It's dark outside the historic Inglis sale ring at Australia's most famous thoroughbred auction site. But the old fig tree nearby, whose shade has graced this Newmarket yard in Sydney's Randwick for more than a century, is draped with fairy lights, and inside the ring there is colour and movement aplenty as waitresses weave through the crowd offering glasses of Veuve Clicquot.
The guests who have braved the inclement weather on this gusty, wet April 2017 evening include many of the racing world's elite. Bart Cummings' grandson James and his wife Monica are here, as are Tom and Sophie Magnier of Coolmore Stud fame, and John and Fran Ingham, owners of the largest breeding and racing operation in Australia. They're just a few of the hundreds invited to celebrate William Inglis & Son's 150 years, and its 112 years here in this sprawling horse-hub only 10 minutes' drive east of Sydney's CBD.
The strong winds and rain in no way dampen the enthusiasm of the revellers, who are already aware that this isn't just a celebration but also the beginning of bittersweet goodbyes to this iconic landmark. Newmarket has been sold for some $280 million for redevelopment into apartments and shops, so that the Inglis dynasty can spread its wings to Riverside Stables, a new, state-of-the-art, $140 million thoroughbred auction complex at Warwick Farm in Sydney's west.
For the extended Inglis clan, this evening is a momentous occasion. Only a few days earlier, the final big Easter sale was held on the site. Tonight the remaining unsold horses wait, their fate to be decided the next day when they too go under the hammer. Their new owners will be buying into the racing dream, hoping to produce – who knows? – the next Black Caviar.
But there's something else in the night air, an unspoken sorrow which does not manifest itself until the company's chairman, John Coates, climbs the stage to speak about the key players in this still predominantly family-run firm.
He introduces several of the Inglis circle, including deputy chairman Arthur Inglis, 61, the fifth-generation male to be involved in the running of the business, his wife Charlotte, 50, "and their two beautiful daughters", Antoinette, 16, and Alexandra, 11.
As Charlotte, Arthur and the two girls come forward, a silence descends, in recognition of the stark absence of the couple's third and eldest daughter, Olivia. The gentle and beautiful 17-year-old was killed in a cross-country eventing tragedy in March 2016. It was the second life-changing accident to strike this close-knit family.
Coates delivers his speech with grace but, for a moment, a pall of sadness hangs in the room. Then, as suddenly as it's there, it's gone, swept into the night by the cheerful sounds of Kate Ceberano and her band. The crowd as one starts to applaud.
It's late November 2017 and we're sitting in the elegant living room of Charlotte and Arthur Inglis's home in the Southern Highlands of NSW. The 26-hectare estate includes a 1880s cottage, originally the schoolhouse for the area. There's the main house, which was built at the turn of the century, an equestrian arena, stables and a lake, all surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens.
We've been speaking for an hour or so, mainly about the move from Newmarket to the new premises at Riverside, until gradually we approach the unapproachable: Olivia's death at the NSW Eventing Championships in March 2016, which until now the family has never discussed publicly.
"Would you like to talk first?" Arthur asks Charlotte, gently. I'm struck, not for the first time, by what a kind man he seems to be.
Charlotte, petite and attractive, nods. Instantly her eyes are bright with tears – but she's sure of herself as well, determined to tell the story.
[Olivia] was the easiest-going, most self-effacing person I've ever known.- Charlotte Inglis
" 'No blame.' That's what Arthur said when he arrived at the accident site a few minutes after me," she recalls. "I was distraught with grief and it was my first reaction to apologise to him for the fact that I'd encouraged her to ride. But he simply said 'no blame', and that has become the philosophy we have tried to live with since the accident." All three of us are quiet for a moment.
Charlotte and her three girls had left their Sydney home early on the Friday morning for the drive to the upper Hunter Valley town of Scone, the location of the NSW Eventing Championships. The trip took them close to six hours, and the weather was scorching in Scone, reaching the mid-30s.
