Giddy with excitement for milestone
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.
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.