Around the Rock

Extract from the book “Around the Rock” by Olga Joukovsky-Vaisvila

Summarised by Ron (Huey) Adams.
Acknowledgement to Ms Chris Haynes (Northam WA) for kindly typing these extracts up for submission to the adamswa website.

The following is an extract from the book Around the Rock by Olga Joukovsky-Vaisvila – a history of the Shire of Nungarin, page 22.

It describes a typical race day of that era – circa 1890’s.

A major social and sporting event that gave Nungarin’s settlers entertainment and a lot of fun were the races at Mangowine. Victor G C Riseley admirably immortalised these country race meetings in his article ‘Picnic Meetings of The Past, Memories of Old-Time Race Gatherings’.

It used to be a fine thing to attend the meetings of the old country race clubs. For from anything up to thirty and more miles away, eleven o’clock in the morning would see converging to the more or less cleared paddock of the old Mangowine, or the Mumberkine-Jurokine or Culham race club’s improvised race track, buggies and pairs, buck-boards, spring carts, village carts (those funny old two-wheelers with basketware bodies) and sulkies, and sweat-foamed, champing two-year-olds that the younger generation rode to the spot.

After watering the horses at Butterley’s well (at Mumberkine) or ‘down at the brook’ if it were the Easter Monday event at Culham, nosebags would be brought out and soon the coughing animals would be blowing the dust out of their nostrils beneath the shady jam or morrel trees.

Then the congregation of farmers from their thirty-mile radius would settle their families down under more shady trees, for the sun would be starting to shine up fine and warm, and the menfolk would leave the women and the kids to fix up the luncheon, bring the water-melons out of the traps and serve the ham and chicken, whilst the lords of creation ‘jist had a bit of a look round’.

Instinct assisted the ‘bit of a look round’ for under a big York gum over near the ‘straight’ there was a big wool wagon, and in the foreground of it, under a stretched tarpaulin, were tables on trestles and it was seen at once that ‘the publican’s booth’ was starting to work up enthusiasm for the great annual event.

Alec Glass, or Charley (his brother) or E F Edwards (now chairman of the Melville Road Board) or maybe Frank Rose, was probably the secretary in any one of these years when you might have gone to Mumberkine-Jurokine race club, and if it were Culham, a matter of twenty-five miles away on an Easter Monday, the secretary would be Eddy Chitty or Eddy Beard, and the people present would be much the same crowd.

There would be Mick (M J) Lawler, with that great old Eastern District’s crack, Bayland and Charley Sweeting already in jockey’s rig ready to ride in every event. If the weight was right Lionel Clarkson would throw his long legs over the saddle and steer his own mount, and there would be a ding-dong go up the straight, with whips out, whilst Lionel, Charley and Teddy Kirk fought out the most wonderful finish to the roars of the bushmen handing over the only fence-the five or six chains on the inside of the straight.

Then there was another and equally picturesque group – they were all inimitably picturesque – in which the one-time familiar forms of Bill (W G) Leeder, who had Tremando for some time, and his Northam brother, Harry, and also Bill Giblin, who would be riding something or other for them. The tall and gentle C E Dempster, probably watching the paces of descendants of Black Boolka and another rump, the startled animal jumped forward and the judge fell out of the cart. The race had to be run again – and the man who had the money on won the second time. Nothing happened – except to the judge, and he soon recovered after a visit to the booth.

But these country picnic meetings were all fine social gatherings, and probably still are in the outback. Men raced for the racing and slapped each other on the back when the event was concluded, and ‘celebrated it’ over at the waggon. The picnic groups under the trees ran shilling sweepstakes on each event and worked themselves into a zenith of excitement.

Behind the homestead, on a flat overlooked by Mount Grey was the site of the Mangowine Racecourse. Jane and Charles’s boys were noted horsemen. “Horsemen came to Mangowine to match the boys’ prowess, and before long the picnic sports at Mangowine developed into an annual week-long race-meeting. It was the social event of the year and visitors came from as far away as the goldfields, Southern Cross, Northam, Goomalling, Wongan Hills and Toodyay, over a radius of a hundred miles and more. The Mangowine Races were indeed a great social event, not only were there equestrian sports, but dances and picnics. The event culminated in the Mangowine Race Ball, which was held in the barn, where the musician, old George Cummings gave his finest performances when particularly drunk. The button accordion was later replaced by Henry Adams’s piano.