedah – via Adelaide, Warren and Sydney – purchasing a store owned by Peter Num Chang and retaining the name.
Luke died in 1946 and Dick became the buyer travelling to Haymarket in Sydney to purchase produce at the markets which was then railed to Gunnedah.
The Bamboo Café was opened by Gladys O’Young, who was regarded as a very astute businesswoman and with Dick helping, the café was open seven days a week with midnight closing on Friday and Saturday nights.
The restaurant changed hands in the early 1960s when Greek immigrants Peter and Chris Psimaris took over.
Dick then spent more time at his bookmaker’s stand with the familiar bag slung over his shoulder taking bets and changing odds on the board – always with a big smile on his face.
Dick’s family always had greyhounds, so it seemed natural to him to obtain a greyhound licence when they started racing at Wolseley Park. He later gained his bookmaker’s licence for horse racing and became a familiar face around the racing circuit as he followed the races all over the northwest.
He was a keen sportsman in his youth taking up tennis and rugby league playing for the Blues in the local competition between the town workers – the West End team was called the Rainbow Lorikeets.
Dick played in the Spicer Cup after the war and in his position as half-back, caught the eye of selectors who picked him for the Country side – described as ‘a one-man fitness campaign playing in every possible position’.
In cricket he played as opening batsman for Gunnedah with the late Frank O’Keefe, and was proficient at swimming and later turned his attention to golf.
Dick had no desire to travel – one trip to Hong Kong in 1946 was enough to convince him that the place of his birth held everything he needed.
His sister Ruth devoted her life to helping immigrants and was awarded an OAM and an MBE. In China Town she was known as Kai Ma – benevolent godmother.
When Dick died in January 2006, the news was met with wide regret. The Anglican Church overflowed for the funeral service with memories shared of an unforgettable treasure of this small country town.