When two fishermen could not agree on who owned the fastest horse, they decided to race them across the vast salt lakes that stretch behind Leeman, a small crayfishing community in Western Australia.

It was Easter, 1972, and as a crowd of locals gathered to watch the two deckhands race the horses, a 30-year community tradition was born.

At its peak, the Snag Island Cup and gala day in Leeman at Easter attracted thousands of people from across the state.

They came to watch horse races and participate in fishing-industry themed events, including rope coiling and crayfish racing.

Stephanie McTaggart was one of the main organisers over 30 years of crucial fundraising for a school that opened in 1971.

“It was just amazing,” she said.

“The following year we had something like 500 people and it just grew and grew.

“We wanted to fundraise for the school and over the 30 years we raised something like $300,000.”

A close shot of a woman sitting on a table looking at the camera smiling

Stephanie McTaggart was one of the main organisers of the Snag Island Cup and gala day for 30 years.(

ABC: Jo Prendergast


About 12 horses competed via heats and Mrs McTaggart said rules were introduced that a horse could not have raced professionally for two years.

About 80 people worked to set up the horse races and novelty events and, along with raising funds for the school, the race and gala day put the fishing town on the map.

Four men crouch over coiling yellow rope.

Rope coiling and other fishing themed events were popular at the Snag Island Cup and gala day.(

Supplied: Stephanie McTaggart


Leeman, about 260 kilometres north of Perth, was settled by crayfishers and fishing remains the predominant industry, but it is also a popular tourism destination for swimming, surfing and windsurfing.

“On the lake we used to have something like 2,000 people come,” Mrs McTaggart said.

“We had to have a special car park because we couldn’t fit them at the lake. Eventually we had to have buses to get people in there.

“It was a really successful day, people came from everywhere.”

A picture from the 1970s of men with their hands behind their backs lined up eating watermelon from the ground.

Watermelon eating was a popular contest at the Snag Island Cup gala day.(

Supplied: Stephanie McTaggart


Ironically, the winner of the first race between those bickering fishermen was never determined.

“They raced past the crowd into the bush, we never saw them for about two hours, and we didn’t know who won,” Mrs McTaggart said.

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