At 17, Olivia was one of the youngest members of the NSW eventing squad. Olivia and Coriolanus, her horse partner of four years, a 16-hands-high off-the-track thoroughbred, had qualified more than six times to compete at the 2016 NSW Championships. Olivia had already ridden him at the Melbourne International three-day and Sydney International three-day events, and competed him at almost every cross-country course in NSW.
It was a natural progression for a child who'd started pony club at five, and was competing at a state level from the age of seven. The Inglises are among a handful of families privileged enough to have their own cross-country course at home.
Eventing is without doubt the toughest equestrian discipline on both horse and rider, incorporating as it does all three main Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping and cross-country. Graded as "stars", there are only six four-star events around the world, including one in Australia, the Adelaide International three-day event. Olivia was jumping at a two-star level (four-star events are one above Olympic standard and a single star is the first international grade).
"There would only be 10 or so children in Australia of Olivia's age jumping in two-star," Charlotte says. "In over 28 official starts together in the cross-country, Olivia and Coriolanus had only ever had one error. It was different in the show jumping – [Coriolanus] could be a little clumsy, but out on the cross-country course he was absolutely at his best."
After Charlotte and the girls arrived in Scone that Friday, their first job was to settle in the five horses. With all three daughters competing, and Olivia and Antoinette riding two different horses at different levels, it was always going to be a busy weekend. Arthur was arriving after work to join them.
"During the drive in the truck the girls had been watching a DVD about core memories called Inside Out," Charlotte says. "It's something I've held on to, that all of Olivia's core memories were to do with her family and her horses. We truly never missed a moment of her life – all she ever wanted to do was to be with us and her beloved horses. I'm sure all sporting parents will know how difficult it can be to teach your own child, but that wasn't the case with Olivia. She was the easiest-going, most self-effacing person I've ever known. I'd told her only a short time before that she was honestly riding better than I ever had."
By Sunday March 6, Alexandra and Antoinette were already placing well in their divisions on their respective horses, with the cross-country yet to come. Charlotte walked the course with Olivia and was concerned about several of the jumps.
"Before Olivia started, Arthur put the studs in Coriolanus's shoes and he legged her up," recalls Charlotte. "Before she rode away, Antoinette handed her up her own crop and said good luck to her. I walked with her to the warm-up area, warmed her up and watched her jump the few jumps of the course, which included some open-airy fences. They were great – very fluid.
"Then she went out of view. She should have come back into view for jump 10, and I was waiting with the marshal in the warm-up area when it came across the radio that there had been a fall at number eight. I knew it had to be her."
Mathew Bates, the technical delegate, was at the marshalling area and offered Charlotte a lift to the incident. As he did so, he received a message on his radio from the fence judge that the fall was serious. "Very serious," Charlotte says. "I had panic running through my body. I called Arthur, who was waiting by the water jump for her to come through, and he started running towards the fence. I got there just before him, and there she was, lying on the ground."
At that point, no one knew Olivia was already gone. "I looked at her and asked, 'Is she dead?' " For a brief second, hope fluttered when the paramedic told Charlotte there was a pulse. "But she'd ruptured her pulmonary artery," Charlotte says, "and really, later on, our only consolation was that it would have been instantaneous."
By now Charlotte is crying. Arthur comes over to the sofa to lay a protective hand on her. It must be agony for them.
The terrible truth is that nobody will ever know exactly what happened. There was only one person – the fence judge – at the jump, who watched Olivia clear the first part of the two-part combination. As she lowered her head to mark it off, she heard a crash. At first it was assumed that the horse had fallen on her. But, says Charlotte, Olivia "had no extensive bruising to suggest that would be the case, and if he had fully rotated, her saddle would have been completely broken, but it was undamaged". The cause of death will be the subject of an investigation by the NSW Coroner's Court this year.
For Arthur and Charlotte, for all the months of soul-searching they've lived with, there was a contributing factor to the fall's tragic outcome. "These days collapsible technology over cross-country jumps is accepted everywhere," says Arthur, who is tall and thin with grey hair. "The frangible pins that allow the jumps to collapse are literally lifesaving devices, and in my opinion they need to become compulsory in eventing in Australia."
