Historic Innamincka bush horse race returns providing respite from drought

The Innamincka races were at risk of ending because of a rule technicality.Supplied: Marian Martin

The sound of hooves thundering down a sandy desert track not only marked the return of the historic Innamincka bush picnic races, it also gave remote communities grappling with drought some badly-needed respite.

The century-old event is the most important social occasion for the 12 people who call Innamincka home, as well as the wider South Australian, Queensland and New South Wales pastoral community.

Photo Innamincka is a small community in South Australia's far northeast corner.

Horses run around a dusty race trackSupplied: Marian Martin

But the event's future has been in doubt for the last two years.

The event was washed out in 2016, and in 2017 Thoroughbred Racing South Australia (TRSA) enforced a rule which meant anyone with a registered racing interest risked losing their license for their involvement in the unregistered race.

Photo Innamincka sports club president Clinton Stephenson and his wife Pai at the 2018 races.

A man in a purple shirt and tie carries a small dog. A woman with aviator sunglasses stands with him.ABC News: Paul Culliver

Many participants in outback racing are volunteers who are involved in registered racing in some capacity.

The ruling threatened to bring the event to an end, but TRSA announced an exemption to that rule in early 2018 which allowed the races to return.

Race event helps mental health of pastoralists

Photo Jason Litherland was among the many punters at the 2018 Innamincka races.

A man holds a can of drink and wearing a monkey singletABC News: Paul Culliver

Wartaloona Station manager Justin Nunn rode the horse Primiero to victory in the 2018 Innamincka Cup.

He said the event was more important than ever for the remote communities of central Australia battling the drought.

"It's good to come and mingle with your friends. We've all got the same problems at the moment. But you get a little bit of time away from it and have a good time," Mr Nunn said.

Photo Dachshunds were among many attendees of the 2018 Innamincka races.

A dachshund standing on outback dirt. It's brown and has a red collar.ABC News: Paul Culliver

"It is pretty hard at the moment."

Primiero's owner Rodney Fullerton runs Mungerannie Station in South Australia's far north.

He said the event was crucial for the mental health of those living on the land.

"We come here, we get together, we have a bit of fun, race, it's good," Mr Fullerton said.

"You forget about your worries at home … you relax a bit more, have a good time before heading home and doing it all again."

Photo Rodney Fullerton and Primiero at the 2018 Innamincka Bush Picnic Races

A man with a blue shirt struggles with a horse and fliesABC News: Paul Culliver

He said the South Australian Government's recent declaration of drought for some parts of the state was not surprising.

"We haven't had any rain for a couple of years, but we're battling along."

Fighting to keep a traditional bush race alive

Innamincka Sports Club treasurer Janet Brook said the event's return was significant.

"I'm relieved, excited … just really happy we've been able to put the show on again for the community," Mrs Brook said.

Photo Innamincka Sports Club treasurer Janet Brook.

A woman in a green shirt and vest looks off camera. She is wearing an old cowboy hat.ABC News: Paul Culliver

She said she hoped they could continue to rebuild one of the "last remaining traditional bush picnic races in Australia".

"I don't think there's too many races left like this around the place," she said.

"It's not like some of the other bush race meetings that've got really big in recent years … it's a family event, has something for everyone.

"Unfortunately we've lost a fair bit of momentum with not running the races these last two years.

"We've got to get it back in the forefront of people's minds that we hold this meeting once a year and get it back on people's calendars."

Photo Ron Liddy was the bookmaker at the 2018 Innamincka races

A man in a grey shirt takes bets at the races.ABC News: Paul Culliver

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