Gunbower Races 2010

Standing  in  the  main  street  of  Echuca  on  the  first  Friday  in  October,  I  ponder  which  upcoming    event  is  generating  the  most  excitement.  Whilst  there  are  several  shops  displaying  St. Kilda  and  Collingwood    colours  and  footy  gear,    one  shop  window  has  a  desperate  plea  painted  on  it-  “Tickets  wanted  for  Deni  Ute  Muster”.  As  utes  with  black,  singlet  clad  drivers  cruise  north  to  Deniliquin,  footy  fans  head  south  to  Melbourne,  visitors  pour  into  Echuca  to  see  the  Murray  River  up  high  and  flowing,  I  head  north  west  to  my  home  town,  Gunbower,  for  the  races.

Gunbower  is  a  small  town  on  the  Murray  Valley  Highway.  You  could  drive  through  it  without  realising  as  the  town  sign  is  missing  from  the  post.    There  is  one  pub,  a    butcher  shop,    a  roadhouse  (all  owned  by  my  relatives)  a  small  general  store,  a  primary  school  and    a    very  flash  looking  police  station.

The  countryside  looks  marvelous.  Green  grass  is  visible  all  the  way  west  to  Mt. Hope.    Full  creeks,  lagoons,  and  abundant  birdlife  make  me  reflect  on  the  joys  of  growing  up  in  this  bush  paradise.  Thankfully  the  drought  has  ended.  The  land  has  never  looked  better.

The  races  this  year  will  be  significant  for  two  reasons.  It  will  be  Jack  Styring’s  60th consecutive  and  final  call  of  the  Cup  and  the  grand  final  rematch  will  be  on.

As  usual  I  have  lunch  in  the  pavilion/shed  and  catch  up  with  relatives,  school  mates  and  a  couple  of  former  teaching  friends  from  Shepparton.  The  local  and  AFL  football  seasons  are  discussed  as  well  as  the  recent  rainfall.    A  lunch  for  Jack  is  on  at  the  other  end  of  the  shed.

Fashions  on  the  field  are  taken  seriously  by  the  women  and  just  for  fun,  by  a  couple  of  blokes  who  enter  the  competition.

Locals,    sporting  groups  on  end  of  season  trips  and  bus  loads  from  neighbouring  towns  enjoy  the  beautiful  warm  spring  weather.

My  Shepparton  friends  know  enough  about  the  horses  to  bet  on  the  Sydney  races  and  win  themselves  some  money.

Jack’s  60th consecutive  call  of  the  Gunbower  Cup  is  apparently  a  world  record.  Thanks  to  him  Gunbower  will  soon  be  in  the  Guinness  Book  of  world  records!  Jack  says  that  this  will  be  his  last  call  as  he  plans  to  move  on  to  other  racing  ventures  in  the  city.  After  the  last  race,  Jack  is  thanked  for  his  contribution  to  the  Gunbower  races  over  this  extraordinary  period  of  time    and  a  presentation  is  made  to  him  by  the  race  club.    When  Jack  responds  he  reflects  on  some  of    the  challenges  he  faced  such  as  calling  with  a  mouth  full  of    flies  when  the  races  used  to  be  held  in  the  heat  of  January.

The  race  events  this  year  had  been  moved  forward  to  accommodate  the  grand  final.  Just  as  well,  as  the  large  screen  organised  to  show  the  game  did  not  eventuate  due  to  technical  difficulties.  Not  to  worry.  Some  folk  came  with  their  own  TV’s  for  their  marquees,  some  watched  on  the    race  TV  screens,  others  descended  on  the  Pub  and  some    simply  went  home  to  watch  it  after  the  races  had  finished.

I  suppose  it  was  trial  run  for  next  year.  After  going  home  to  a  cousin’s  house  and  watching  the  game  for  ten  minutes  I  asked  myself  why    I    wasn’t,  instead,  sitting  on  the  edge  of  the  Murray  river  with  my  feet  in  the  water.  Very  disappointing.

Later  on  I  drive  back  out  to  the  racecourse  to  pick  up  relatives.  I  don’t  mind,  as  it’s  another  chance  to  meander  the  back  way  along  the  dirt  track  behind    the  tennis  courts  and  football  ground,    and  look  at  the  full  creeks  again.  On  the  drive  back  into  town,    as  the    red  sun  slowly  sinks  to  signal  the  end  of  the  day,  all  on  board  agree  that  there’s  no  nicer  spot  to  be.

Win  or  lose  at  the  races  or  the  football,  this  countryside  will  still  look    marvellous  to-morrow.


  1. You have provided me with a clear picture of a settlement at the opporsite side of the inner Sydney scale Pamela. Sounds very relaxed.

    I thought all the Sherpas came from Nepal, not Gunbower.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    All the Sherpas do come fron Nepal Bill. I was a McGillivray before I married a Sherpa.

    Despite the drought and rural decline, going home is still very much as it was for me and everyone remembers when the countryside used to look this good.

  3. Good on you Pamela, I haven’t read any of your great pieces for a long time. I’m rapt Sir James has taken over at Essendon, what do you think?

  4. Pam

    Love the feet dangling in the Murray, and the general sense of the Australian bush.

    Jack Styring once called the mighty D I Dodsn mare, Courting PLeasure, fourth in a race at Donald. Four of them finished across the track. She actually won.

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    Love your work Pam.

    I am off to the Floreat Pica dinner on Saturday night. Michael Peck, whom of course you know, is coming along as well. Michael was telling me this week that he was up at Kerang recently (for the local GF) and hasn’t seen as much water around for many years.

    Funnily enough, dangling my feet in the Murray water didn’t occur to me at all during the game last Saturday.

  6. Pamela Sherpa says

    Andrew, I was in Kerang for a couple of days before the races Caught up with Michael’s younger brother Digger and the Kerang crew. All very pleased about their GF win. Especially that their young kids who have come up through the ranks had played a part. Have encouraged one of them to write something about it for the Almanac. Perhaps Michael could be persuaded to give us an account.
    As for Collingwood’s win- well, life on earth didn’t end for the rest of us and the sun came up beautifully in the bush the next day.

    JTH- not only does Jack Styring have a distict voice he has an absolute vice like grip of a handshake.

  7. This of course requires mention of the famous Gunbower Utd Cricket Club which has absolutely no relationship to the real Gunbower. The club has started by a group of fellow minded Melb Uni students and the name adopted because some of us had recently driven through it on a country trip. 36 years later, the club still plays in the Mercantile competition which is largely played at the Fawkner Park in South Yarra – as far from Gunbower you could get in more ways than one.
    I think the nonsensical naming inspired another club in the comp called Barnawartha North, who were famous for a rotating captaincy policy and using garden gnomes as boundary markers.

  8. Pamela Sherpa says

    Fascinating Mark. The locals will be chuffed to know that.

  9. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Richard Jones in a review of the Heathcote league grand final (the comp that Gunbower-Leitchville now play in) wrote of the Great Northern United and one-time Rochester champion full forward Doug Cail stayiing on after the game to drink in the stubbies rain such was the the joy of the drought breaking in northern Victoria.

    Seems like the Gunny people were basking in the sun while the crops grew. Just wondering if the former Murray Bomber brothers Greg and John Toll wwere on-course?

  10. Pamela Sherpa says

    Greg Toll was at the races. Had a chat. My cousin and I went for a walk down past Toll’s one night.I turned around a bit earlier but after a good hour and nearly dark and my cousin still wasn’t back I was starting to wonder where he was. He met John Toll on the way and said John couldn’t stop talking footy!

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