A huge roll-up to the Kooroorinya Centenary Races showed the importance of keeping the event alive.

Story + Photos Stuart Walmsley 

Some might question the logic of staging a grass race meeting in outback Queensland, but the Oakley Amateur Picnic Race Club has managed it for 100 years now. If the success of the centenary gathering at Kooroorinya is anything to go by, it might prevail for another century.

Up to 800 locals, tourists, former jockeys and committee members packed the Kooroorinya campground, 245 kilometres north of Longreach, from May 11 to celebrate the club’s landmark with three days of racing and revelry.

It started in 1917 at Noorocoo waterhole on Shirley Station, then the event shifted to Ewan Plains for a decade or so, before Benn Sumner Brown donated the land at Kooroorinya (part of what was then Bogunda Station) in 1930 to give the club its permanent home.

The Brown family is still heavily involved; Benn Sumner’s grandson Sam has the challenging task of controlling the standing starts, sometimes including horses owned and trained by his brother Benn, whose wife Robyn is the secretary of six years.

“It’s always been the community spirit and hard work that has kept this club going,” says Robyn, after a plaque commemorating the centenary was unveiled to open proceedings. “We race for love, to beat your mates; there’s no money on offer out here – but you see people at Kooroorinya you only run into once a year.”

The 2017 event was very much a reunion. A presentation was held for 13 jockeys from yesteryear, including Harry Shann, who won ‘the whip’ as the meeting’s leading rider while on his honeymoon at Kooroorinya in 1970.

The John Delahunty runner Hoffenhorry blitzed the field in the Cup, with Brent McGregor on board, and two days of racing culminated in a huge centenary dinner on the Saturday night.

This was complemented by annual events such as fashions on the field, a poetry competition, a waltzing and jiving contest, a lolly drop (by mustering plane) and the hotly contested Ringers’ Rally.

“It was an absolutely huge roll-up for us out here,” Robyn says. “We’re fighting hard to keep these meetings going despite the drought and everything, and this response just demonstrates why it’s worthwhile.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #114

Outback Magazine: August/September 2017