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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Victorian takes Winton to Longreach trophy in 17 hours

ABOVE: Andrea Laws-King and Flash looking good on leg three. Picture: DENISE KEELAN

ONE of the longest – and some say toughest – endurance rides in the country was revived this year as a one-off event to mark 100 years of Queensland's Country Women's Association and raise money for charity.

The Winton to Longreach Endurance Ride, which was held from 1980 to 1988, covered 220km along the original Cobb and Co route between the two Queensland towns.

It was the idea of artist Hugh Sawrey as a way of raising awareness of the Stockman's Hall of Fame, which was to be built at the site of the ride’s finish line.

The first year 37 riders start in the event, including a 72-year-old RM Williams, who with his mate Tom Quilty had earlier created a national championship endurance event over 160km – the Tom Quilty Gold Cup – which is now the biggest professional endurance ride in the Southern Hemisphere.

The inaugural winner in 1980 was Carmen Batterham riding Country and more than 30 years later after retracing the same route it was Victorian Andrea Laws-King and Heathfield's Flashrani who took the line honours in just over 17 hours.

The middleweight rider described the ride as “psychologically and physically demanding”.

“Long hot relentless stretches of track with no shade, it was certainly a test of resilience," she said.

Andrea travelled more than 2000km from her Mornington Peninsula base to get to the Winton for the ride but says it was worth it.

“It was the entire journey that was the highlight,” she said.

“No matter had I not started or not completed, I still travelled, alone with Flash, 2200kms to Winton and experienced the most amazing people and comradery.

“The organisers and all the volunteers who had been involved over the past two years and on the day of the ride had put their heart and soul into its success.”

ABOVE: Andrea Laws-King receives the trophy from Laura Axsentieff and Craig Renner. Picture: DENISE KEELAN

Of the 32 riders to start this year, 16 completed the course.

The oldest rider was 71, the youngest 10.

The second rider over the line was the lightweight winner Tracey Eastaughffe on Shanelli-Park Phoenix in just over 18 hours, with mother and daughter Saasha and Taylor Grogan (riding S'Shaada Zephyr and Anastazia VA) finishing together just two minutes behind. Taylor won the junior division.

The first heavyweight to finish was Matt Gadsby riding Melcot Santini in a very respectable time of 18 hours and 10 minutes.

One of the many hard-working volunteers behind the scenes was Stephanie Malmborg, who echoed the thoughts of all involved.

“I so loved this ride from start to finish,” she said.

“The expanse, the terrain, the people I got to meet and know better. The feeling of comradery. The volunteers – oh my gosh – they outnumbered the riders in a high ratio. From sharing everyone's pain and joy, the determination, tenacity, care and most of all I think one and all had fingers crossed for all riders. Well done Team Winton to Longreach as you stood united and pulled it off.”

Watch the ABC's Walkley Award-winnery story on the first ride in 1980.

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