A few days after Olivia's death, Equestrian NSW – with the agreement of Arthur and Charlotte – established the Olivia Inglis Scholarship Fund to help fund young riders in training and competition, and soon after Equestrian Australia began its own inquiry into Olivia's death and into safety in Australian eventing. Geoff Sinclair was the assistant technical delegate in eventing at the 2016 Rio Olympics and a member of the FEI Risk Management Steering Group, a global group that oversees Equestrian Australia.
There has been a shift regarding safety, he says. "In December we announced that we were making the use of approved FEI frangible devices mandatory from February 1  on all fences in one-, two-, three- and four-star courses where the materials for the jump fit the specifications for the use of those devices."
Sinclair believes the extraordinary growth and change of the sport is part of the problem. "The number of participants and consequently the number of fences jumped has doubled in the past 10 years," Sinclair says. "Even so, horse falls have been continually declining." He says Equestrian Australia is trialling an Irish computer program, Equirating, which can identify trouble spots for horse and rider. "If you like, we have a system of green, amber and red flags, which can identify possible areas where a horse or rider might get into difficulty." This program would probably have been irrelevant in Olivia's case, as she and Coriolanus had only ever made a single error.
Olympic gold medallist and master eventer Stuart Tinney rejects any suggestion that Olivia wasn't qualified at her age to be jumping at a two-star level.
"Charlotte is an excellent trainer, and as Olivia grew up she had access to some wonderful coaches and training," he says. "Coriolanus was a nice horse: one that would try, be open to training, and had a nice attitude. She had been training at that level for a very long time and they had a strong partnership.
"I think, if anything good is to come from this, it will be a progressive attitude and changes to increase safety in eventing generally."
In the Equestrian Australia report, no less than 34 points of contention have been identified with the course and the co-ordination of the event, the accident and emergency responses, and the way safety was handled.
In the desperate moments after the accident, a close family friend led Coriolanus back to their truck. It wasn't hard to spot that the animal's neck was at a strange angle. He was taken to Scone Equine Hospital, where an X-ray revealed that he had a neck fracture.
"We so wanted him to recover and come home to live out his days with us," Charlotte says, "but it wasn't to be. The injury was too severe, and we had to make the decision to euthanise him."
For those outside the industry, this can often seem brutal. Anyone involved with horses knows well the litany of disasters that can happen at any moment, and both Charlotte and Arthur, with their horse backgrounds, were only too aware of the dangers.
Charlotte, a Level 1 Equestrian Australia coach, grew up in the small town of Pahiatua, on New Zealand's North Island, and always wanted to ride. Encouraged by her mother, her aunt and a close family friend, she was given a pony for her eighth birthday. "We lived three kilometres away from her," Charlotte says, "so I used to bicycle there every day with the saddle and bridle on the back, and that was the start of it all."
Ponies led to horses and then a life full of show jumping, eventing and hunting, riding for her area and then at a national level. Charlotte later completed degrees in business and Japanese language. In 1992 she started her own riding school based at Centennial Park in Sydney's east, and it wasn't surprising, given their mutual interests, that Charlotte and Arthur's paths would cross. The couple met at what Arthur cheerfully calls "a set-up dinner" at a friend's house in 1995, and they married in 1997.
Arthur was immersed in the world of sales and horses from an early age, and grew up in the historic Newmarket homestead, which had been bought by his grandfather and namesake in 1917 for £50,000.
"When I was little I hung around the stables, and as soon as I was old enough I was helping to make feeds and fill waters," says Arthur. "After I finished school I went to work in the accounts department. I was earning $58.20 a week and probably should have been paying them." He went on to complete a commerce degree and an MBA.
"When my father, John, was growing up he would ride his pony all over the sand hills to Maroubra Beach," says Arthur. "People rode horses everywhere. Now there's not a horse between Newmarket and the stables at Centennial Park.
"At the same time, people's expectations of what they'll get at a sale have increased a thousand-fold. It used to be a cup of tea and a scone, now it's wagyu and French champagne. People want a restaurant and a cafe, and corporate hospitality boxes.
