Alf leaves to the strains of Aker Bilk

Alf Kneebone, racing journalist and lover of the clarinet, died in Cambridge earlier this month.

ALFRED ‘ALF’ KNEEBONE – April 27, 1923 – May 11, 2021

Among the qualities that made Alf Kneebone a legend in his time was his sharp wit, his sense of humanity, and the attention to detail that made him one of the finest racing journalists of his era.

He also possessed that rarest of attributes … an ability to remain non-judgemental.  Son Michael told those attending Alf’s packed May 18 funeral at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Cambridge that his father’s aversion to judging anyone made him a favourite as much with the rich and powerful as with the battlers.

“It stood him in great stead raising the many thousands of dollars he did for our schools and clubs. It was also the reason he and mum spent countless hours doing ‘Meals on Wheels’ runs.”

Alf died at Cambridge Lifecare on May 11, aged 98.  He was husband to the late Frances, father to their 12 children, and grandfather to 26 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, with another on the way. Michael described him as a kind, understanding and generous father, one who was proud of each of his offspring. “Dad was a great listener.  His attention to detail, particularly in his articles, was second to none.”

Alf’s life as a racing journalist, fuelled by childhood experiences that served only to intensify his early passion for horses, was set in motion only after he completed service in World War Two and started his long career with the Waikato Times.

Born in Cambridge, he rode a horse to Leamington Primary School with his brothers and was just seven when the legendary New Zealand-bred racehorse Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup.  The die was cast.  Years spent working with horses led to a lifelong fascination, that Michael said resulted in “one of the most remarkable careers in racing journalism ever and the making of a legend.”

Alf was a regular at the Melbourne Cup, and was still an accredited member of the Press when attending the Cox Plate at 88.

His marriage to Frances in 1948 led to decades of heady, family life recalled with delight by Michael.

“Picture the chaos of 22 Kneebone children growing up in the same street in Hamilton. Dad’s brother lived with his wife and 10 children just one house away from mum and dad and their brood of 12. The neighbours in between moved on regularly,” he smiled. “Dad was in his element. There were cricket balls through windows, we were wrecking stuff, burning or smashing stuff… being injured, but he was always supportive.  Dad was a talented athlete and rugby player… golf later became his sport of choice. He enjoyed nothing more than coaching or attending as many of our games and sports activities as possible and was attending his grandchildren’s sporting activities well into his 90s.”

Alf’s much-lauded attention to detail slipped only in later years as his eyesight dimmed. It resulted in a couple of wardrobe malfunctions which were at odds with his early, dapper years. One involved a decision to fly home in a new shirt, picked out for its lively pattern. On greeting him, Frances stopped shy of the usual hug and demanded to know what he thought he was wearing.  It turned out the pattern he thought looked like telephones were naked ladies. The shirt was never seen again.

Another wardrobe clanger Michael revealed had Alf travel to Whanganui for the launch of his son Tony’s book, The Paynes.

“Dad got to the motel and found he had his jacket but had mistakenly packed one of mum’s skirts instead of his pants.  He still looked bloody good in his trackies!”

Alf was in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and while he seldom spoke of those years, the wartime medals placed on his casket attest to a job well done. It was while serving that he stumbled across the other love of his life – the clarinet.  He learned the basics and spent the rest of his life playing the instrument, buoyed by a natural talent for music that he has passed on to numerous family members.

“He was a remarkable man who touched hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s hearts in the most humble of ways,” said Michael.  “His was a life well lived.”

In 2013 Alf played Moon River with Neil Finn. See the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAEe5TXrUSs

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