Almanac Road Trip: Plenty of horses and umpires at Swan Hill but no trains





Anyway, who said footy umpires couldn’t be a mob of scallywag funsters? More on that later.


Regular readers may recall your author’s challenge to travel 3,000 kilometres with the four annual free Victorian seniors’ V/Line travel vouchers.


The three day Swan Hill cup carnival was originally planned as the third leg. Bairnsdale Cup was the first leg back in March and Warrnambool’s Grand Annual  was the second leg last month.


Alas! Track maintenance works on the Swan Hill line see buses replace trains. No thanks, I’ll drive. But hey, I’ll still certainly get to the carnival.


Swan Hill population 20,159; median average age 40; principal employment sectors agriculture and health services. Federal House of Representatives division of Mallee which the AEC website defines as safe National.


This year’s official total attendance for the carnival is 10,859 – a new record. Apparently, even the mangers are fully booked.


No small wonder the local community sorely missed its crowds both in 2020 during COVID’s first innings and again in 2021 just as Delta was taking off and crowd restrictions were reimposed.





Even now in the post COVID era though, shops and businesses around Swan Hill have their doors open but, like it is back home, many struggle to find staff.


This year at least, the races are back and there is a palpable vibe around the streets among those 10,859 folk of gleefully making up for lost time.





So it’s off to the track whereupon I quickly find ‘my tree’ – an important part of a day at the races if you don’t fancy standing all afternoon.





And the mounting yard is just around the corner.


The first two days of that lovely clear north of the Great Dividing Range winter weather provide plenty of action on track however there is still time to discover other highlights around the township.


As Col Ritchie posted a few weeks ago, the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement is a must see attraction for visitors. For those familiar with it, think here Sovereign Hill Ballarat but with a different theme.





I find a Fordson Major. This one looks like a predecessor of the ones we had on the family farm of my childhood in Winchelsea.





This may look like a pile of junk but it is an important part of a landmark Australian industrial relations court case, namely, the Sunshine Harvester decision of Justice Higgins in 1907. It established the basis of what we now know as the minimum wage. Truly ground breaking stuff for its time it was. Eagle eyed readers may even spot the yellow Sunshine brand on the red cover.





Before I leave though I ask Joe the Clydesdale for helpful information for Cup day tomorrow.


Cup day arrives and the club must be delighted with the cup field consisting as it does of many city weekend class horses.


On arrival at Mass at St Mary’s I discover my first omen tip. It’s Trinity Sunday so obviously trifectas are the go – but what numbers? Please explain.





At this point my Divine assistance hits a hurdle with the first sentence of today’s Gospel. “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.” (John 16/12).


Oh great! The very day I need specific clues and God goes all secret squirrel.


But I press on regardless, blissfully unaware I am about to become involved in quite an unexpected form of equestrian speculation – and one with a successful outcome for good measure.


When I find my allocated table, I learn my lunch colleagues are Bendigo football umpires. Trying to impress my new friends I tell them about my own whistle blowing days long ago in Geelong and Sunraysia.


They look at me in equal parts admiration and disbelief when I tell them how I once awarded 15 yard penalties and how the ‘new’ out of bounds on the full rule took quite a bit of getting used to when it was introduced in 1969.


Unfortunately, I lose some brownie points when I discuss my erstwhile approach to ruck free kicks. “I never really did understand the rule so I just used to make them up like everybody else did!”


Stern faces glare back at me. Hmm, local comic dies the death. Shut up Roger.


But my new friends are a forgiving mob so it doesn’t take them long to invite me to join their betting strategy.


All players put in $2 and take two cards face down. Red cards ace to ten are the horse numbers for the next race while black cards ace to ten are horses 11 to 20. Winner takes the pool. If the winning number remains in the small unused pile, the pool jackpots.


What could possibly go wrong?


The afternoon gathers pace. The Peter Chow trained Paul’s Regret wins the Cup, one of his biggest wins for a while. His $96,250 first prize will pay a lot of nomination fees.


Approaching the last race, it is decided to double up and put $4 in. As you do. The Mark Pegus trained Comachi (number 3) ridden by Jake Noonan is the $2.50 favourite and is considered by the cognoscenti to be the best bet of the day.


I peek at my first card furiously hoping for a red three. Damn! Ace of spades. Number 11 is Zeitakuna at $26.


I peek at my second card. Double damn! Six of clubs. Number 16 is Sachem at $20, not much better.


The big field in the last thunders towards us down the outside rail where the track condition is less chopped up after 24 events over three days of racing. But on his lonesome hard up against the rail over the other side, Sachem’s jockey Declan Bates has decided the shortest way home may well be better after all.


In a driving photo finish with half a dozen horses across the track within a length of one another, the judge eventually semaphores the winner’s number…and…it is 16. Sachem salutes!


Back at the table I try to hide my embarrassment at cleaning out the jackpotted pool while discreetly turning over the six of clubs. But they are a good spirited lot. They wish me well and thank me for my  company. Even my earlier ruck free kick faux pas now seems to be forgiven and forgotten.