"It's the way of the world, and as a company we needed to embrace the growth, hard as it was to make the decision that we needed to sell the Newmarket site. We had become out of context with our environment – squeezed as we were between a hospital and a university."
It wasn't, as Sydneysiders know, an uncontroversial decision, but William Inglis & Son was careful to lock into the original development application that the heritage-listed barn and historic homestead, the numerous Moreton Bay fig trees and a certain percentage of open space be retained by the developer before they submitted the land for sale.
Cbus Property, the developer which bought the site for a rumoured $280 million, has taken care to pay homage to the history of the site, but there's no doubt that the addition of the townhouses and apartments, the shopping mall, the restaurants and the cafes, spell the end for the last residue of a rural life in this area. The famous sale ring will be turned into an outdoor play area.
Back in what seems now to be the relatively simple days of the mid-1990s, there was no doubt that Arthur and Charlotte were a glamorous addition to the Sydney social scene – involved, in one way or another, in almost every aspect of the Australian equestrian industry.
Little did anybody know that a first, almost fatal accident would soon strike the family. In 2001, when Olivia was almost three and Antoinette 10 months, Nick Moraitis, the owner of Might and Power, borrowed Charlotte's horse-truck to take the famous 1997 Melbourne Cup winner on a "celebrity tour". An electrical fire in its cabin forced it off the road, and somehow in the chaos of removing the champion horse from the vehicle, a pin that was part of the mechanism that operated the gas struts for the hydraulic ramp was not replaced.
"When the truck came back six weeks later, I was taking a horse to my first dressage competition post Antoinette's birth. I walked around the back to undo the bolts of the door and the whole 280 kilograms of the tailgate smashed down on me," says Charlotte. "I was literally concertinaed."
Charlotte's ankle joints, her fibulas and tibulas in her legs were broken, as was her pelvis in 10 places and her spine in three. The first question she asked her surgeon before going into surgery for four hours – to be followed by a 10½-hour operation eight days later after her internal bleeding had stopped – was whether would she be okay to ride in the National Dressage Championships in three months' time.
"It took a while to sink in that I would be lucky to walk again, let alone ride," she says. "I really hadn't taken on board how badly I'd been hurt."
For the couple, it was the start of a life-changing year. "We were extremely lucky that Charlotte's surgeon happened to be Andreas Loeffler, a highly experienced orthopaedic surgeon," says Arthur. "Without his expertise it could have been a very different outcome, but it wasn't easy.
"I was looking after Antoinette so much she started calling me Mum. On one memorable day Olivia went missing for a while because she went to find Charlotte in the hospital."
Gradually Charlotte recovered, although the plates are a permanent addition to her body – she has 10 in her pelvis, one in her back and one in her right leg, which also has a 30-degree bow. Her rehabilitation took a full year, although she will never be fully free of pain.
Alexandra, born five years later, was, says Charlotte, "a miracle baby". With virtually none of her original pelvis left, and a plate across the birth canal, it was decided from the start that a caesarean was necessary. Alexandra came "through the sunroof", in Charlotte's words.
A few years after the accident, the couple bought a weekender in the Southern Highlands. When Olivia reached high-school age and Alexandra school-age, they decided to make the rural house their full-time home, with Arthur commuting 90 minutes to work in Sydney.The complications of being a full-on horse family in the city had begun to weigh on them, and during the early years of their family life in Randwick they had faced a tough schedule.
The next five years after their permanent move to the Southern Highlands were, they both say, golden years. At work the expansion of William Inglis & Son was becoming a serious possibility. Mark Webster, the first managing director to be appointed outside the family, came from News Corp, bringing with him the vision the company needed to take the already highly successful auctioneering business, with its site in Melbourne and its yearly sales at Scone, into the next generation. The business began to plan its move to Riverside, next to the Warwick Farm racecourse, with its own hotel, state-of-the-art stables, facilities and sale ring.
