Giddy with ex­cite­ment for mile­stone

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Pic­ture: Ali­cia Per­era

The sec­ond old­est rac­ing club in WA, Roe­bourne’s Nor West Jockey Club, cel­e­brates its 150th an­niver­sary this year. Com­mit­tee mem­bers in­clud­ing Lu­cille Mil­li­gan, Tara Sta­ley and Kevin Kin­in­month are busy pre­par­ing for the first of four com­mem­o­ra­tive race meets and an Open Day this Sun­day. The en­dur­ing club will also host the Mel­bourne Cup for a day dur­ing the fa­mous Aus­tralian tro­phy’s tour of 30 stops around Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

An unas­sum­ing and iso­lated red dirt race­course on the out­skirts of Roe­bourne, the Nor West Jockey Club has had no easy road to en­dur­ing for a cen­tury and a half and carv­ing out a dis­tinct place for it­self in WA coun­try rac­ing his­tory.

From this week­end, the small but strong club will be cel­e­brat­ing 150 years of rac­ing as it rounds up on the an­niver­sary of its found­ing in 1867.

WA’s sec­ond-old­est jockey club, af­ter York Jockey Club, and one of only a few red-dirt race­courses in the State, the heritage-listed club has run races ev­ery year since its found­ing with the ex­cep­tion of a few years dur­ing the world wars and has of­ten punched above its weight in the rac­ing stakes while re­tain­ing close ties to the com­mu­nity.

How­ever, its his­tory has also in­volved sig­nif­i­cant changes and a strug­gle for sur­vival on more than one oc­ca­sion.

The race­course started from hum­ble be­gin­nings only four years af­ter Euro­pean pi­o­neers, in­clud­ing Emma and John With­nell, ar­rived in the North West, in an ef­fort to bring their Bri­tish horse rac­ing tra­di­tions to re­mote Aus­tralia with them.

The first race meet­ing planned for April had to be post­poned be­cause of a se­vere food shortage from drought and was not held un­til Au­gust the same year.

Held on mud flats near Cos­sack, near where the town of Wick­ham now stands, it fea­tured four races held un­der WA Turf Club rules with a mare named Miss Ge­orgie win­ning the ma­jor race, the Roe­bourne Plate, and 15 pounds for her owner.

The track was moved to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion out­side Roe­bourne in 1890.

With pas­toral sta­tions dot­ting the land­scape, the ma­jor an­nual race was a mat­ter of re­cruit­ing horses and jock­eys from the neigh­bours but as those neigh­bours took days to come rid­ing in, it meant the races be­came a week-long affair, called Roe­bourne Race Week.

Former NWJC com­mit­tee mem­ber and long-term Kar­ratha Sta­tion res­i­dent Tish Lees, who at­tended the races ev­ery year she lived in the North West from 1940-1968, still re­mem­bers Roe­bourne Race Weeks with fond­ness, stretch­ing from a Cal­cutta or sweeps night on the Fri­day through to the races them­selves and fin­ish­ing with a grand ball for about 100 guests on Mon­day.

She said the races were the ma­jor an­nual sport­ing and so­cial event in the iso­la­tion of North West sta­tion life and acted as a “com­mu­nity glue”.

“It glued the com­mu­nity to­gether,” she said.

“Peo­ple came to­gether and got to know each other.”

“The so­cial as­pect of it was huge for the sta­tion own­ers.

“There was no phone con­tact or any­thing like that.

“It was like be­ing on desert is­land for 12 months.”

The field jumps at the 2004 Roe­bourne Cup at the Nor West Jockey Club.

Pic­ture: Ali­cia Per­era

NWJC com­mit­tee mem­bers are look­ing for­ward to cel­e­brat­ing the 150th an­niver­sary of the club, which is the sec­ond old­est in WA, over four com­mem­o­ra­tive race meets this year.

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