Mildura Cup awaits my third free train voucher on 22 July.


Who knows? Maybe I will meet up with some of my old Sunraysia umpiring colleagues.




More Roger Lowrey can be read Here.




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About Roger Lowrey

Roger Lowrey is a Geelong based writer who lists his special interests as reading, writing, horse racing, Roman history and AEC electoral boundaries. Some of his friends think he is a little eccentric.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read RDL! The Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement is certainly a great attraction for the town and provides visitors the opportunity to see the way things once were. You sometimes forget about little things but an object pops up to bring back many childhood memories. Disappointing the train was not operating as I’m sure that must be a wonderful trip to Swan Hill. Looking forward to your next instalment RDL.

  2. Well played RDL. No train! Disappointing but Mildura beckons. That might be roughly when my boys and I get on the Gawler line for a brisk trip north. Looks like you enjoyed yourself. I’m still traumatised by my most recent trip to Mildura when I went to Woodsy’s Maze and couldn’t complete it! I look forward to reading of this too.

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    Very much enjoyed the yarn Roger. I did notice you seemed to be a little early for church though.

  4. Riverina Rocket says

    Very enjoyable read and account of your time in Swan Hill.
    You certainly had a full book of rides!
    Look forward to the trip to Mildura – and how to get there by trasin.

  5. Mark Duffett says

    Great read, thanks Roger. I don’t know if there is a more disappointing phrase in the English language than “replacement bus service”. Looks like you got some divine guidance after all.

  6. Roger Lowrey says

    Thank you colleagues. As always, nice to know there is a readership out there somewhere.

    Respectively as follows: Col, any tangible reminder of our history is important but content like that is even more important because parents will have to explain to their kids what it was all about. If it didn’t exist, photos would appear in history books or, these days, on electronic screens that would be forgotten in an instant. The lived experience is always far more powerful.

    Mickey, I loved my two years at Mildura HS and the Sunraysia umpires so only happy to latch on to any excuse to get back to that lovely clear Mallee winter weather. That said, I give you my undertaking I will explore Woodsy’s Maze. And that is a “core promise” even though I kinda suspect Kirrin Island will leave it in its wake – but I’ll keep an open mind for now.

    Daryl, yeah I was although not through any excessive piety. As I responded to an earlier post, getting suitable candidates to take pics involves a certain level of polite assertiveness so I always allow myself plenty of time to spot a potential photographer – and I invariably target someone under 30. Unfortunately the demographic of church attendees, even on Trinity Sunday, is such that these young’uns are pretty thin on the ground at these times.

    RR, Jeff Kennett’s decision to discontinue maintenance of the tracks north of Ouyen in the early 1990’s was a key decision which cost him the seat of Mildura to an independent in 1996. Subsequently, this independent MP tasted revenge and, along with two other independent MPs, ultimately cost Kennett government when they agreed to support a Bracks minority Labor government in 1999. The rest of course is history.

    These days, we can still catch a V/Line train to Swan Hill but then get a V/Line bus to Mildura. The latter is a two hour pain in the arse however I need to accumulate many valuable kilometres in this third leg if I am to meet my challenge of 3,000 kilometres with four vouchers. Mildura is obviously a pivotal plank of my strategy. With apologies to PJK, I only have “one shot in the locker” left after that.

    Thanks to everyone for your interest in this somewhat wacky self-indulgent first world baby boomer project.

    Go Cats!


  7. Peter Fuller says

    I’m certainly enjoying your whimsical (rather than wacky, in my view) series of excursions. It certainly fits the Fuller family (multiple generation) commitment to exploit any freebies and benefits which might be available. Michael McGirr wrote a book about a trip to Europe he embarked upon with his mother soon after he left the priesthood. Its title inspired by his mother’s single minded pursuit of benefits, bonuses and discounted or free add-ons was “Things You Get for Free”. He implied that some of his mother’s initiatives were short-sighted – either costing more than they merited or causing inconvenient consequences. Given some common elements in your, my and Mrs McGirr’s background, I don’t know whether the frugality is a Catholic, or a rural thing or merely a function of growing up in modest, if not impoverished circumstances.

  8. Roger Lowrey says

    Sorry Mark, our pieces must have crossed in transit.

    Yes, my soul grieves and my heart saddens whenever I approach North Geelong RS and see buses. I just know intuitively there is yet another cock-up. Of course the other platitude is “we are constantly improving our operations so we are a quality customer service provider yuddah yuddah yuddah …”

    Peter, always after a freebee comrade. Mind you, I remember how my farming parents thought the best “freebee” they ever received was my teaching studentship through university which included all tuition fees before Gough. I never quite understood at the time but they later explained it was absolute gold to them as they hadn’t been on the receiving end of much government $ over their lives. It seemed I was a good boy in their eyes because I won it off my own bat, as it were, despite my protesting at the time about conscription and my other left leaning tendencies against their more conservative views.

    Mind you, given your mutual background with the whistle mate, I am sure you would have been quite at home with the characters I lunched with. They were heaps of fun.


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