Young gun wins 25th cup at packed Kulin Bush Races
The town at the epicentre of the Tin Horse Highway phenomenon burst to life at the weekend for a silver anniversary celebrated with a sell-out, record crowd.
But it was an extra special meet for one local farmer, who is preparing to hand over the chairman’s reins after 25 years.
Countryman news editor Cally Dupe reports:
Every Kulin Bush Races meeting is a special one for Graeme Robertson, one of the original community members who put their heads together 25 years ago to create the event.
With a self-described “obsession” with bettering Kulin, and a love of country race meetings, Mr Robertson was well into the thick of things last weekend.
But this year was a bit different for the Kulin farmer, who has dedicated a large part of his life to the burgeoning event.
It was likely his last as president, with plans to hand the role over to his deputy chairman Tom Murphy in coming weeks — someone Mr Robertson says will “be bloody great”.
Mr Robertson was just a young buck when he signed up as chairman of the inaugural bush races, which was held on October 6 and 7, in 1995.
With self-confessed innocence and naivety, the community loosely based its first event on Victorian country picnic race meetings.
They decided to “have a crack”, and at the amphitheatre of the Jilakin Rock and Jilakin Lake, volunteers carved out a man-made track and started to build infrastructure.
A list of pros and cons about founding the event came up with significantly more cons — with no money, no experience, no horses and a fear of failure.
But in the end, the event’s one pro,“it should be great fun”, prevailed and the Kulin Bush Races was born.
At a special ceremony on Friday night, Mr Robertson was presented with life membership for the event he helped to found all those years ago.
In presenting the award, long-term volunteer Robbie Bowey said Mr Robertson had been an integral stitch in the fabric of the community.
“Graeme was an enthusiastic initiator of the event and despite lack of funds to get it started, he was happy to proceed and take it forward,” she said.
“He encouraged the community to come forward with ideas, to have a go and make the event the success it is today.”
The 25th event went off with a bang, raising $150,000 for the community as a record crowd celebrated 25 years.
Festivities started Friday, when more than 3000 people gathered at the track at the base of the Jilakin Rock on the Luccesshi family’s farm.
The night kicked off with a novelty tin horse race and entertainment by acoustic musician Hayden McGlinn and roots-rock singer Laine Wolfe.
The crowd swelled to its sell-out, record-breaking crowd of 4100 on Saturday.
Once the sun set, the crowd gathered in the bar area and danced the night away to Australian Rock Collective and Slim Jim and The Phatts.
A sell-out crowd was exciting but bittersweet for the organisers, who had a 1000-strong waitlist for this year’s event.
Lara Scaddan, of Lancelin, scooped the feature race of the weekend — The Kulin Cup — on her horse Gunsmoke, followed closely by Marge Ojapold on Bullsbrook Boy, and Penny Knight on Imabatu.
Gunsmoke, a retired race horse, is a son of Street Cry — the sire of Australian champion mare, Winx.
With eight races, there was plenty to see on Saturday, with fashions on the field, tin horse races, a 9G Tractor Race, two-up, kids’ tug of war and more.
Mr Robertson said he enjoyed seeing young people return to the town to help run the event.
“I don’t know whether I have a real passion for making Kulin the best it can be, or if it is an obsession, it depends who you talk to,” he joked.
“It has given me a real sense of satisfaction. Being honoured with a life membership is a humbling experience.”
Mr Murphy first moved to Kulin in 1999, where he met his wife Fiona and the pair stayed in town for two years.
After a few years on the east coast, he returned to town four years ago and became involved with the races straight away.
Mr Murphy said he had learned a lot through Mr Robertson and hoped to “carry on the legacy”.
Next year’s Kulin Bush Races will be held on October 3 and 4.
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