Rid­ing highs and lows since 1867

Pilbara News - - News - Alicia Per­era

The vivid red dirt race track of the Nor West Jockey Club is a far cry from the grassy green fields of Eng­land of­ten as­so­ci­ated with horse rac­ing.

But that didn’t stop Roe­bourne’s first Euro­pean set­tlers build­ing the race­course in the iso­lated North West town back in 1867, and work­ing to keep the tra­di­tion alive ever since.

To­day, the club is the sec­ond old­est in WA still run­ning, only out­lasted by the York Race­course.

Roe­bourne Vis­i­tor Cen­tre act­ing man­ager Yo­hanna Kelly said from the be­gin­ning of the town’s estab­lish­ment, race meets and the balls as­so­ci­ated with them were “the high­light of the whole year” for res­i­dents from all walks of life.

She said the meets were a key part of its sport­ing and so­cial scenes, and even con­trib­uted to politics as it gave coun­cil­lors an ex­cuse to sit down and dis­cuss the is­sues of the day.

NWJC life mem­ber David Mor­gan has been a sup­porter of the club since the late 1980s and con­tin­ues to rep­re­sent the club at Coun­try Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion WA meet­ings in Perth.

He was even in­spired to write a novel, Man­gadoo, based on its his­tory.

He said rac­ing fever had al­ways been a prom­i­nent part of life in the North West, from the first race meet­ing on the Cos­sack flats, held un­der WA Turf Club rules in the early 1860s.

Sta­tion own­ers had their own rac­ing colours and even worked to de­velop a new breed of horse to suit north­ern con­di­tions.

“They brought brood­mares in from else­where around Aus­tralia and they would try and breed them with race horses,” Mr Mor­gan said.

“And by the time of the 1880s, 1890s, they got very good at it.

“They de­vel­oped a horse called the Nor West Bred, which was a horse that was very fast and ag­ile and could eas­ily move around the stony ground. These horses weren’t just for rac­ing, they were also for work.

“They en­joyed quite a lot of suc­cess in the 1890s, they would win big races in Perth.”

Mr Mor­gan said the blood, sweat and tears had paid off in the long run, as the jockey club had carved out a re­spected place for it­self in WA horse rac­ing cir­cles.

Club pres­i­dent Kevin Kin­in­month, who has been part of the close-knit com­mit­tee for about eight years and pres­i­dent for four, said race meets were still some of the big­gest so­cial events in the Pil­bara, es­pe­cially Ladies Day and Roe­bourne Cup Day, which drew about 2000 to 3000 peo­ple.

“It’s one of those iconic things to do when you’re in the bush,” he said.

“We race on dirt and ev­ery­one gets dirty and dusty and I think that’s part of it.”

Mr Kin­in­month said com­mit­tee mem­bers over the years had worked hard to keep the club go­ing de­spite some dif­fi­cult times and main­tain its au­then­tic coun­try at­mos­phere. “It’s iconic to the re­gion,” he said. “It’s got a proud his­tory, and we want to keep that his­tory go­ing.

“There’s been rum­blings of shift­ing the track into Kar­ratha by some of the pow­ers that be, but we’ve al­ways man­aged to hold them at bay. So I can’t see it mov­ing in the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

The club played host to plenty of char­ac­ters and lo­cal leg­ends.

Suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of sta­tionown­ing fam­i­lies have been part of the club as jock­eys, train­ers and starters, in­clud­ing the renowned Stove fam­ily.

An­other leg­end is the late trainer Ron­nie Mitchell, nick­named Blind Ron­nie, who lost sight in one eye from sick­ness, then the other af­ter a horserid­ing ac­ci­dent, and lived out at the Wick­ham sta­bles.

The club’s for­tunes have waxed and waned over the years, from al­most clos­ing in the 1970s when the heav­ily in­volved Stove fam­ily moved on, to re­quir­ing tens of thou­sands in funds for a post-cy­clone re­build in the late 1980s, to at­tract­ing up to 6000 peo­ple for meets dur­ing con­struc­tion of the Bur­rup.

But Mr Mor­gan said through­out it all, the ap­peal of the pin­dan race course at the back of iso­lated Roe­bourne has en­dured.

“If you want to see a real coun­try race meet­ing, come to Roe­bourne,” he said. “It’s red dust, have a few beers, talk to friends. If you could bot­tle it you’d like to take it ev­ery­where you go.”

“I’ve brought peo­ple from (in­ter­na­tion­ally) to Roe­bourne Cups over the years and they all hold it in very high re­gard. The race club was al­ways... a team ef­fort and that was the soul be­hind all these com­mu­ni­ties and now we’ve got very few of those com­mu­ni­ties stand­ing. So the mes­sage to me is if the race club goes, you’ve lost the her­itage. Be­cause you’ll find if you delve into the his­tory of any race club, you’ve got he his­tory of the town.”

Kevin Kin­nin­month We race on dirt and ev­ery­one gets dirty and dusty and I think that’s part of it.

Pic­ture: Cameron Myles

Horse rac­ing has been a key fea­ture of sport­ing and so­cial life in Roe­bourne since the Nor West Jockey Club was es­tab­lished in 1867.

Pic­ture: Court­ney Fowler

Nor West Jockey Club pres­i­dent Kevin Kin­in­month.

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