Bev Seymour and husband Neville have been involved with Dederang Picnic Races for 50 years. It all began when Neville’s father started taking him to working bees at the club. Neville and Bev got married in 1965 and over time Bev has become increasingly involved.
Neville was club President for 21 years, despite handing over the reins to Maurice Goonan a couple of years ago, he is still very involved as a life member.
Dederang Races is traditionally held annually on the first Saturday in January. Over the years, the club has seen the date of its annual fixture challenged and at times has had to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to keep it. The influx of holiday makers in the summer are what makes the meeting a success in terms of gate receipts so despite the heat at that time of year, it’s essential that Dederang keep the date.
Last year Bev, along with a small band of helpers, organised a celebratory dinner that hosted 150 people for 150 years of Dederang with Pam Hawkes as guest speaker. Celebrations continued the following day at the meeting with a parade of horse and carts, vintage cars and guests in period dress. It was ‘a very special year’ for Bev and Neville.
The Picnic Racing Awards named a new category after Neville and Bev in 2013, since then Dederang has won the award for two consecutive years, testament to their dedication and hard work. Dederang Picnic Races has just been awarded a 2016 Alpine Shire Australia Day Community Award for ‘Community Event of the Year’.
Over the years, the club has seen much change. Volunteerism is at the heart of picnic racing, without the contributions made by volunteers, staging a meeting wouldn’t be possible. Automation on farms means that where there may have been two or three people working a farm in the past there is often just one now. That person is less likely to be able to leave the farm to volunteer at the races making the pool of available volunteers far smaller.
Neville also made reference to ‘Racing in the silly season’, as their meeting approaches people go into holiday mode. Luckily there are still the ‘die-hards who are absolutely dedicated to making sure that the races run smoothly on the day’.
Bev says, ‘The day has become more professional over time. Traditionally guests would picnic outside, however when the multi-purpose building was built on the reserve the club began hosting the official luncheon inside.
‘The day has grown bigger, there’s been an increase in attendance that has brought with it an increased police and security presence.
‘We’ve always entertained people, years ago we had dog jumping but the entertainment has changed with the times. The Madmans Mile after racing has been very popular, we even had a professional runner who came down from Darwin to race three years in a row!’
When asked what’s key to running a successful race meeting, Bev answered: ‘Good strong leadership and full commitment from a team that work together harmoniously.’
‘We work a whole year just for one day so we need to have a flow chart to get jobs done in good time so that we’re prepared’, added Neville.
Asked the same question, Neville replied: ‘When Maurice Goonan took over my advice was not to forget that the horses are the key to running a successful race meeting year after year.
‘Firstly we need the horses to come, then we need to get people through the gate and give them good value for money.
‘Although it’s important to entertain people, the horses are the core attraction for the crowd.
‘The cost of training is astronomical now and transport isn’t cheap. We pay float rebates, a scheme that was originally frowned upon by the industry. We had to do something to attract people to bring their horses being such a distance from most of the training centres.
‘The picnic community have also fought hard to ensure that professional horses can still come to the picnics without upsetting their racing qualifications, we need to continue to convince owners that they can come to the picnics as a lower cost barrier trial, they might even win some prize money.’
Both Neville and Bev agree that today’s biggest challenge is the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) rulings becoming more complex and tougher to work with. ‘It’s difficult for volunteers to keep abreast of the changes, particularly if they aren’t involved in other committees who have a governance model, this makes preparations for the day difficult’, Bev said.
For many of the roles on the day, it is now an OH&S requirement for staff to be qualified. Neville remembers a time when the barrier attendants comprised experience-qualified local stockmen and farmers, people working with horses every day of the week. They now need to employ licensed staff which eats into funds raised.
However, it’s not all bad news as this does mean involving community groups that can raise funds through their involvement. The gates and parking are managed by the local Fire Brigades, the affiliated sports bodies on the Dederang Recreation Reserve are also involved, the golf club ran the catering for the luncheon and marquees this year while the football club runs the bar and the Lions Club provide a BBQ.
Having local community groups run some of the main activities on the day also absolves the nine-strong committee of the responsibility, leaving them free to ensure that everything else runs smoothly.
When asked what worries him most in the run up to the meeting, Neville answered without hesitation: ‘The weather and our heat policy.
‘Recently we were able to take evasive action and added sprinklers to the top of the stalls to keep horses cool in the heat and comply with Victoria’s heat regulations.
‘The heat regulations are much tighter in Victoria than New South Wales and when racing was cancelled across Victoria a few weeks back, they were still racing down the road in New South Wales’.
The approach of the Seymours and the team at Dederang is progressive. They embrace trends, for example facilitating gourmet food when there is demand for it. They work away at the issues, picking off those that can be achieved in the short term without forgetting the tougher challenges that pose a longer term threat.
Dederang Races has been able to put money back into the Reserve making some important contributions to ensure a safe haven for the town in the event of fire. A water system with underground tanks ensures water in an emergency and sleeping facilities for evacuations have been put in place, these benefit the whole community not just the race club.
Neville and Bev’s passion for helping the community and building something special that will stand the test of time shines through.
Bev says that she gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of her work with the club, ‘I have met so many lovely people along the way, including some lifelong friends. I really enjoy helping our community and find it all very interesting.
‘The races are extremely important to our district, it’s a great way of bringing everyone together, a fantastic day out for the whole family and the funds raised by our community groups are important to their ongoing success’.
When asked what the highlights of their time with the club have been, Bev said, ‘I feel very humbled and honoured to have been made a life member in 2013.
‘Neville and I were extremely honoured to have the award named after us in recognition of what we have achieved at the club, it’s very gratifying.
‘The continued success of the club is a highlight in itself, we have survived the test of time well and have such a great team of volunteers, the community continues to get behind the event year after year.’
Neville answered, ‘Of the three times we’ve won the club award, the year we won against all 13 clubs is a highlight, as is the year  that the Melbourne Cup came to Dederang.
‘Wherever I go, people have heard of Dederang because of the race meeting, that’s why it’s on the map which puts it up there with Birdsville and Hanging Rock.’
To coincide with Dederang’s 150 year celebrations a book, compiled by Keith Smith, was launched:
Rank Outsider: A Non-Racegoers Glance at 150 Years of the Dederang Picnic Race Club.
Copies are $30 each and can be purchased via Dianne Goonan – 0418 114751 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Neville and Bev Seymour.