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The Tattersall’s Finke Desert Race is an off road, multi-terrain two-day race in Northern Territory, Australia through desert country from Alice Springs to Aputula Community. The race crosses the Finke River, believed to be the oldest river in the world. The race is held each year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (second weekend in June).


The Track

Encompassing about 229 km each way the Finke Desert Race is a grueling and tough event. Travelling through many Properties on its way to end up crossing the Finke river just north of Aputula. The Track is divided in into 5 sections:

  • Start/Finish Line to Deep Well (61 km)
  • Deep Well to Rodinga (31 km)
  • Rodinga to Bundooma (43 km)
  • Bundooma to Mt Squires (45 km)
  • Mt Squires to Finke (49 km)


The concept of an Endurance event that would test the ability of riders and the reliability of their machines was mooted on several occasions by people with an interest in such an event and the logical destination was to the Finke River and back. In 1974 the defunct Alice Springs Motor Cycle Club was hi jacked by a small group of people with an interest in resurrecting the club and conducting motor cycle events under that clubs banner. The group consisted of Ralph Tice an American from the space base at Pine Gap and locals Barry Taylor, Peter Kittle and Peter Gunner there was another committee member an american his name now eludes me. The club began conducting events aimed at giving the ordinary bike owner that had achieved some skill with his machine the chance to compete and win, the concept was an outstanding success and membership grew to such a degree that events such as hill climbs, Mexican motor cross’s and Hares and hounds had to be dreamed up and held every month. A meeting was held to discuss the possibility of bringing the long proposed endurance race to Finke and back into reality, this meeting was held at night in the kitchen of Peter Gunners home in Curruthers Crescent all the committee were present as was Mr Viv Johnston who had being invited along to convey to us the reasons that had stopped his own motor cycle group group from going ahead with a similar event, money was the answer, arguments that you wouldn’t need much were shot down with the sobering reply that Ariel searches for lost contestants could involve sums as high as twenty thousand dollars, this bought some sober reality to the meeting but was soon overcome. What we needed was motivation and this was supplied by Barry Taylor arranging for the printing of the very first posters in brilliant red lettering on a white background and our subsequent pride in plastering them all over town and other far flung centres. We had a destination, we knew we would have contestants but we didn’t have a course. A Suzuki four wheel drive was borrowed from Paul Delahunty along with a car trailer and with it hooked behind a Falcon utility, Barry Taylor Peter Gunner and Benny Gunner as well as several hundred triangular flags cut from builders orange plastic sheeting, a staple gun, crow bar and shovel set out to via Kulgera to Finke to overcome this minor problem. We unloaded the Suzuki and drove up the track to where the proposed course first became a challenge to follow, the railway was still in operation and the fettlers still inhabited the camps that had not fallen into ruin. Over forty years of operating a rail service had given the Commonwealth a vast area of desert in which to deposit sleepers, lengths of rail and other surplus equipment. There was no recognised road and what did exist was prone to unexplained deviations and turnoffs. The one stable feature was the overland telegraph line, so we festooned poles and sleepers with stapled orange flags all the way to the Finke River and the course was born. This was a deadly serious endurance event in which the possibility of severe injury was high, the course as a pre raced track was non existent and as was conveyed to the entrants at the first pre race meeting they were totally responsible for everything to do with their own welfare, a recommendation was made that they carry every basic need including water, to be decent fellows and check on any riders they found sprawled along the way. The scrutineering we made had one aim only, did the machine look capable of taking its rider safely there and back. Volunteers loved the event and we had no shortage of them, some stand out Peter and Kath Healy who travelled down the day before the race and set up camp in the towns rubbish dump and then the next day sent Benny Gunner back to the river bank to advise the arriving riders where their swags were. These good people continued to do this service each year and for a considerable length of time, Dave Baldock and his trusty vintage Land rover supported stranded riders, the Amateur Radio group who Barry and I approached one night in their hut on Anzac oval and talked into giving their support handled communications. The Alice Springs Motor cycle Club did not originate the idea of a long distance there and back event. But they did bring the Finke Desert Race into being.

Peter Gunner Senior Alice Springs.


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