Eighty-three year old John Brislin is a Life member and Legend of the Victorian Homing Association having competed at the highest level for over 50 years

The VHA is the oldest of the five Victorian Feds having been established in 1900.

John Brislin is known internationally for his racing and breeding exploits having won 21 First Federations over his long career – He is also the only person to gain 5 VHA Old Bird Aggregates.

His 50 years in pigeon racing is a benchmark, and according to the VHA’s Bob Stukel John’s quiet demeanour belies his strong involvement on issues at both Federation and club level.

John Brislin’s association with pigeons began when he was just 9 years old.

His father Frank was a keen fly fisherman, but he was away fishing so much, that John’s Mother Margaret suggested he buy John a couple of coloured pigeons to keep him company.

Margaret Brislin’s Brother, John Haig, had been a noted pigeon flyer prior to the second World War.

John’s interest in racing pigeons expanded when he obtained birds from various flyers and competed with the Coburg Juniors in the VRPU as a 12 year old, however a few years later Junior Football took over and he played for 4 years with the Paramount Rovers

When he was 17 or 18 there was another twist in love for his pigeon racing when he began looking after the birds of Bob Parry, a delegate for the Victorian Leather Trades Union

His work life also started, and he worked in a wharehouse in the raw materials electical industry, and over the next 43 years, rose to be State Manager of OH O’brien

His love for racing pigeon grew at the same time, with his cousin Bill Pritchard owning a large plumbing business and some of the finest Hansenne, Logan and Wegge based pigeons in Australia.

Pritchard raced successfully in 1950’s and 60’s in the VHA – which was then based around a 25 kilometre patch of Melbourne inner suburbs including Richmond, South Melbourne, Hawthorn, Port Melbourne and Burwood – an area known in pigeon racing circles as ‘The Golden Mile”

When Bill Pritchard bought the Sorento Hotel – John Brislin gained access to his birds and set up a loft at the house he was establishing in Lower Templestowe in 1967 – and where he still lives with his highly supportive wife Vivienne

The Hansenne Logan Wegge birds, which were predominantly black with occasional white feathers, became highly successful for John Brislin – including a white when that bred a Fed winner – The white hen was out of two pure blacks (Hansenne Logan Weggs)

Astute South Australian pigeon identity Bob Marchant visited the Brislin home in the 1970’s and said he’s never seen a better loft of pigeons

John says those birds were tough all day birds that were sent by rail, sometimes spending two or three days in rail carriages, often in the heat, before racing home to win or grab top positions.

He was the first Victorian flyer to have a sale in Sydney, and has had three other reduction sales since then … with his birds going to flyers in all Australian States except Western Australia and producing a long list of Fed wins or placings for the new owners

Some notable owners who had John’s birds included Keith and Ross Wickham, Colin and Don Hawke and Jack Aldrige

Other key strains have been selectively added to the Brislin’s winning Loft in Lower Templestowe over ensuing years, including one key black grizzle hen from Bob Cross in the USA – that you had to look at twice to realise it was a grizzle.

Original Pierre Dordin’s were also introduced

Two of the key introduced birds were The Babouin Cock and a daughter of Romulus from Jim Biss

The Brislin Lofts gained even more potency with the addition of de Weerdt’s from Belgium, but in 2009 the original blood was almost wiped out when bushfires devestated the family’s rural property at Wandong where they were being housed (current Wandong Loft Pictured)

John was fortunate to get some of the blood back from other flyers

His current birds are Vandenabeele-Houbens, de Weerdts and Smoulders, Dordins and Keith Wickham Mealys

Heremans have been added in recent years from Greg Hamilton – but they are yet to be properly tested.

John was the VHA liberation officer for 28 years, and the the transport officer for 43 years

He was awarded Hall of Fame Status in the VHA for sustained, continuing services in the conduct of the VHA’s transportation of racebirds, his services as a member of the Liberation committee, and his personal excellence as a participant – John is also an official VHA Legend

His son Paul – also a life member of the VHA – transported the racebirds for 35 years before accepting a fulltime position with the Country Fire Service

Paul ‘s twin sister, Andrea, is also actively involved in pigeon racing, looking after the pigeons that are at their Wandong Farm

John says he like everyone is disappointed how the number of pigeon flyers continues to decline.

The VHA had up to 480 members in its heyday in the 1970’s (with up to 6 thousand birds in some races)…. but now membership is down to around 100

Brislin says the magic of breeding winners continues to excite him, and getting racebirds home – like the two cockbirds that flew for 11 hours in one race – makes it all worthwhile.

John’s had to fill in for his son a number of times transporting birds to races, including seeing trucks break axles, and has also tossed other flyers birds every year without a miss for the past 50 years.

He’s played a big part in seeing the transporters evolve over the years, with the VHA now boasting one of Australia’s best units, with a special roof -(normally used on transports that move refrigerated goods) – and airbags, and shade mesh walls which allow 50 per cent airflow.

A number of Feds in the UK have now also adopted the same mesh walls on their transporters

During his lifetime in pigeons John Brislin has seen the VHA grow from a small operation, to its huge current Headquarters at Notting Hill which are big enough two hold two semi trailers

It houses 26 roll on-roll-off racebird transport units, which are 8 tiers high, and loaded onto the semi transporter as required for races

John says he’s his time in pigeon racing has been extremely satisfying

He admits he probably hasn’t been able to race properly for the past three of four seasons since covid, but is looking forward to a great year in 2024 with the VHA flying North East into Melbourne

Brislin is very attached to his charges, and some are just as enamored with him … one hen follows him round like a kelpie and even goes out to the letterbox with him

He says to be a great pigeon keeper you have to have an affinity with your birds

In one 500 mile race – where there were not many birds home – three of his pigeons clocked at dusk … or shortly after in the dark

One took second place after clocking at 7.45pm and … the other two were also placed after being timed at 8.14 and 8.20

But the champion flyer says success doesn’t come easily in pigeon racing

You have to have the right genetic pool … and your feed and training has to be spot on… especially if you’re to succeed in long distance races

And most importantly – you can’t rely on stud other people’s pedigrees … To make those great pigeons over a long period of time you must create your own pedigrees … YOU have to be the developer of that GREAT strain of pigeon

FOOTNOTE: A Message from John’s Family:

“We are very proud of all John’s achievements and accolades, and would like to acknowledge what John has contributed to the pigeon community over his 55 plus years of involvement with racing pigeons. His commitment and dedication to his beloved sport has been done with utmost pleasure, driven by the phenomenon of these amazing birds”

(Also a special thankyou to the Victorian Pigeon Association for allowing several VHA pictures to be used in John’s Story)