Greyhound racing fans and industry insiders, particularly around the Gippsland region, will be more than familiar with the surname – Lieshout.
For several decades, Eddie and Mary Lieshout’s Parumba Stud was at the forefront of greyhound breeding in Australia.
And, with good reason, given the couple’s vanguard approach, and quest to broaden Australian bloodlines, frequently importing greyhounds from the United States.
The Lieshout’s picturesque property in Drouin, west Gippsland, is where their prominent greyhound sire Shining Chariot (Chariot Supreme x Shining Light) stood, commencing his stud life in the late 1980s.
Covering more than 1100 brood matrons, Shining Chariot would advance and help shape the quality of Australian greyhound racing for generations to come.
Additionally, Mary and Eddie have both been very successful greyhound trainers, while simultaneously working and managing their extensive farming interests, and Eddie is still training plenty of winners today.
Eddie and Mary’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable, especially considering Eddie left school at age 12.
By today’s standards that is not only illegal, but it’s a situation that presents an impossible prospect for anyone to contemplate.
How could someone in that situation ever go on to live a successful life as an adult?
But that is what Eddie did. From incredibly humble beginnings, milking cows as a young boy on a stud farm in Berwick, failure is something that never crossed Eddie’s mind, and he would go on to marry Mary, at the age of just 19.
“All Mary wants to do is go the races and catch dogs and she loves talking to people! She is always going through the form guides in advance working out which greyhounds she would like to catch.”
Eddie told me, “Once I got a job, I thought, now we can get married, that’s just what you did in those days, and I was up at four o’clock in the morning, seven days a week.”
The first ten years of Eddie and Mary’s lives together was consumed by farming and milking cows, and the couple moved to Yannathan, 75 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, which according to Eddie, “was great dairy country.”
The couple’s first decade together would also welcome their five children – William, Glenn, Debbie, Jenny and Kerrie. Tragically, Eddie and Mary would lose Glenn at a very young age.
The early-to-mid seventies was when the Lieshouts purchased what can only be described as a piece of heaven – a beautiful acreage amongst rolling hills just outside the township of Drouin, where the couple still lives today.
Interestingly, it was Mary who initially had an interest in greyhounds ahead of her husband Eddie in the early days.
However, Eddie recalled that it was Mary’s brother Lloyd that was the real catalyst for what would become such a significant aspect of their lives.
“Mary’s brother had a greyhound brood matron that he wanted to breed with and he approached Mary and I on our dairy farm, as he lived in Melbourne and didn’t have enough room for a litter of puppies.”
“So he drove to our farm to visit and said to Mary, ‘You have this great big farm, why couldn’t you breed a litter of pups? What do you reckon, we can go half each?’”
Eddie remembered how he was reluctant and couldn’t stop smiling as he recalled his response… “Yeah, that would be blooming right, one moment we have a litter of pups and the next thing, there will be a hundred dogs running around here’… but Lloyd said ‘no, no, no, just the one litter of pups, really.”
“So sure enough, before we knew it, we had twelve puppies in the house didn’t we.”
Eddie and Mary looked at each other laughing as they reminisced about their first litter, and Eddie added “But that was okay.”
However, almost two years later (in the early eighties) there was an enormous collapse of the dairy industry, and Eddie pointed out exactly how hard things became on the land.
“We were trying to live and run a whole dairy farm off fifty bucks a week… it was tough, but we stuck it out.”
“People got to know us, and eventually we did end up with about a hundred dogs on our farm.”
“A lot of people were under enormous pressure back then, and Australian agriculture was in real crisis. So much so, that many folks were just walking away from their farms,” Eddie said.
Eddie and Mary were approached to buy a livestock business, and to start with Eddie was hesitant, however over time he decided to go ahead with the purchase.
“For a period we got right out of greyhounds, and although the livestock business was very successful, it was a lot of hard work. I had incredible trouble obtaining labour, and Mary and I were doing a lot of the physical slog on our own,” Eddie recalled.
In the late 1980s Mary was training about half a dozen greyhounds and somehow managed to divide her time between children, assisting Eddie around the farm and racing. Arising from the rural hardship, a golden period in Eddie and Mary’s life had begun.
