He is best known as a jockey in north Queensland horse racing. He held a joint trainer and jockey licence. He was a loner who arrived already wearing his colours under his street clothes. He never showered at the track, and didn’t speak much to the other jockeys. They referred to him as ‘Girlie’ – a mix of a homophobic putdown because of his shyness, and a suspicion that he might be a woman. Bill both trained and rode winners into the 1950s.
When he retired he rented a one-room flat in a tiny hamlet, Innot Hot Springs, 150 km from Cairns. In declining health at age 88, he was taken to hospital at Herberton 80 km away. He was being admitted into the male ward when a doctor who had treated him before, spoke to the nurse and he was put into the female ward instead even though his pension card said male. He never recovered. The nurses tried to find who he was, and it was subsequently recorded that he was ‘female’. No living relatives were ever found. One nurse painted his portrait.
Bill Condon in his book conflated Bill Smith with another Queensland jockey W.H. Smith (1889 – 1914) who won the St Leger Quest in 1902, the Jockey Club Derby in 1903 and the Victoria Oaks in 1909-10.
In 2000 The Australian Racing Museum held an exhibition of women in racing (which was not officially allowed until 1979) and highlighted Bill’s contribution.
In 2005 Bill was chosen for the Women’s History Month postcards using an image of W.H. Smith. Phil Purser’s work at the same time led to more research and the separation of W.H. Smith and Bill Smith.
After Phil Purser’s articles, almost $3,000 was raised for a gravestone in Herberton in the name of ‘Wilhemena Smith’. Phil Purser won the Queensland Racing 2005 award for the Best Print Story.
*Not the farm worker, William Smith, nor W.H Smith, the other Queensland jockey.
- Bill Condon. Those Who Dared. Australia files. Port Melbourne: Heinemann Library, 1998.
- Phil Purser. “Bill Smith was Australia’s First Woman Jockey”. Just Racing. 16/02/05. www.justracing.com.au/features.php?news_page=1&artid=1446.
- Phil Purser. “Dying Jockey Confided in Nurse at Herberton Hospital”. Just Racing. 04/03/05. www.justracing.com.au/features.php?news_page=1&artid=1447&catid=100.
- Phil Purser. “Wilhemena Smith Tribute Now Complete”. Just Racing. 17/08/05. www.justracing.com.au/features.php?news_page=1&artid=1613&catid=100.
- “Wilhemena ‘Bill’ Smith”. Australian Women’s History Forum. www.womenshistory.com.au/image.asp?iID=257.
As with James Barry, Alan Hart and Billy Tipton, a trans man is turned into a female hero. If he were a woman in disguise to be a jockey, he would not have continued as male after retirement.
FTM Australia has an article on Alan Hart, but nothing at all on Bill Smith.