12 May, 2023
A walk down memory lane
Over the past 20 years, thousands of people from all walks of life have paid homage to the early pioneers of the region who journeyed from Mareeba to Chillagoe using a wheelbarrow to transport their belongings through the Great Wheelbarrow Race. Three of the most influential locals who have been part of the race since its inception shared their reminiscences... CLICK THE LINK TO SEE PHOTOS FROM 2004 - 2022
Late in the 1800s when work was scarce and transportation was limited, miners often used to travel about the region using a wheelbarrow to carry all of their possessions.
In 2004, as a tribute to these early pioneers and to honour their amazing trail-blazing feats, the road between Mareeba and Chillagoe was named the Wheelbarrow Way and The Great Wheelbarrow Race was born.
The idea to create the race saw many raised eyebrows at the time, and less than 12 teams putting their hand up for the 140km trek.
Thousands of memories have been made, goals have been achieved, and friendships have flourished on the Wheelbarrow Way over the past 20 years.
Three of the most influential locals who have been part of the race since its inception shared their reminiscences...
Evan McGrath has been a part of the race since its inception, serving as a dedicated chair and committee member for many years while he was a Mareeba Shire councillor. He has shown great passion about the race, supporting every team and committee member to make the event the best it could be.
The highlight of every race for Evan to this day is the school students lining the main streets of Mareeba and Mutchilba, cheering the teams as they pass by in the downtown parade.
The smiles and cheers of the community members supporting the teams demonstrate great community spirit, which is a vital element for him.
In 2012, he and his “right-hand woman”, Stacey Maisel, travelled to the Sunshine Coast for the Queensland Tourism Awards. Being up against so many other events with “better advertising and bigger turn outs”, Evan and Stacey were certain the race was not going to win, until its name was called.
Feeling a mixture of emotions after the win, Evan still believes that award demonstrated what an incredible event the wheelbarrow race was, and still is, today.
Throughout his tenure, Evan witnessed many bruises, blisters, and grazes, but he still gives his “biggest blister award” to Robyn Campman, who took on the challenge as a soloist in memory of her sister and niece who were victims of a double murder.
“At the Petford stop, the blisters under her feet were world-record size, but she perse-vered,” he said.
In 2013, the 10-year anniversary witnessed 72 teams racing and some of the highest fund-raising ever seen. To Evan, this was the greatest year of all.
“A mammoth effort by all teams that year to reach almost $460 000. Teams chose where to direct their financial support--a wide range of charities and organisations benefited,” he said.
Evan has been invited back, alongside other ex-chairmen, to be part of the street parade in honour of the 20th year.
Former Mareeba Shire councillor Alan Peders-en joined the Wheelbarrow Race committee in 2008 and became its chair in 2009.
Described as a man with a “can-do attitude,” Alan joined the team with a goal to ensure the smooth rollout of the race.
Getting local media outlets involved in the race was one of Alan's most significant accom-plishments as the chair, marking the beginning of a long-standing relationship with many news groups.
“I was chair from 2009 to 2012 and have helped out a few times since. I started the in-volvement of a television crew for the three days to promote the race on the nightly news,” he said.
“(The race) brings a lot of people together for three days of fun and pain, raises a lot of money for many charities, and remembers our pioneers. It also injects a financial boost for the small towns along the way.
“It's great to see the event continue even though it is a big job for the committee, and it's good to see the hard work that was done to get it started has been continued by successive councils."
Veteran wheelbarrow racer Michael Harnischfeger reminisces about the first Great Wheel-barrow Race in 2004, when there were barely any participants, and they had no real idea of what they were doing.
He recalls stopping in Arriga on the first leg of the race for a cup of tea with a lady who invited them in.
Since then, Michael has competed in every single race over the past 20 years, either as a soloist, a duo, trio or team, driven by the encouragement of his friend Peter Apel, who told him about it one Friday night when it was first announced.
“We won the over 40's category that year,” he said.
“There were only about eight teams back then that competed, and it's gotten quite big since then. I've done it every year since, and you meet people that you only see at the Wheel-barrow Race, and they become your mates.”
Although Michael has won almost every category in the race, he is still yet to win in the talent quest – something he is quite devastated about.
Michael has witnessed some remarkable accomplishments on Wheelbarrow Way, but some of his most memorable moments of the race were when he raced alongside his family.
“The biggest one was doing it solo, and then I've done a duo with my wife, my oldest boy, and my youngest boy, and they'd probably be the highlights – racing with family members,” he said.
This year, Michael will be competing in the social category alongside the Amaroo Medical team, as he has done for the past few years.
He hopes that in the future, the race will con-tinue to honour the legacy of the pioneers, as well as the many charity teams that have raced, and will remain one of the most outstanding events on the Far Northern social calendar.
BACK IN THE GOOD 'LD DAYS:
Thank you to those who submitted photos.