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Champagne for all at Murgoo Picnic Races
# Invitations to the Murgoo Picnic Races are highly prized. Murgoo is the only picnic race club in Western Australia, and its annual meeting is in authentic outback tradition.
MR. CHARLES AT KI M S, foundation mem- ber of the Murgoo Amateur Picnic Race Club. His car hat the number "Murgoo !?**
CHAIRMAN of the Murgoo Amateur Picnic Race Club, Mr. Ken Maslen, of "Twin Peaks" Mullewa (right), with vice-chairman Mr. Bert Fitzgerald and Mrs. Fitzgerald, of "Murgoo." At left, wearing sunglasses, Mr. Norman Dunkley, Mr. Atkins* son-in-law.
THE hosts are club
members and the folk who live at "Murgoo" station and other proper- ties in the Murchison district.
We arrived at "Murgoo" for this year's races after a
400-mile drive north-east from Perth.
We hung our long, formal evening frocks on the tin walls of the shearers' quar- ters, laid our long evening
gloves out flat on the bed- side tables. (In bed, later, we put our fur stoles round our heads to keep our ears warm.)
Out in the red-dust yard, by the light of braziers, station-owners' wives grilled steaks over the coals for their Perth guests. A full moon shone bright and cold over
the whole scene.
In the big flower-decked woolshed a long bar counter stretched the full width. It is an imposing counter of blondwood with a fitted mosaic heatproof top, made by the club president, Mr.
On duty as barmen were station - owners Michael
Foulkes-Taylor, of "Yuin," Pindar; Ken Maslen, of "Twin Peaks," Mullewa; Anthony Foulkes-Taylor, of "Tardy," Pindar; Robert Lefroy, of "Boolardy," Yal- goo; Simon Keogh, of "Byro," Mullewa; Ted Offi- cer, of "Woolgorong," Mul- lewa; and several others.
All were on a strict roster
which lasted (24 hours a day, I was told) for the two days of the meeting.
In the adjoining shed, flags fluttered from the roof, ready for the ball the follow- ing night.
On the weighing machine, wearing white moleskins, sat polo-playing brothers Laurie Bain, of "Woodlands," and Alan Bain, of "Mt. Clere," Meekatharra.
Young girls in jodhpurs
and jumpers sat with friends, similarly clad, who had just
driven in from their station homes.
George Sharpe, of "Wooleen," was busy with an axe, breaking up the ice for
the cool drinks.
More cars drew into the
yard. All through the night
cars continued to arrive from hundreds of miles around for
the next day's race meeting.
"Murgoo's" owner, Mr. Charles Atkins, was one of
the original group who decided way back in 1915 to "liven the place up a bit" with a race meeting.
Now aged 89, he remem- bers travelling to the first meeting at "Manfred," 75 miles "up the road" from "Murgoo," in May, 1917, On the journey he heard that Lord Kitchener had gone down in H.M.S. Hampshire.
"Manfred" was then
owned by Sir Edward Wit- tenoom and his brother, Frank, and race meetings were held there each year until the Murgoo Amateur Picnic Race Club was formed in 1920.
A race track was laid down on "Murgoo," and Mr. Atkins gave over his shear- ing shed for a clubroom and
the race ball.
In the early days of the Murgoo Amateur Picnic Race Club women were
allowed in the clubroom only when invited by a member. But their refreshment was always champagne.
Today that first "club- room" at the far end of the shearing shed is known irreverently as "The Hock Shop" and is used as a store-
Two-day meetings were held every year until 1929, when the depression hit the world - and the Murgoo Race Club as well. Then came drought, and the races were not held again until 1935.
During World War II the
Murchison Patriotic Funds Committee took over and ran two meetings a year. The first meeting after the war, in 1947, was not "without poignancy. There were many familiar faces missing.
Drought years again stop- ped the meetings in 1950, 1951, 1955, and 1956. But
the club has held its races
regularly since, new ameni- ties being added each year.
The club is jealous of its
amateur status. No book- makers are allowed, horses must not be professionally trained, and the jockeys are
white and native station
hands, jackeroos, and over-
There are races for both
CORIO streaks to the post to win the 1962 Murgoo Cup for owner - trainer Mr. Norman Armstrong, of "Mt. Narryer."
cornfed and grassfed horses. Grassfeds provide the real amateur racing-"All whack and slather," says Mr. Pat Maxwell, of "Meka."
