When bush comes to town

Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Manager, Dampier Downs Station.

Living and working on a cattle station can sometimes feel a little isolated. Don’t get me wrong – for a lot of people who choose this life the remoteness and lack of crowds are major drawcards. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a good, old-fashioned knees-up as much as the next person. It’s just that race days and rodeos tend to be the get-together of choice.

Take, for example, the Derby Picnic Races. This event is a bit different to your typical race day in that all the horses and riders come from local stations. No registered race horses or professional jockeys are allowed. It is also a fund raiser for the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and as such is usually well attended.

I took the day off to attend but, of course, had to do a bore run on my way into town which meant I left home in my typical work attire and changed into my dress in the paddock once the last water point was checked. There were a few bemused cows watching proceedings – I’m not sure they had actually seen a dress before and I can’t even guess what they made of my high heels!

I pulled into the car park at the racecourse, wiped the last diesel smudge off my forehead and made it trackside just in time to hear the results of the Head Honchos race. This race is only open to station owners, managers, and head stockmen/women.

3.1Coming down the home straight. Photo courtesy of Jane Sale.

I was, however, in time for the Ladies Race, which was won convincingly by Wave Camp, whom some of you might remember from her Central Station week last year. At 16 this was the first year she had been allowed to compete and she flew down the straight to claim victory for Kalyeeda station. Her proud father told me later that she had trained the horse herself, so it was a great result.

Interspersed among the various horse races are a number of other events. The kid’s foot race was split into three categories – the under 60 centimetres, 60-80 centimetres, and over 80 centimetres. The little kids were the first to go, which went well until the race caller realised none of the kids knew where the finish line was and so they were half way around the track before a fleet-footed parent managed to get ahead of them and pull them up. At least it was a good way to expend some of the excited energy they had accumulated.

3.2And they’re off! If only they knew where the finish line was! Photo courtesy of Jane Sale.

The kid’s races were followed by the ladies foot race, gents’ foot race, inter-station tug-of-war and of course Fashions on the Field. One contestant announced that if she won her boyfriend had promised to buy her an engagement ring, but sadly it was not to be. Never mind, I have a feeling that ring might not be too far away regardless*.

More horse racing ensued, including the Cup (won by Meda station) and the clumpers race. A clumper is a horse that has some draft horse genetics. They tend to be a lot more solid (and slower) than the typical stock horse. They are easily identified by the ‘feathers’ or wispy hairs around their fetlocks (ankles). One contestant was so excited by his second place in the clumpers race that he decided to do a victory lap while not wearing any pants. I shudder to think what might have happened had he actually won.

3.3Station tug-of-war. Photo courtesy of Jane Sale.

In true outback spirit, the last race of the day is always the Battlers Challenge. This race is open to any horse that hasn’t placed during the day. It’s a great way to wrap up the day and is always enthusiastically cheered on by the crowd.

All in all, the picnic races are a great excuse to dig that frock out of the back of the wardrobe, head to town and catch up with a whole bunch of people, some of whom I hadn’t seen all dry season. Who knows, this year I may even stay for the Ball, but that is whole other (mis)adventure!

*PS. Although the ring may not have been forthcoming at the Derby Races, it was produced at the recent Broome Rodeo, where Matt Wood from Blina got down on one knee to propose to Connie. Fortunately, she said yes.

Congratulations Connie and Matt