By Bob Darken – April 1993
It all began in 1946. The three Webb Brothers – Kil, Bennett, Quinton and stockmen were branding at the Ulgarna yard on Mount Riddock Station. After the branding was finished the cattle were moved about a mile north of the yard. They were driven by Kil and Bennett Webb, stockman Jack Schaber and the Policeman in charge of the Harts Range Police area, Senior Constable Bob Darken. The conversation got around to who was riding the best horse and to settle the matter, Bob Darken suggested they race back to the yard. There was no winner declared because all finished together in a cloud of dust, much to the annoyance of Quinton Webb who was mixing damper which was covered in dirt stirred up by the horses.
Kil and Bennett Webb and Jack Schaber were discussing the race and saying how much they enjoyed it. Bob Darken suggested they make a track and get together for a ‘meeting’.
About half a mile north of the yard there was a small hill and they agreed to level a bit of a track around the base of it. They secured an old water truck from the Mines Department Depot and a sheet of arc-mesh, which they dragged to level the track. The following week the three Webb Brothers, their stockmen and Darken brought their horses and had two or three races around the hill. However the track, which was mostly sand, became too heavy and the men decided to call it a day.
It was agreed that a better area be found where the ground was firm and flat, and so the present Harts Range Race Course area was chosen. The track was pegged out and as there was a road grader in the area, Bob Darken got the driver, known to all as ‘Grader Jack’ to grade the race track.
Over a period of months, station owners and stockmen from stations in the Harts Range district formed working parties, cut and carted posts and rails etc., and in due course the track was ready to hold a meeting. A bough shed with cement floor was erected to serve as a dance floor and a grandstand; a secretary’s office and Tote room were built out of galvanised iron and a building built for the liquor booth. Yards and saddling enclosure were erected, also showers and toilets.
All those interested were asked to meet at the Police Station to form a Race Committee; on or about the 9th July 1947. Bill Petrick and Bennett Webb were elected joint patrons, Kil Webb – President, Bob Darken – Chairman, Vicky Darken – Secretary and Peggy Nelson – Treasurer (Quinton Webb – Clerk of Scales and Snowy McIntyre – Clerk of the Course). The Committee members were: Alec McLeod, Alby Colson, Joe and Eleanor Mengel, Jack and Roy Schaber, Werner Petrick, Reg Smith, Bill Cavenagh, Jock Nelson, Martin and Eric Petrick.
Bob Darken with the assistance of the Central Australian Racing Club drew up the constitution, which was adopted by the committee. A date was set for the first meeting on the new course, which was held on the 27th of November 1947. A dry season at the time of this first meeting prevented some stations from bringing horses, however the smallest field was five and the largest twelve, from the forty five horses participating. At the first meeting, Jack Schaber was the leading rider. A
barbeque was held at night and Bennett Webb supplied a bullock, which was enjoyed by all. This was followed by dancing ‘till the early hours of the morning.
The meeting was such a huge success that it was decided to make it an annual event. Bob Darken applied to the Northern Territory Administrator for a Central Australian Holiday to be granted for each weekend of all future meetings of the Harts Range Amateur Racing Club. This was readily agreed to by the Administrator and was gazetted as ‘Picnic Day’.
Life Members and Patrons
2023 Patron – Peter Mostran