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Harts Range

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Below are some resources to be checked and summarised. Also link to page for Bob Darken and Tracker Sid. Harts Range is located on the Plenty Highway, 215 km north-east of Alice Springs and 300 km from the Queensland border. Atitjere is on Aboriginal land and a dry community which means there is no alcohol allowed. Under the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Land Act, a written permit is required to visit. Permit applications should be lodged with the Central Land Council. The major industries in the district are beef, cattle, gold mining and tourism. The district is flat, with the Harts Range rising in the West. Harts Range police officers work closely with police from Boulia in Queensland. They are kept busy with tourist traffic heading across the border. Patrols are conducted to local cattle stations and Aboriginal communities, including Atitjere and Utopia. 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 fortyfive 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’.


See the excellent ABC story on the Harts Range 'Police v Bushies' race by Caddie Brian - ABC Rural.

Text pasted below from article but the ABC page contains images and audio

"It's the race that stops the stations.

Each year on the Picnic Day public holiday in the Northern Territory, the local Harts Range police challenge local pastoralists to a horse race.

It's called the 'police versus bushies' race, otherwise known as the Webb-Darken Challenge.

Race caller Sean Parnell says the race is the whole reason the holiday even exists.

"The racecourse has been here for 66 years now since the first races back in 1947." he said.

"Bob Darken was a cop out here. He came out to Harts Range when the police station moved from Arltunga.

"On a quiet day, Bobbie and the three Webb brothers from Mount Riddock Station decided to have a bit of a race to see who was best.

"Bob Darken rode off to the administrator to ask for a public holiday to be declared.

"They called it 'Picnic Day' because they had a big picnic, and it got approved, so that's how the holiday started."

The Harts Range Races, are held each Picnic Day weekend, 215 kilometres north east of Alice Springs at the base of the East McDonnell Ranges.

Five years ago, the race committee decided to resurrect the police versus bushies race, with police competing against riders from local cattle stations.

So far, the police have won two races, the station riders won the other two.

This year was the decider - and the stakes were high.

Three riders from Lucy Creek and Mount Riddick Station raced against relatives of the local sergeant at the Harts Range community Tex Meecham.

Mr Parnell says the Meechams brought up some horses from South Australia this year, giving them an edge.

"A few years back we did use official police horses, but we found they were a bit slow because they're not designed for racing of course, they're more like clydesdales - nothing that races at Rosehill or Randwick that's for sure."

The Webb-Darken Challenge is also a selling race. All six horses are auctioned off beforehand providing the locals with a chance to own the winning racehorse.

Auctioneer Herbie Neville from Elders said there was total clearance, with the Mount Riddock fetching top price at $350.

"I think the prices were a little bit higher than last year," he said.

"I think those police horses surprised all of us.

"I hope they're legit. They told me they swabbed their own horses! There'll probably be an enquiry."

Suspicions only grew, as the police horse 'Bundy' was ridden to victory, beating the station horses by a length.

"I'm really happy. We've now got bragging rights," said Sergeant Meecham, clutching his trophy.

"I think the station people are wanting a swab on the horse to check it's not full of drugs - but that just doesn't happen!"

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