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Club Spotlight: Hughenden

IMG-0260.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

This Saturday’s race meeting marks a new dawn for the Hughenden Jockey Club.

Almost a decade ago, the north-west Queensland club was forced to completley start again after their local council decided to demolish the club’s main grandstand after deeming it unsafe.

Without maintenance for some time, the grandstand was full of rust and was ready to go.

With the grandstand went much of the club’s racing infrastructure, including the kitchen, as well as the jockey and stewards’ rooms.

“We had nothing and had to restart,” current Club President Sherilee Honnery recalled.

“It wiped us clean out.

“It has all been a bit of a challenge.”

All of this took place back in 2012 and in the following year, without any facilities available – Hughenden was forced to race their meeting in a different Queensland racing district, Prairie.

While they only missed the one year of racing because of the redevelopments, the club has not yet been fully furnished on and off the track until 2021.

IMG-0399.JPGThrough a series of grants and fund-raising efforts going back to 2013, the bush club has raised upwards of $500,000 to revitalise the racing arena in Hughenden, which has hosted gallopers since way back in 1884.

The dirt track will celebrate the occasion with a five-event non-TAB program this Saturday, headlined by an Outback Racing Showcase heat as the feature event on the card.

The Drought Communities Fund, administered by the Flinders Shire Council, Racing Queensland and the Hughenden Jockey Club, have all pitched in to fund the upgrades, which includes a new stewards tower, a ride on lawn mower and sprayer for the track, a brand new running rail, PA system, and a new set of barriers - which will be used for first time this weekend.

On top of that, a big shaded area and a storage room have also been constructed.

“We had to do a lot of fund-raising, we were catering for rallies of 650 people, on top of the races, to try and make money for the Club so we could have the facilities built,” Honnery said.

“We received a lot of grants, which was great.

“Everyone working together to get racing in regional Queensland going has been fantastic.

“It has been a big job with lots of volunteers from the Club, like every race club.

“Since 2013, the Hughenden Jockey Club has installed and upgraded new facilities and purchased new equipment to the value of over $512,000. 

“I must say when I first added this up, I went back and checked it a few times, but it is a big achievement for a local Outback Queensland club.”

IMG-4097-2.JPGTo say Hughenden has come along way since Nippy Seymour first started training there almost 50 years ago is an understatement.

These days, there are no permanent jockeys or trainers based at Hughenden, with Seymour, who used to also be the president at Hughenden, relocating to Mackay around a decade ago.

“It is a good place to train your horses, in those days you made your own way for the upkeep on the track and everything that goes with it,” Seymour said.

“At one point there is 25 horses at the track but lots of people have left the industry since then.

“The club has been able to get money from here, there and everywhere of late to help get it going.”

Seymour, who was Cloncurry-born, trained at Hughenden for 35 years and is hopeful of taking a team of horses out to his former home track if he can get a jockey to partner his gallopers.

Honnery says they have had interest from stables potentially moving to Hughenden.

The current Club president has been on the Hughenden committee since 2013, with her husband the treasurer of the Club.

Born in Hughenden and having lived there for all of her life, Honnery got involved in the club through friends and has been a driving force behind it for years.

“The social side of things is important for our committee, we are a small community which has diminished over the years, since I was a teenager,” she said.

“We are 3,500 people down to about 1,200 now, to keep those community events alive, that was one of the biggest things that has driven us to improve the track, so people have somewhere to come together.

“It is an important make up of our community.

IMG-4100.JPG“We have all had a really testing year, so we are pleased to see all the clubs racing again this year.”

The Honnerys are regulars on the bush racing circuit around Queensland, regularly visiting tracks such as Julia Creek, Mt Garnett, Cloncurry, Charters Towers and Winton, among others.

Hughenden are excited to be a part of the 2021 Racing Queensland Outback Racing Showcase Series, with a heat run at the track this Saturday.

“It is a step forward for our Club,” the president said.

The series started at Barcaldine earlier this month and compromises seven heats with a final at McKinlay Race Club in June.

With the Battle of the Bush for 2021 in full swing, Honnery says the club would love to host a qualifier for that in the coming years, as well.

This year is set to be the last on the committee of Hughenden for the Honnerys, with the current president declaring the Club was in good shape going forward with a youthful and energetic committee ready to take them forward.

“If there is ever a progressive club to be involved in this is it,” Honnery said.

Club spotlight will be a regular feature that shines a light on the unique and individual racing clubs across Queensland.

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