3 June 2011 - Merv Dillon’s ability as a horseman and his contribution to harness racing as a trainer, driver, office bearer and consultant are well known. His great heart, love of people, passion for a chat and ability to spin a good yarn cemented his popularity in the industry. From his Dumosa racing stables in Marong or at any racetrack around Victoria, and sometimes beyond, Merv Dillon was happy to entertain. Merv had a great sense of humour and his sayings and stories hit the spot no matter how many times you heard them. Take snakes, for example. During laps of his Marong training track during the summer it was not uncommon to come across a brown snake happily basking on the warm sand. The horses didn’t care, failing even to break stride as they passed over a suddenly aggrieved reptile less than impressed a morning slumber had been disturbed. On returning to the stables the question was often asked of Merv: “How many bloody snakes have you got here?” His answer, although delivered a hundred times before, remained always humorous: “Only one, you just keep running into it”. The weather provided another “oldie but a goodie” moment for Merv. On days when most were muttering about the cold, the mud and the persistent rain, Merv would simply layer up with warm clothes, his well-worn wet weather gear and keep heading back out on the track – horse after horse. Days such as these tried valiantly to cover his trademark smile with a crust of sand and mud, but never succeeded. That smile rarely left his face when he was around his horses, the stables and people. Merv would go about his business as others cursed these days, offering a simple philosophy: “It’s just a passing shower – might take all day to pass though”. Of course, the day’s work was never done for Merv. When the last horse had been worked, the stables cleaned and morning visitors had all filtered away, no doubt better for the experience, Merv would announce it was time to head into the house to “do some bookwork”. Such dedication impressed those that didn't know him but it was the smirk that gave the real story away. In reality "bookwork" was codes for kick off the boots, stretch out in the recliner and enjoy a well earned sleep. Another Merv Dillon trademark was his toughness. On those rare mornings when a "young one" got the better of Merv,by tipping him out, it was obvious he was hurt. But there was ajob to be done and feeling sorry for yourself was never part of his make-up. He would simply soldier on to the next horse. Was there ever a "young one" that really go the bette rof him? His dedication was displayed week in week out as he travelled the night meetings as far a Mildura, only to be up and about first thing the next morning. When he had one good enough, Saturday nights were spent at Moonee Valley, but he rarely missed the early morning trials at Marong, Bendigo or Maryborough the next day.
So many people in the harness racing industry have learned from Merv Dillon. In a tribute to the Bendigo Advertiser Daryal Douglas said Merv Dillon kick-started his career. Many others would harbour such thoughts. Merv loved telling the storuy of how the now richly talented reinsman and trainer Grant Campbell started driving horses at the Dumosa stables at ange where his feet rested in the dust sheet of the sulky because the footrests were well out of reach. It was fitting that Campbell won the feature race during a Mrev Dillon tribute meeting organised by the Charlton Harness Racing Club in 2008. Of course Merv didn't let the opportunity pass without telling the story of the young Grant Campbell one more time. A Death Notice in Wednesday's paper from Tim and Zoe Mannix summed up Merv's standing: "A great mate and a treasured mentor".
The first trip to the races with Merv remains a treasured one for me. While carting a truckload of horses to a far-flung venue such as Terang was a way of life for Merv, it was a major adventure for me. The adventure got even better when he won the first race. It reached mountainous heights when he puched home the second winner. Thankfully, I would learn many times over in the following years that Merv revelled in victory and could often be heard spruiking as the horses pulled up in the back straight after the race, all the way to the parade ring and back to the stalls. But Merv was a professional and spruiking while you worked came easy to him. On the other hand, I was now part of the Merv Dillon stable which was taking all before it that night at Terang. We had won the first two races with every chance of winning the third and this was time to put the chest out and soak up the rewards of victory. Suddenly, a bellowing voiuce snapped me back to reality. "Where's that bloody water? We haven't got all night!" The fact that I moved at only one speed - very slow - became a great source of amusement for Merv through the years. As did the fact I had no issue putting gear on any horse unless it was my own, at which time I would descend into a dithering mess. Merv simply stood back and chuckled away - it was entertainment for him. His favourite story centred on a day at Stawell where true to form nothing was going right putting the gear on Winchester Arms. As the battle with the hopples, boots and bridle raged on and the minutes to race time flew past with lightning speed, Merv could hardly contain himself for he had seen something that I was biissfully unaware of - there was a shoe missing. TRue to form, my discovery of this catastrophe was the catalyst for a meltdown to which Merv casually offered: "It will be in the float". After my fruitless search of the float, Merv wandered out to the car park, retrieved the shoe from its resting place under the straw and called the farrier to have it nailed back on. It made his day. These are just a few of my favourite memories knowing Merv Dillon. I never did get to tell him how much I appreciated his goodwill and that he, partner Lyn and son Tony had helped make my first transition away from "home" that much easier through their welcome acceptance. What's special about Merv is that everyone that attends his final farewell today, along with those that can't but knew him, will have their own "Merv Mermories". Sadly last Monday those memories became a lot more special. - Rod Case