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Australia Day honour for Bell Race Club in centenary year

17 January 2024

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By Andrew Smith

For a tiny race club that hosts one meeting a year, an Australia Day Award is undoubtedly a huge achievement.

Bell Race Club was recently confirmed as the recipient of the 2024 Western Downs Regional Council Local Community Organisation Achievement Award as part of the Australia Day celebrations.

Fittingly, the honour came in the club’s centenary year, with the annual race meet held on January 6.

Bell Race Club President Nathan McNamara said the prize was a deserved reward for the efforts of the club’s loyal members and patrons.

“First of all, we’re a hard working, 100% voluntary club so it's certainly recognition of all the hard work not only over the last 12 months, but building up the club year-on-year over a long period to what it is at the moment,” McNamara said.

“Secondly, it’s good recognition from the patrons and the people that attend the event year-on-year - the fact that they obviously clearly have a good time at our event and it’s getting well publicised and there's good strong word of mouth and growing each year.

“There’s no doubt about it that we’ve got a good strong core quorum of very committed club members that put in an awful lot of work to make a good event and then ultimately a number of patrons that return year-on-year that keep supporting us.”

Situated about half an hour north of Dalby, Bell Race Club was one of seventeen outstanding individuals and community organisations named by the Western Downs Regional Council in their Local Awards recipients.

The Local Community Organisation Achievement Award is given to a group that has brought social, cultural and/or economic benefits to individuals, community organisations or the community in general.

Just over 2000 people attended the annual race meeting (Photos: Ange Stirling).

It also recognises groups that have significant volunteer involvement, display excellence in their field while also bringing recognition or credit to the community or region.

McNamara said the honour had come as somewhat of a surprise for the club that boasts around 25 members.

“You never expect these things of course but getting a call from the Mayor Paul McVeigh caught me off guard, to be honest,” McNamara said.

“He just said look you’ve been in the finalists list for a couple of years now without you even really knowing it and been very close the last couple of years.

“But he said it had become where they couldn’t ignore the work the club has been doing every year which is not only helping the Bell Race Club, it’s helping the town and ultimately helping Western Downs Council.”

Held annually on the first Saturday of January since 1924, the annual race day attracted 2075 people from all around the region earlier this month, beating the previous record from 2021.

The six-race card at the small track was complemented by record nominations in Fashions on the Field, male and female foot races on the track and a Bush Bachelor and Bachelorette Competition.

Six races were held at the annual meeting (Photos: Ange Stirling).

“For a town that only has a population of 300 people, to have over 2000 people there and almost seven-fold the population is a huge accomplishment,” McNamara said.

“The club doesn’t survive on hard-working members alone - we need people to come to our event so the fact we have those people, we’d like to think that our hard work makes them want to come back each year.

“But there’s no doubt about it we haven’t got a club without people turning up so we’re very fortunate we’ve got a very loyal supporter base that thankfully keeps growing year on year for us.”

As for what the next 100 years looks like for the Bell Race Club, McNamara was confident country racing would continue to thrive in the small town.

“It’s very positive - we’re fortunate enough that unlike a lot of committees, we’ve got a relatively young committee base,” he said.

“So there’s a fair amount of longevity there for the club in terms of management and club members moving forward so we’re very fortunate in that.

“We’ve now partnered with Queensland Country Life and the race day now dovetails into that festive period over Christmas and the New Year.

“It’s continuing to gain in notoriety particularly in regional circles and becoming a real landmark/must-do event that people need to do on the bucket list.”

Click here to read more about the Western Downs Regional Council's Local Australia Day Awards.