The 102 year old tradition of a race meeting held on the vast open plains of the Barkly at Brunette Downs has just occurred.Arriving there on a fine sunny warm day without a breath of wind had me wondering if the winter Barkly weather had changed. These perfect conditions didn't last long and as we opened for business on day one the dust was being whipped up by a bitterly cold wind blowing at its best, it starts just on sunrise and blows everything inside out until five in the evening, then eases off for the night. Regardless, a good crowd rolled up to enjoy the four action packed days of racing, rodeo, camp-drafting, the bar and the battle of the Barkly and despite the adverse conditions a clear blue sky prevails the entire time.
Plenty of action as the sun rises.
The stations from near and far rolled in with semis, goosenecks and road trains to take up their camps which were established many years ago. The new mob to many of these backcountry events are the grey nomads and they found their designated camp area and lined up neatly side by side in a very orderly fashion, just like the houses in a city suburb. On the other hand the station camps are dotted all over the flat a good distance apart and look exactly how you would expect a temporary station camp to look with roofing iron wind breaks and longdrop dunnies here and there.
Ringers from the Top End.
The station staff or ringers,many of whom come from the cities down south find their way up to the northern stations to gain some experience in the stock camps. Those with a farming background fit into the routine quickly and within a few years find themselves in junior management roles. The male to female ratio seems to be running at 50 percent and it was obvious after watching some of the girls camp-drafting that they have taken to station life pretty well. Quite a few parents of these young ringers travelled up for the occasion, Paul Porter being one of them and also worked for me as a Jackeroo on Jemalong Station 30 years ago. It was good to catch up with him and even better, his daughter won the female section of the Battle of the Barkly. The competitors are auctioned prior to the event and Paul placed the highest bid buying his daughter for $600. This rather attractive and capable young lady went on to win the event and Paul walked away with $2000. Paul and his three daughters own a station down south near Hay and have battled long droughts, the demise of the wool industry but stuck it out through the hard times and bounced out the other end winners, but not with out a few nasty scars.
Early start in the draft.
Warming up the string before the draft.
My set up at Brunette.
The racing was as keen as ever, horses are paddocked for a period of six weeks on Brunette then ten days before race day the trainers put their horses into work and on feed to pump them for the event. The stirrup leather length used by the hoops indicates which horses are still a bit girthy, those with their knees around their ears have pretty good mounts and would look the part at the flash race tracks in the city. Standing starts are the order of the day so the better educated horses have the advantage over those who do a lap around the flat then join the line up side passing the starter. By cup day the money flows and punters back their pick for the main races then retire to the bar to celebrate or commiserate the results.
This years event was pretty much poo-bah free, back to basics really compared to the 100th two years ago where they flocked in by plane and flash 4WD's, stayed for the cup, attended the dinner then next morning early made a hasty retreat from the dust and grime to wherever they came from. Before the races got underway this year Steve Arney from Circle B gave me a hand to cut enough wood to see us through the chilly evenings whilst we sank a few gold cans after a hard days work. The Brunette Races are an annual event so make your plans to fit this unique outback experience in with a trip to the far north, see you there next year. Until then. Steve and Sass