ADMINISTRATOR AND BREEDER
Born Robert Graeme Cochran at Maryborough, Victoria in 1925, he is widely regarded as one of the leading administrators in harness racing over a long period of time when he oversaw unprecedented growth, sweeping change and innovation from a position of influence at both national and international levels.
Rising from a Government appointment as a member of the former Trotting Control Board Victoria in 1957 under Chairman Brigadier Duke Douglas Paine he became Chairman of the Board himself in 1972 replacing the Hon Russell White until 1984. Two fellow appointees in 1957 from the Royal Agricultural Society – Lindsay Nicholas and Graham Head – were to become life-long friends and harness racing/breeding enthusiasts.
In the international arena he first attended meetings of the Inter Dominion Harness Racing Council under President JP Stratton in 1957 and during 1973 to 1979 he occupied positions of Treasurer and Senior Vice President of the Council prior to being elected as President 1979-1984. In 1978 he became President of the International Trotting Association for two years when the World Conference was held in Perth. Previously he had attended World Conferences in 1975 (Oslo), and 1977 (Saratoga Springs) and after Perth in 1979, 1981 (Rome), and 1983 (New York). He was well known among major trotting administrators world-wide.
During his time on the Victorian Trotting Control Board major innovations were introduced to Victoria including Off Course Totalisator Betting, the change from standing start racing to mobile starting, Sires Stakes racing, Computerisation of Records, and the relocation of racing venue from the Showgrounds to the better dimensioned Moonee Valley track. His forward thinking also envisaged a further step to an industry homebase, and land was purchased in Keysborough for a 1,000m track with associated facilities. This was later sold when priorities changed, but it could be said the 2009 Melton complex has confirmed the vision.
One of Graeme Cochran's greatest attributes was his ability to foster new racing and technological ideas; the establishment of the Australian Grand Circuit, Freeze Branding, and Computerisation of Stud Book Records are just three examples of his successful leadership in major areas. Later still the establishment of the Australian Harness Racing Council in 1974 (under Sir Frank Ledger) out of the Inter Dominion Harness Racing Council was a much needed necessity. He served as Treasurer/Vice President of that new body from its formation and was voted in as President in 1979 until 1984.
The Cochran family was founded in Australia in the mid-1800's by William Cochran in the Ballarat area and by the first quarter of the 20th century each of his five sons had an interest of some sort in harness racing in the country districts of Victoria. One of his sons was Eric Cochran (b1890) and another Ronald Robert Cochran (b1896), the latter being the father of Graeme and a Pharmacist moving around country towns to the City of Melbourne and eventually settled pre WW2 at Healesville where in addition to owning and racing standardbreds successfully through the period 1947-1955 he became President of the Metropolitan and Country Trotting Association.
During the 1947-1955 period also, Graeme joined with his father in a partnership to successfully race their horses at the Showgrounds. In the mid 1940's both Eric Cochran and his brother Ron played a big role for the powerful forces that were pressing for the removal of proprietorship racing in Melbourne and for the establishment of a Trotting Control Board for Victoria which occurred in 1947.
Graeme Cochran was educated at Melbourne High School during the early years of WW2 and gained his Leaving Certificate (endorsed “With honours”). Outside school hours he joined an Air Training Corps program in preparation for joining the regular Air Force. He left school in 1941 and later enlisted in the RAAF at just eighteen years of age and served out the war as a Flight Sergeant/Pilot. After the War he furthered his education at the University of Melbourne obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree (Melb) in 1949, and later became a Fellow Certified Practising Accountant.
As a youthful horseman Graeme often visited the Mount Rowan farm near Ballarat owned by his uncle Eric Cochran where among many other winners Carlotta Redmond and her even better daughter the famous trotting mare Carlotta's Pride were bred. Eric Cochran had previously been a studmaster and at various times had stood the famous sires Louis Direct USA, Don Pronto USA, Roy Redmond USA and Lulu Boy on his property.
Mixing business with pleasure Graeme Cochran took his first accounting business position with Fookes and Company and then in 1952 became an associate of the accounting firm Thomas Hensell. The first practising management consultant in Australia, there is no doubt that Hensell put a young Graeme Cochran on the road to business success. Acquiring Hensell's business on his retirement a few years later, Graeme Cochran set about establishing and expanding the new management techniques then coming into vogue.
By 1961 and as a Director of the companies Brightford Cochran and Associates, Scientific Methods, Compensation International and other joint ventures these became the vehicles for introduction of new commercial knowledge from North America through Dr Robert Blake and Dr Jane Mouton whose techniques became very successful when introduced into Australia. The organization development pioneered by Blake and Mouton in those years through the “Managerial Grid” techniques are still basic standard techniques among management consultants in thirty eight countries (2005).
After 1984 Graeme Cochran followed his uncle Eric Cochran into the breeding ranks and within a few years in partnership with his fellow Board member Lindsay Nicholas (of the well know (Aspro) family) they had become leading standardbred breeders in Australia (Borambola Stud at Benalla). Previously in 1977 they had imported the successful North American sires Bye and Large and Golden Money Maker and it is from a Bye and Large mare (Shakira) bred by Graeme Cochran that culminated in his breeding the champion pacer Shakamaker (F1995) winner of the 2000 $1million Inter Dominion Pacing Championship at Moonee Valley, and Australian Harness Horse of the Year.
In recent times, two geldings bred by Graeme have won close to $200,000 – Triple Vance (2003) by Our Sir Vancelot NZ from Triple Fold and Few Good Men (2003) by Panorama USA from Sorcery. Another Borambola Stud bred colt, Living on Fire (2005) by Live Or Die USA from Under Wraps won the Vicbred 2YO Colts/Geldings final (2008), plus the 2YO Colt of the Year award, and had 22 wins plus $315,799 prizemoney by April 2011. In days gone by, the first 2YO champion in Sires Stakes racing (Grand Victory - 1982) was also bred by the Stud - just two examples of the span of Graeme's influence and involvement in breeding. Another is that in 2009, he still had a broodmare descended from his grandfather's 1909 imported mare Celmar (foaled 1897) – some ten generations of breeding by the one family.
Renowned for his extensive knowledge and appreciation of pedigrees and bloodlines, Graeme had well developed criteria for selecting broodmares and stallions, and his advice was often sought. He supported Helen and Graham Head (another fellow Board member) in establishing their breeding program, with a joint interest in Madame Han, their founding mare from New Zealand. Recent performers such as Gemfire and Safari are descendants. Graeme believed that advances such as semen transport and shuttle stallions had transformed the breeding industry – but had cost smaller studs through lost patronage.
In 1978 Robert Graeme Cochran was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to Harness Racing, and in 1984 he received the highest ranking Australian harness racing industry award the JP Stratton Award; this was followed by an equally ranking Ern Manea Inter Dominion Gold Medal in 2002. Equally proudly alongside these awards stands the Melbourne High School's Award crediting his name in that school's Inaugural List of “Distinguished Old Boys”.
Graeme's direct involvement in the industry came to an unexpected end with his death in April 2009, after a short illness. However, his influence will continue, through both the racing and technological ideas he fostered, and his breeding activities. His son David, and daughter Tonia have retained a selection of Graeme's horses, and his grand children Ben and Chloe may one day follow the family tradition as well.