The Far North Queensland Amateur Turf Club was founded in 1959 as a coastal version of the historical Oak Park races and as a way of bringing city and country together. The brainchild of the Late Sir Sydney Williams OBE and Les Gallagher, the first Carnival was held on 18th & 19th September 1959.
At the time of the first Carnival, the Committee consisted of 10 people from the outback station properties and local businessmen who conducted 6 races on each day, “Sponsors” were not known as such at the time, but local businesses and regional branches of national companies either volunteered their services or were approached by the Committee to support the local Carnival. From the very start, the Carnival has been under Vice-Regal patronage, with then Governor Sir Henry Abel Smith beginning the tradition in 1959.
Jockeys were, as the Club name suggests, amateur riders and came mainly from stations in outback areas of the region. Professional riders weren’t present until many years later due to changes in racing regulations. The Club was disappointed by the mid-1990 ruling that amateur riders were no longer permitted to compete in Queensland race meetings, however the amateur tradition remains in spirit with the Club. In order to qualify, horses were required to be grass-fed and could not have raced in a professional meeting. A half-day holiday was even declared (somewhat audaciously, but well intended) by the Committee for the first Friday of races and some local businesses gave their staff the afternoon off to attend the Carnival.
By the late 1960s, southern Australia had heard about the “little racing Carnival” up north and visitors from across the nation began to flood the far north, with numbers increasing each year as word spread. In the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, visitors from Australia and overseas flocked to the region and stayed either side of the Carnival. This trend continues to this day as many use the Carnival as an excuse to sample the sights of Tropical North Queensland.
Southern Race callers such as Keith Noud were present in the formative years, with local Dick Chant and more recently, Wayne Wilson in attendance as racing commentators. Prominent race presenter and identity, Bart Sinclair has attended to official duties as the racing correspondent since 1991 and has written pieces on the Amateurs for The Courier Mail and other publications each year.
Prizemoney has grown from £1260 (present conversion is approximately AU$20,000) for the first 10 races to present day figures of around $389,000 across 15 races.
The first Club President was Mr Ken Atkinson who served in the position from 1959 until 1964 when Sydney Williams took the position. In 2001, Sir Sydney Williams stood down as President, which saw the election of Mr Alan McPherson OAM to succeed him after having served on the Committee since 1975. After the 2008 carnival Mr Alan McPherson OAM retired and Michael Delaney was elected new President.
The current Committee comprises the President and 9 Committee members who preserve and develop the event that has embedded itself in the social and sporting calendar of the region, indeed of the country.