7 March 2024

When it comes to traditional bush races, at Binda, it's a picnic

| Sally Hopman
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Horses racing in a paddock

Horses take to the Funny Hill farm track at last year’s Binda Picnic Races. Photos: Facebook.

It’s the race that stops a, well, region. Actually, a tiny hamlet. More of a dot on the map near Crookwell, really … the Binda Picnic Races.

Each year since 1848, give or take a couple of world wars, floods and COVID, the people of Binda have run their picnic races – this year on Saturday, 9 March – organised by the Crookwell and District Amateur Picnic Race Club committee. And each year, it attracts up to 2000 people, not bad for a small rural community with a population of 260, according to the last Census.

It’s a unique event, according to the woman who should know, Margaret Carr, a fifth-generation member of the farming family who came to the district in 1865. Her property, Funny (no joke) Hill, hosts the event.

“The picnic races here have been going forever,” Margaret said. “They started in 1848 but sometimes things like wars got in the way. I think the longest period they’ve run continuously was about 77 years.

Three women and a tractor

Margaret Carr (left) and Binda Picnic Races volunteers Karen Harwood and Annie Goodrich prepare the paddock for the annual meeting.

“Back in those days, every town had a racecourse, mainly because there was nothing else to do.

“Our ‘racecourse’ here is just a paddock, about 1400 metres. Back then, they’d use the horses during the week on the farm and then race them at the weekend.”

Margaret said the picnic races hadn’t changed a great deal over the years. It had always been, and remained, the social outing of the season for people in the bush. A time to forget whatever ailed you and dust off your best boots – and fascinator.

The actual racing side of things, she said, didn’t always come in a strong first.

“It’s a real first-class Melbourne Cup-type event,” she joked. “If we’re lucky, we’ll have 10 horses in a race. If not, we’ll have three. But we get all the bookmakers coming out here, they reckon it’s a great day with everyone throwing money around.

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“We used to have a drinks licence but they took that away – so now it’s bring your own. Actually, it’s bring your own everything, pretty much. We don’t have electricity in the paddock. But we do have a couple of generators so we can call the races.”

The toilet facilities used to be long-drops, Margaret said, but had since been upgraded to portaloos.

The event also proves a winner for the Crookwell Public School – its P&C puts on lunch for the guests as a fundraiser for the year. Any profits from the day also go back into the local community.

The fact the Binda Picnic Races are like no others is what brings the crowds. Margaret said she often saw the same faces every year, bringing their tents, despite the fact some never venture out of them to see a race.

Race club sign on paddock racetrack

It’s all happening this Saturday, 9 March: the 2024 Binda Picnic Races at Funny Hill Racecourse.

“You could say not everyone comes here for the racing,” she said. “Yes, it’s true some people never see a race. You don’t come here to make a fortune, which is good because no-one ever does. They come because it’s a great day out, catching up with family and friends.”

For Margaret, it’s a family affair. Her brother James is patron of the event – “his grandchildren are now involved in it” – so it’s all about tradition. It’s how they used to do it in the day and how they continue to do it today.

For this Saturday’s event, jockeys and horses have registered from as far afield as Canberra, Nowra, Bathurst and Orange.

The Binda Picnic Races are on this Saturday, 9 March, at Funny Hill, Binda, Crookwell, with the first race at 12:30 pm followed by another five races, the last at 5 pm. Tickets are available online only.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.

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