Where the Boolburra racetrack once was

Area where Boolburra picnic races were once conducted. Image taken July 2020.

How a sporting event brought people together

In the era before modern transport and communication, local events such as dances and picnic race days were often the highlight of the year for rural communities.

My maternal grandfather, Alex Dobbs, grew up in a small community at Boolburra, about 100km from Rockhampton, near the Dawson River.

His adoptive father, Charles Dobbs, ran a dairy, and Pop ‑ as we grandchildren, and many others, knew him ‑ worked alongside him.

Apart from the main house and the dairy, the Dobbs family farm had a tennis court and a hall building that was well used by the whole community.

Only a few hundred metres from the house, the community fashioned a racetrack not far from the railway line and beside Herbert Creek, which was also a boundary to the Dobbs property.

Picnic races were first held at Boolburra in May 1901. It was, of course, a community event and locals were very much involved. The long-time schoolteacher Patrick Murtagh (1883 to 1914) was clerk of the scales and Joseph Duffy was one of the stewards.

The Dobbs family did not arrive at Boolburra until about 1915 having previously lived at both Mt Morgan and Kabra.

In 1924, Charles Dobbs took care of the tea and soft drink stall at the races. Later that year, Alex Dobbs was clerk of the scales.

After the races, festivities continued with a night of food and dancing at Dobbses Hall.

Bella Silver and Alex Dobbs

My maternal grandparents Bella Silver and Alex Dobbs on their wedding day in 1925.

By this time, my grandmother, Margaret Isabella Silver, was teaching at Boolburra School and boarding with the Dobbs family.

Love blossomed between Bella and young Alex and they headed off to get married and set up a business in Brisbane the following year. However, that venture coincided with tough economic times and they had to abandon their business and return to Boolburra.

Boolburra Racing Club ticket

Kay Cumming from Yeppoon, Queensland, shared this image on Facebook.

They raised their four children on the farm and, as a grandson, I grew up hearing the adults talk of their neighbours past and present.

Duffy, Cagney, McKenzie, Walsh, among many others, were mentioned. They are all found associated with the Boolburra races.

Picnic races filled the desire of amateur riders and equine enthusiasts to race their horses for the excitement and adventure of competition.

The race day held on Saturday, 27 December 1924, is typical of how the community gathered and enjoyed such events.

Some horses would race more than once on the same day as was the case with Ginborough, which won both the Boolburra Cup and the Edungalba Handicap.

Ginborough’s owner, trainer and rider was George Tanwan* who lived about 120km away at Banana. So it’s likely George would have ridden Ginborough to Boolburra as well.

That would have been an adventure in itself along dirt tracks and through the bush, no doubt.

As reported in The Morning Bulletin newspaper:

The win was a most popular one, and, on the horses returning to scale, Ginborough and his rider received an ovation, the cheering being continued for several minutes.

Newspaper report of 1924 Boolburra Cup

Newspaper report of 1924 Boolburra Cup.

The correspondent went on to write:

While the winner was being decorated by Mrs P. P. O’Brien the applause broke out afresh, and order had to be called for while Mrs O’Brien handed the cup to Mr. Tanwan.

Several weeks later The Capricornian newspaper featured several images of the race day. While the images are not that clear, the captions tell us the following:

  1. Horses parading for the Boolburra Cup. 2. Saddling up. 3. Waiting for mounts. 4. Mr. Tanwan and his horse Ginborough, winner of the Cup.

So, George Tanwan can be identified and those in the background are most likely to include my Pop, Alex Dobbs, who was only 23 years old.

The last mention of the Boolburra races is in 1935. The event had resumed after a hiatus of six years and, it seems, it did not continue after this time.

However, for several decades, people from “miles around”, as the saying goes, were drawn to Boolburra where they enjoyed a break from the tough life many experienced surviving on the land in good times and bad.

Other reports of Boolburra races include from 1923, 1925, and 1926.

*NOTE: George Tanwan’s brother, Ted, was a successful jockey winning on various Queensland tracks, including in Brisbane.