It’s been a while since my last blog post, and for good reason. The paper’s been keeping me pretty busy, and, since I’ve been writing more for work, I haven’t felt like doing it much in my spare time.
I’m working on a blog post with highlights from the paper over the last couple of months, but before I publish it I thought it was worth sharing my first experience with the Finke Desert Race, which happened last weekend.
For those who aren’t familiar with the event it’s an off-road race for motorbikes, quad bikes, buggies, and cars along a track from Alice Springs to the small desert community of Aputula (Finke).
The track is about 230 km each way and has a reputation of being one of the hardest in the world. You could say it’s like Bathurst with dirt.
My Finke coverage only spanned the prologue stage and the finish day, but I still got a taste of madness of the event.
Prologue started early. Like, really early. Too early for a Saturday. And if you keep an eye on the weather in Alice Springs (hi, Mum) you’ll know that the overnight temperature at the moment is dipping into negative numbers. So not only was it finking early, it was finking freezing, too.
The weather was no match for this Tassie girl, though. I was wearing so much Kathmandu gear I waddled into Finke headquarters looking like the Michelin man.
Despite the challenge, the great thing about being up that early was getting to see the spectacular outback sunrise.
As the cars started their reconnaissance lap, the sun climbed higher into the sky, defrosting eager spectators who had shown up to see the first competitor depart the start line.
I’m not much of a rev head, but I respect the skill and madness of the drivers, who drive at speeds upward of 150 kilometres per hour around the powdery red dirt track. The cars and bikes are the reason Finke exists, but it seems that the real draw card of the event is the camping. And beer. Actually, it’s probably mostly beer.
People travel from all over Australia to soak up the Finke atmosphere, around 7000 people in fact. The population of Alice Springs increases by 25% during the Finke weekend, which was an interesting spectacle to watch in itself.
During the week of Finke the town was inundated with four wheel drives and campervans carrying people who buy every piece of camping equipment and food we’ve got. The day they all depart for the track you’d be hard pressed to find one rasher of bacon or a single egg in all of Alice Springs.
Lucky I’m vegan; they tend to leave the vegetables alone.
As I made my way around the prologue track taking photos of the crowd and the riders, I met a lot of quirky characters having a very good time. With the luxury of a whole day to shoot, I had time to stop and have a yarn to them all, find out what brought them to Finke, and have a cheeky laugh.
The gig turned out well for my romantic life as well; by lunchtime I’d been offered five phone numbers, and, as the pile of Great Northern cans started to rival Mt Gillen, I received three marriage proposals.
I’m disappointed I couldn’t go to the actual Finke track – that’s where they real fun happens.
Usually the area is a bare outback landscape, but for the Queen’s weekend each year it has the population of a small town. People take down couches, full bars with fridges, ping pong tables, and even the kitchen sink. From sun up to sun down they’ll drink beers and run a muck while the bikes and cars fang past kicking dirt up over everything.
It sounds finking fantastic, and something that’s definitely on my list for next year.
At the start of the third and final day, the top three bike positions were held by Alice Springs riders, which is unheard of. The atmosphere around the finish line was electric as locals speculated a podium full of red centre riders.
Excitement quickly turned to disappointment when it was announced that David Walsh, who was leading the event, had pulled out with mechanical problems just 10km after departing Finke. Many times a Finke bridesmaid, 2017 was predicted to be David’s year. It seems the desert had other ideas.
The eventual winner was local legend Daymon Stokie, who, amazingly, completed the gruelling event with a broken clutch hand. It's the first win for an Alice Springs rider in eleven years, and the first win for Yamaha since 1986. I've never seen so many men crying in one place.
Fellow local Luke Hayes came in third after South Australian rider Ivan Long pulled off an incredible last day ride to cross the line second.
My biggest job on the last day was to get a photo of Daymon worthy of the front page. The bikes finished at around 2.00pm, and my deadline was 3.00pm. Given that we only print twice a week it was the most pressure I'd been under since I started at the Advocate.
My photos of Daymon crossing the finish line were okay, as were the images I took of him with his team just after the race, but nothing was suitable for a front page. As it passed 2.30pm, I knew I was running out of time.
Daymon was eventually ushered through to the media centre (a shed with WIFI) for post race interviews, and I knew this was my last chance to get a good shot.
While Daymon talked to journalists I made friends with his Yamaha crew, hoping to set up a photo of the champion on their shoulders. I got the lads on board, and, once they'd soaked him with cans of Jack Daniels, they hoisted Daymon onto their shoulders for my front page image. The NT News used the photo as well, giving me two Territory covers the next day.
Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.