The 25th annual Kulin Bush Races set to stop the town

Rosie HendersonCountryman
Kulin Bush Races volunteer Wendy Gangell with the Joggin' to Jilakin Rock horse on Tin Horse Highway, near Kulin, ahead of this year’s event.
Camera IconKulin Bush Races volunteer Wendy Gangell with the Joggin' to Jilakin Rock horse on Tin Horse Highway, near Kulin, ahead of this year’s event. Credit: Cally Dupe

As Australia’s thoroughbred industry prepares for the Melbourne Cup this November, one Wheatbelt town is preparing for its own spectacular — the Kulin Bush Races.

While the gallopers scheduled to run at the WA bush meeting do not boast the reputation of past Melbourne Cup winners, such as Cross Counter or Rekindling, Kulin Bush Races organisers are expecting a bumper crowd.

About 4000 punters are set to descend on Kulin for the 25th annual event, from October 4 to 6, with 4000 tickets snapped up and sales now closed.

It marks the event’s significant development since its first meeting attracted about 1200 people.

Prompted by the Shire of Kulin, a town meeting was held in 1995 to thrash out ways of putting Kulin on the map.

Kulin Bush Races committee chairman and founding member Graeme Robertson said a proactive community and Shire had been fundamental to the success of the races and Kulin as a community.

“At the initial meetings, we were trying to hone our own identity, not reliant on government,” he said.

About 4000 punters are set to attend the upcoming Kulin Bush Races.
Camera IconAbout 4000 punters are set to attend the upcoming Kulin Bush Races. Credit: Supplied

“One of the things that came out of that meeting was the need to establish a bit of notoriety and to raise our profile as a community.

“Although Kulin wasn’t too bad, other country towns were starting to lose machinery dealers and other services, so we thought we’d be proactive before we had to be reactive.

“We’re lucky to have an incredibly proactive Shire that really want to do things to make the town better, so that people who live in the bush get what city people take for granted.”

Over the past 25 years, the races have put an estimated $1.2 million back into the community, through initiatives including the giant water slide, medical services, education programs and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Mr Robertson believes the bush races have become about far more than notoriety and income, dedicating the success to the volunteers that organise, manage, and run the event.

“We’ve got a high percentage of our population, 46 per cent to 48 per cent, volunteering in some way in the town and region,” he said.

“We have fourth generation volunteers coming through now — with kids who were five or six years old when we started now adults and actively involved.

“Kulin is a friendly town, a lot of that comes from that strong volunteer base, you’ve got to talk to people and value what they bring to you.”

With an estimated 200 volunteers, Mr Robertson said the investments made to the community could be attributed to the work of the community volunteer force.

The Kulin Bush Races offer an array of attractions.
Camera IconThe Kulin Bush Races offer an array of attractions. Credit: Chris Tate

“The work that people have put in over the years, whether it be as committee or volunteers, is just exceptional,” he said.

“We’ve spent a lot of money in town directly attributed to the work they’ve put in.”

Kulin Bush Races founding committee member Wendy Gangell, a Kulin resident since 1979, said it was empowering to see an event that had once been “nothing but a gamble” become what it is today.

“We had no idea whether it was going to work or not,” she said.

“But the whole town collectively took ownership of the event, and for me, the community growth that has come from that is the most important thing.

“The races make a great day for the people who come. But the important thing is that it collectively pulled Kulin together to work as a team, and there’s just been so many spin-offs from that.”

Community Bank manager and Kulin Bush Races deputy chairman Tom Murphy, who has been involved since his first bar shift at the races in 1999, said the event was entering “uncharted territory”.

“We’re in uncharted territory — we’ve never had this much interest in our event before and we’ve never had the issue of capping tickets,” he said.

“While we hate turning people away, we couldn’t handle a larger crowd at the moment, even with the volunteer force that we have.

“While we could look at outsourcing, we like to do everything within our community, because then the money we make, we can put directly back into our community.”

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