Greyhounds such as Wortha Knight, Brilliant Chief and Sandi’s Me Mum were all significant performers trained by Mary, and there was a period where she would train a Free for All winner almost every week.
Wortha Knight (Busy Vintage x Worthago) was a Greyhound Of The Year at Sale and Sandi’s Me Mum (Red Swinger x Sandilock) won the G2 Laurels Classic in 1989 at Sandown Park by five lengths, from box eight, earning just over $170,000 during her career.
Upon her retirement in 1991, Sandi’s Me Mum, was the highest stakes earning female greyhound in Australia.
Things were looking great for the Lieshouts, with the incredibly successful greyhound sire Shining Chariot standing at their property, and Mary’s kennel was thriving and delivering classic winners while their farming interests had also strengthened.
But then an almighty blow would strike the couple down, and it was Mary that bore the brunt of a shocking near fatal setback.
WATCH: The Eddie Lieshout-trained Shango Run (4) winning a race at Warragul in February.
“I never smoked, I never drank and I never suffered from headaches,” Mary told me, matter-of-factly.
Yet, Eddie’s voice started to quiver as the couple retold the circumstances surrounding Mary’s sudden collapse with a brain aneurysm, more than 21 years ago.
A family birthday celebration was in full swing at the Lieshouts farm when Mary was discovered unconscious on the floor. She was transported by ambulance to Warragul hospital, where Eddie was informed by emergency staff “this is not for us Eddie, she has to go to Melbourne.”
And, while Mary was waiting for the helicopter to take her to Melbourne, she took a dramatic turn for the worse. And, as Eddie started to describe to me what he witnessed his wife go through, he stopped short, still clearly upset, by what he saw. Fortunately, Mary was able to be airlifted to Melbourne where she underwent urgent cranial surgery to save her life.
“Just like a kid, I had to grow right up again,” Mary said.
She had to learn so many aspects of life’s basic skills all over again, and for about six months Eddie would drive from Gippsland to Melbourne every day to see Mary and watch her progress.
According to Eddie, “For the first three years after Mary’s aneurysm it was murder. When we got married, I said to Mary, can you read and write? Then I’ll do the rest. After the aneurysm Mary couldn’t read or write, she would want to say something and she couldn’t get it out.”
Mary did collapse at home again, passing out unconscious, however this time it was in front of Eddie and a visiting council health care worker.
Eddie rolled Mary on her side, about five minutes passed by and her eyes started to blink and then strangely she got up!
“It is a funny world, this is, I’ll tell you,” proclaimed Eddie.
Mary did go on to receive further medical attention that day, and the ambulance officers asked her many questions, and her recollections came and went.
Mary would eventually return to the races, and many race clubs and fellow greyhound trainers are familiar with her absolute joy in catching greyhounds.
According to Eddie, “All Mary wants to do is go the races and catch dogs and she loves talking to people! She is always going through the form guides in advance working out which greyhounds she would like to catch,” he said.
Mary added: “I love doing that, I love seeing the dogs and catching greyhounds gets me out of the house and with greyhound racing, I’m always looking forward to something.”
In 2017, Aston Miley (Barcia Bale x Aston Elle), trained by Eddie, made the Group 1 Melbourne Cup final, a clear highlight in any greyhound trainer’s career, but perhaps more so to Eddie and Mary given all that they had been through.
Although Aston Miley did not win the Melbourne Cup, she was certainly an incredible metaphor for the couple’s ability to rise to the top.
Celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary last December, Eddie and Mary are now approaching their eighties. And as the husband-and-wife team reflected over their extraordinary lives together, it became obvious to me that greyhound racing has always given the couple hope for the future, and in many ways a reason to keep going, no matter how difficult life becomes.
If you stop and think what a 12-year-old school leaver and his childhood sweetheart could achieve – factoring in a near life-ending setback – well, clearly the odds are stacked against a successful outcome.
But that is what Eddie and Mary Lieshout have done… together they have beaten incredible odds.
WATCH: A Greyhounds Are My Life video on Mary Lieshout released in 2017.