My Years Working on the old Electro-Mechanical Totalisator (Totalizator US)

A few stories and history of my early years as a Mechanic, on the old ATL Melbourne Tote (Australia Circa 1976+) By Don McKenzie 

My Years Of Service
I started with ATL Melbourne on the 16th-Jan-1976, and retired with TABcorp on the 29th-Sep-1999. During this period, my job description went from “Tote Mechanic” to “Senior Systems Engineer”. 

Whenever I was asked how long I worked on the tote, I always said 25 years, as it was an easy answer. After doing the calculations for this article, I see it was really 23 years, 8 months, and a bit. So I am really short 15 months, and a bit. OK, it was a white lie. You know what a white lie is? When Bill Clinton pointed his finger down the barrel of a TV camera and said “I did not have sex with that woman”, he told a white lie, and the people of America believed him. OK, would you believe they forgave him. That was also about a little bit. 

If I spend another 15 and a bit months completing  this article, perhaps I can really say, “I worked on the tote for 25 years”.
These days, you will find me running my Internet based Microcontroller Products Company at


Top Photo: 
Totalisators at Flemington racecourse, Melbourne Victoria. There are 146 (J6 TIM) totalisator issuing machines operating at Flemington Date : 1945

Bottom Photo:
Julius ticket machine for ‘forecast’ bets on greyhound races, c 1933. The totalisator at Haringey greyhound racing stadium in the U.K., was a full-scale Julius machine installed three years after the stadium opened in 1927. It remained in use until the stadium closed in 1987.

I intend looking at and reporting only the early years, the electro-mechanical days, of the Julius Tote systems in Victoria. This is the history that will vanish very quickly if someone like me doesn’t record it now. Mention is made of the later day terminals, but I’ll try and keep the scope of this article to my earliest, and best memories. There will be inaccuracies in my accounts, as my memory for names and places, isn’t what it used to be. I don’t mind anyone passing on any information, or making corrections, grammar, spelling or otherwise, and I am more than prepared to add any words from anyone associated with the old electro-mechanical totes in Victoria, or Interstate for that matter. Even if you want to write a small article yourself, I’ll add it to this archive. Any pictures of the old tote gear, the tote houses, and the staff, is lacking badly, so if anyone wishes to scan photos and send them to me, I know I’ll be able to make good use of them.  

If you ask ten people who were present at an event 30 years ago, about that event, you will get ten very different answers. The real truth will be a blend of those ten stories. This is Don McKenzie’s version of the history of the Tote. It can be changed. Please,  just drop me an email, and tell me your version.
I reserve the right to edit any text that may be presented to me, as I don’t wish to paint too big a negative picture of any individual. ATL, the TAB, and Individuals, all have skeletons in their closets, and once you put anything on a web page, it is in concrete, and people will believe it, even if it isn’t true. To tell any sort of funny, or interesting story about a person may mean painting some sort of negative picture about that person, but that is about as far as I wish to go. 

I have found that I have had to bite my lip, and back off in certain areas. I may even find the need to edit a little more as this article grows. I’m sure the descendants of any tote staff mentioned, don’t want to read about Grandma, or Grandpa displaying very bad signs of any anti-social behavior, during their years on the tote.

Prologue January 1976. I’m 32 years old and in between jobs so to speak. Working as a radio operator at Silver Top Taxis in Melbourne, when I get the call from ATL to join the team. I had just completed a job interview with Frank Dowdle the Chief Engineer, and Peter Kenyon the Victorian Branch Manager, and it looks like I convinced them that my mechanical and electronics knowledge is up to scratch, and that I am the right sort of person to enhance the technical group.
I know ATL is in the middle of a transitional period of development, and are moving into fully computerized systems that I want to be part of. I know I have to effectively do another apprenticeship, up though the ranks of the electro-mechanical operation, before I can get a start in the computer side of things. The other 1959 P.M.G. boys, now have a 10 or 11 years start on me.
As I had driven taxis for two years on what was called a hungry shift, that is, 7 nights a week for 12 hours a night, and had been a Brick Layers labourer for a short period, I didn’t see anything that ATL could throw at me, as being any sort of a hurdle.
I knew ATL would throw plenty of hours at me, and a wheel barrow load of money each week. What I didn’t know was that the electro-mechanical era was more akin to working as a mechanic on a motor vehicle. I found out why the old boys wore grey dust coats to protect their normal race day clothing, as the printers ink got into everything.
But the bottom line is, I really enjoyed these early years, the electro-mechanical equipment, and the people I worked with. I hope it shows up in the telling of these stories.

Read the Full Story at:

This entry was posted in Electronics News. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *