HERE TO HELP: Racing chaplain David Seymour .
HERE TO HELP: Racing chaplain David Seymour . Adam Hourigan

Friendly face giving Grafton's racing industry peace of mind

THESE days there's a new, friendly face hanging about the stables at Grafton.

David Seymour doesn't come from a racing background and it's unlikely he'll give you the inside tip for the next race.

In fact, he had no previous interest in racing before October last year.

"Except maybe putting a few bets on when I was in the air force,” he conceded.

But his years of experience do deliver peace of mind to everyone in the industry.

This July Carnival will be David's first since being appointed chaplain to the Grafton racing community.

"If there's an accident at the racetrack I'll be there and I can be at the hospital as soon as possible,” he said.

Twelve months ago Australian Racing Christian Chaplaincy national chaplain the Rev Colin Watts was track side when three jockeys fell from their mounts in the home straight directly in front of the crowds on Ramornie Day. He then followed the injured jockeys to hospital to provide counsel.

It was his third July Racing Carnival. But the annual carnival was the only time Grafton had a spiritual presence track side.

During his visit for the two major days of racing, Mr Watts said he would "hopefully get a chaplain locally” in Grafton. And he did.

"Colin Watts was up here last year and because the industry is quite large he was looking for someone to be on the ground up here,” David said.

Now for the first time Grafton has its own dedicated chaplain - not just for the July Racing Carnival but for every one of Clarence River Jockey Club's 25 race meetings on the calendar, as well as morning track work.

"Since October I've been going to the track every race meeting with my wife, Janette, and we try to meet as many people as we can,” David said.

"And during the week I go up into the box and watch the track work for an hour or so and then maybe I'll visit the stables.”

A chaplain's role is far greater than just attending the needs of injured jockeys. David is on hand to provide immediate and ongoing support to anyone employed in the racing industry who experiences grief or hardship.

The ARCC offers a program of service to help identify and relieve the short and long-term physical, spiritual, emotional and mental needs in a holistic and non-judgemental way, free of charge.

Chaplains can provide their services for financial distress, abuse, relationship breakdown, sickness, disability, grief, track-side accidents, court issues and even suicide.

While the ARCC was initiated in 1996 by Anglican minister the Rev Paul Bayliss, it is now a non-denominational, not-for-profit organisation.

David said the ARCC received prayer requests from all over the world, including Hong Kong and Santa Anita in California, from people with injuries or other issues.

However it's over-arching purpose is not to preach but rather to provide a reassuring presence.

"The ARCC is a chaplaincy that shows the love of Christ to the racing industry,” David said.

So what does that look like?

"A friendly face. Someone who's a listening ear, either spiritually or just through friendship.

"The racing industry is just like any church congregation. Everyone's got trouble, whether it be marriage, money or whatever, and some people just need to talk it out, get it right in their head and move forward.”

It's unfamiliar ground for the Grafton racing fraternity but David hopes in time he will be recognised - and utilised - as part of the furniture.

"I'm just hoping that as time goes by more and more people will recognise me and know what I do,” he said.

"And if they need me they can come to me or call for me - 24 hours a day.”

He wants people - regardless of religious faith - to feel at ease around him, which is evident by his casual clothes in favour of the traditional cloak.

"Colin is a reverend with the Anglican church and when he comes up he wears his collar and things,” he said.

"But he also just wears a simple cross to say 'look, I'm a chaplain and that's what I do'.

"I'm more comfortable in the heat in shorts and shirt but I do wear an insignia cross and I wear the cap around. I've found that's probably the best way here.

"People sort of raise their eyebrows and ask 'what do you do?'.

"It takes a while to tell them. But I think most people accept me around the place and I think Colin is pretty pleased to have someone here on the ground.”

Clarence River Jockey Club has given David full access to its track and facilities.

Chief executive officer Michael Beattie has welcomed the chaplain with open arms and says it's great this sort of support is now offered to industry participants locally.

And it seems the jockeys are starting to get used to seeing their resident chaplain around the track.

"Racing can be a very tough game and to have someone locally who can assist them is a wonderful step forward,” Mr Beattie said.

"Some people were probably a little bit stand-offish early but he's been very well received and is now very much a part of the furniture.”

Although he is technically retired as a working chaplain, these days on top of his race industry duties David also continues to provide pastoral care to the nursing homes in Grafton and the hospital.

He served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Vietnam War but said it was in later years that he saw a lot of trauma as a chaplain.

"I did work with the RSL for a while as a trustee and in other areas helping people with pensions and things when we first came here to Grafton 20 years ago,” he said.

"I got used to people in trauma during those years, so I've had a bit of practice.”

While David admitted surprise at the high incidence of falls and relatively minor injuries at track work, at the time of this interview he said he was yet to witness anything serious in his new role.

"Thankfully I haven't seen a traumatic incident here yet,” he said.

"I'm hoping I don't see too much in the future but I'm there if they need me.”

While paramedics are on standby to respond to any emergency with first aid, chaplains are still there long after the last sirens have faded off into the distance.

David said everyone reacted differently when they experienced a traumatic event.

"Some people don't know how to handle it,” he said.

"Some people are critically injured, which is a little bit different, and they can be fearful.

"Chaplains can soothe. Chaplains can help the person. They might have urgent things they need done. There's a myriad of things.

"We're not psychologists but we're spiritual psychologists if you like. We can usually help in most situations. So if there's not someone on board I would worry for those people if they go to hospital.”

The Grafton racing community has already given back a little of its own source of therapy, in the form of David's new dog, which he got from leading trainer John Shelton's stables.

"She's a wonderful dog,” he said.

"My dog died, so it was a wonderful thing to get a new dog.”

While the racing industry has opened up a new world for this chaplain, in his line of service there are certain tricks you can't teach an old dog.

"One of the things you can't do as a chaplain is bet,” he said.

"Someone said to me 'do you have a bet?' and I said 'well, I never lose'.

"They said 'why, have you got divine intervention?' and I said 'no, no, I just don't bet'.”

David Seymour is available to serve the needs of all employees in the Grafton racing industry 24 hours a day on 0431 898 964.