History in focus: the photo finish

Kevin Dwyer still has this image of a dead heat captured in the photo finish from the 1987 Bedgerabong race meeting. The photo also captured the finish line mirror image.
Kevin Dwyer still has this image of a dead heat captured in the photo finish from the 1987 Bedgerabong race meeting. The photo also captured the finish line mirror image.

This year marks 100 years of racing at Bedgerabong, and the history of the picnic races is in focus.

One of the things that’s had a big impact on racing – especially for the judges - is photographic technology, specifically the introduction of the photo finish.

Race caller Col Hodges recalls Bedgerabong was one of the very early picnic race clubs to have photo finish and Kevin Dwyer, a farmer with an interest in photography and electronics, was entrusted with the task.

It was 1980 when the top box of the race caller’s tower became a darkroom – fitted with a specialist camera made in Bathurst, trays of chemicals and an enlarger.

Kevin still has the lists of instructions and supplies he received from the maker, Haydn Larnach. 

When it was race time Kevin would adjust the aperture to suit the lighting, open a little door and – when the horses were six to eight lengths from the post – press the button to start the film rolling. 

When the race finished, he’d close the door to create the darkroom and cut the film.

The short length of film was run through developer and fixer, rinsed and used to produce a print.

He’d hand it down to the judges through a trapdoor in the floor, all within less than a minute.

If the official photo finish was called for, the judges could be seen studying the print with a magnifying glass.

This image from Kevin Dwyer's collection shows how important the mirror image is - the nose of the second-placed horse can only be seen in the mirror.

This image from Kevin Dwyer's collection shows how important the mirror image is - the nose of the second-placed horse can only be seen in the mirror.

Kevin operated the photo finish at Bedgerabong until 1990 when he taught Mark Hodges the craft.