It says a lot about the sheer determination and grit of the Inglis family that Antoinette wanted to continue eventing after Olivia's death. Her parents initially gave her permission to but, after 19-year-old Caitlyn Fischer's death at the Sydney International Horse Trialson April 29, 2016 – a course Antoinette had only ridden around 20 minutes before – the family made the decision that the girls would concentrate on show jumping and dressage from then on. "We did allow her to do her interschools championship, which she won, and that's when we bowed out," Charlotte says.
After the death of the two teenage girls, Canberra businessman, billionaire and philanthropist Terry Snow, 65, owner of the 350-hectare equestrian showcase Willinga Park at Bawley Point on the south coast of NSW, came forward with $250,000 to put into eventing safety. Snow, who had only taken up riding and breeding stockhorses in later life, had met Olivia when the Inglis family went for a tour of his property. He was determined to help prevent future tragedies wherever possible. Equestrian Australia's Making Eventing Safer Fund is distributing $45,000 to every state to support the roll out of frangible devices at all EA events across Australia, with the funding to be matched by state eventing committees.
"I just wanted to make sure we are doing our utmost to ensure young people in the sport are competing in as safe an environment as possible," Snow told the Canberra Times in December 2016.
Says Sinclair: "For Equestrian Australia the biggest thing is what can we do to help prevent accidents in the future. Thanks to the Inglises and Terry Snow's financial support, what we want to work towards is to become world-class leaders in safety."
In an emotional twist to the story, Equestrian Australia announced that frangible devices would be mandatory from February 1, 2018 on December 11, which would have been Olivia's 19th birthday.
The future is something neither Olivia nor Caitlyn Fischer have. For Charlotte and Arthur, the months following Olivia's death were a strange twilight time, with both of them living in a dual world of grief and growth. "At the same time we were dealing with Olivia's death, we were also planning the move into the new house," says Arthur, "and, of course Riverside Stables was building momentum. I was going to the site almost daily, involved in thousands of decisions: finishes for the rooms, the old wood coming from Randwick to go into the new restaurant. In many ways it was a great thing to have something to concentrate on, but it also wasn't easy."
What Webster observed was that, as the complex began to take shape, Arthur's strength as a family spokesperson began to assert itself.
"It seemed to me that Arthur sensed he had an important role to play in creating a legacy for our company, the racing industry and his family," says Webster, a horseman himself. "What we all took on board was that we were wanting to build something that would last the next 100 years. At the same time, I often wondered how he was coping with his work and the loss of Olivia. He has shown great strength of character."
In the days following Olivia's death, her stunned friends took to social media, inviting people to submit photos of themselves with horses, with the hashtag #RideForOlivia. "We were amazed by the result," says Charlotte. "It reached 30 million people worldwide. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for us, and yet, at the same time of course it meant even more daily reminders of our girl."
In the past six months the changes have continued apace. The Newmarket site is a ghost of its former self, the horses and their handlers all gone, while Riverside Stables and the William Inglis Hotel, named after the Inglis business founder, are getting ready for their "soft" opening. A wedding conference will be held at the end of January, before the first thoroughbred sale is held at the new premises on February 10.
Visiting Riverside with Arthur on the way down to the family's Southern Highlands property, I'm there for the arrival of the door handles for the hotel: two beautiful bronze horses, a theme that will be repeated throughout the complex. Everywhere there are echoes of Newmarket: in the sculpted fig trees, in the recreation of the big old barn complete this time with airconditioning and sliding stable panels, and with each hotel room, which are themed after some of the superstars – Bernborough, Luskin Star and the great Might and Power – that once strutted their stuff around the old Newmarket ring.
Birth. Death. Renewal.
It seems as if the family has been surrounded by the life force to create and continue amid their grief. Only seven weeks after Olivia's death, Charlotte lost her mother to leukaemia. "None of us, including my mother, knew she had it," she says. "In the end, what has pulled us through all of this is our two beautiful girls – you put one foot in front of the other, and life goes on."
Whilst staying with the family in their Southern Highlands home, Alexandra tells me she'll be up early in the morning to work with a horse. At 5.30am I get up and wander through the chilly early morning mist, where there she is indeed, part of this extraordinary family of horse men and horse women, whose lives are defined, in their different ways, by their continuing passion for these majestic animals.
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