For the uninitiated, grass fed horses are station horses which graze in open pad- docks. About six weeks be- fore the meeting, they are brought into the home pad- docks and exercised, with one week's training before race day.
When the starter's flag goes down it is anyone's
A story is told about an English jackeroo, Ashton Craven, who rode his grass
fed horse in the second race. The horse refused to take the first turn, careered off into the bush, threw his rider, and was not seen for weeks after the meeting.
The rider survived and later returned to England, changing his name to Ashton Craven-Smith-Milnes to take up an inheritance.
Cornfed horses have an
edge on grassfed. They are kept in the yards and exer- cised regularly by colored stockmen, and their form is much more predictable.
The Tote pays first place only on a field of up to 14 horses. All proceeds go to charities like the Flying Doc- tor, Silver Chain Bush Nurs- ing Association, and the Red Cross.
This is a real picnic meet- ing. The women wear com- fortable clothes and shoes, the men wide squatter hats and clothes to withstand the red dust.
Mr. Atkins sat in grand style in his cane chair greet- ing each new arrival.
With him was a little
group of men who, like him- self, have seen nearly every Murgoo meeting since 1920 -Mr. Frank Lefroy, for- merly of "Boolardy," Mr. George Clarke, "Boolardy's"
WT?LE" ° full-blood aboriginal from Wooleen" station, is a familiar sight at the races - he has never missed a meeting.
bookkeeper for 41 years, and Mr. Monty Scott, of Mur-
Thc natives and the jockeys provided the color even the jockeys' silks were outdone by the brilliant satin shirts of the native stockmen and hands. Most of them had
had some part in training the
The committee, mostly station - owners, performed the course duties.
David Boddington, of "Jingimarra," was compere and announcer; Pat Max- well, of "Meka," and Alf Wood, of "Pine Grove," were judges.
The sun shone hot and the wind was dry. Transistors on the course told us it was
raining in Perth.
The starting line was way over the other side of the course, over the scrub and the red-clay soil. We could
tell when a race had started by the sudden cloud of dust which rose like a willy-willy.
This year's Murgoo Cup was won by Norman Arm- strong's Corio, which he
Norman Armstrong is manager of "Mt. Narryer," one of Charles Atkins' sta- tions, and the cup was pre- sented by Charles' daughter, Mrs. Norman Dunkley, of
"I'll have a special saucer made for it," Mr. Atkins promised.
The blue ribbon was wound round Norman Arm-
strong's head and carefully pinned into place so that the gold tassels hung down
on either side.
Then, by tradition, the Murgoo Cup was filled vyith champagne and passed
round. And from that moment the champagne corks were popping.
A roast-turkey dinner was followed by the woolshed ball.
A dance-band came nearly 200 miles from Geraldton, prepared to play until dawn. The "piccaninny dawn" had already shown on the sky- line before they packed up for the long drive back.
A handful of guests were still enjoying themselves when the caterers started preparing breakfast in the shearers' kitchen-and they sat down to a hearty break- fast, still in evening dress.
One stalwart didn't get to bed until 10 a.m. He slept through all the hullabaloo of packing, persistent party squeakers, and the final fan- fare of car horns as the departing guests pulled away.
STATE MEMBER for Murchison, Mr. Richard Hurl. M.I.A., and Mrs. Burt came from
Kalgoorlie for the meeting. "Murgoo" is in the Murchison constituency.
MULLEWA visitors Mr. and Mrs. George Sharpe, of "Wooleen." At Murgoo race meetings the women are billeted in the shearers9 sheds, the men sleep in tents.
Footnote: Everyone at the meeting agreed that it was
a shame not to have some
pictures to record the occasion.
So Mr. Norman Dunkley took some for us at his father-in-law's home, "Mur- goo" homestead, and Mrs. George Sharpe, of "Wool- een," scrambled over the
scrub to take pictures of the
Mr. David Wilcox, agri- cultural adviser to the De-
partment of Agriculture at Wiluna, was so keen to take pictures for us that he barely had time to place his
bets at thc races and missed the first four dances at the ball.