Almanac Memoir: Ouyen Harness Races, 1973




Ouyen Harness Races, 1973


I don’t know how my father, mother, two younger sisters and I ended up at the Ouyen Harness Races, exactly. Of course, it must’ve been during one of those trips we often did on the school holidays. I suppose we stayed at the local caravan park – we owned an old Millard around that time.


As many would know, Ouyen is renowned as one of the hottest places in Victoria, regularly recording the state’s highest temperature on summer days. The flipside is that it can get bloody cold in winter, particularly at night. This is no surprise, given that the small town is not far from that large, uninhabited part of North-West Victoria known as the Big Desert.


What I remember about the Ouyen Harness Races on that long-ago winter evening – I was eleven at the time – was the vast night sky, the lights illuminating the track which made it feel like it was the only place on earth at that moment, and the horses being driven at speed along a distant back straight that seemed like it was on the edge of nowhere (and it was). And there were the blazing mallee roots piled in cut-off forty-four-gallon drums placed strategically around the area, to keep the patrons warm. These makeshift braziers produced so much heat that you couldn’t get closer than ten feet to them. But you were heated right through to the core. And the smell of those burning roots is the one of most beautiful I’ve ever known.



Big Desert Wilderness Area, Victoria. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Ahhh, the smell of burning wood in the campfire is certainly something to behold!

  2. Remember the braziers around the betting ring at Kapunda trots in winter, Had your back to them as they burned your face.
    Ouyen was a saucer track tor speedy squibs from front line draws. If you couldn’t win in city you went to Bendigo. If not there Mildura. If not there Ouyen. If not there South Portland.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments, Colin and Peter.

    Colin – yes, the beautiful mallee root smell! There was a time when you could buy mallee roots for your open fire from your local woodyard – we used to have an excellent one in Geelong near the South Geelong railway station.

    Peter – I’ve heard about the Kapunda trots braziers – via JTH when I mentioned to him in an email that I was going to write the Ouyen piece. And I love the detailed harness racing knowledge you’ve put forward – I was obsessed with the harness races as a kid. I still follow them, but not quite as closely.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Almanckers!

    Today, Sunday 19 September, 2021, is one of two meetings a year held by the Ouyen Harness Racing Club. Due to Covid, there will be no spectators allowed but those interested can watch the races on Trots Vision. First race is @12.37 PM. Apparently the grounds are looking better than ever because there is now a lush green oval used for local junior football in the centre of the area.

    Trots Vision website:

  5. Never been to the Big Desert but its on my list.

    Lovely piece Kevin.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Glad you enjoyed this little impressionistic piece, Dips.

    And it’s easy to forget that Victoria has its own desert wilderness – I’d like to go to that part of the world again, having not been in the area since I was a kid.

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Note: at the precise time of writing, there’s still a few races to go at today’s Ouyen meeting, including Race 7, the Ouyen Pacing Cup. Trots Vision website:

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