ON HAND: Darren Minter and Antony Parr are in charge of communicating with a team of 50 outriders, as well as emergency services, every Hattah Desert Race, one of the more important ‘unsung’ roles performed by volunteers at the event. Photo: PAUL MENSCH


INJURIES are almost inevitable when it comes to an event as physically demanding as the Hattah Desert Race.

When it comes to providing medical support or clearing a safe path across a 35-kilometre long track that has more than 600 motorbikes flying across the surface in two days, communication is vital.

Darren Minter and Antony Parr are key pillars in the communications tent, and are responsible for communicating with about 50 outriders and emergency services personnel to ensure the safety of everybody involved.

Such a busy job means for the past decade while stationed in the ‘comms tent’, Darren and Antony have barely seen a bike enter their peripheral vision live.

“We’re often approached by parents asking where their kid is, that they haven’t come back around the track,” Darren said.

“With our communication system we can almost immediately tell them where they are and what has happened. It definitely eases the stress on everybody.”

Running like a well-oiled machine

THE communications team at Hattah runs like a well-oiled machine, and it needs to due to the high volume of action during the race.

With improvements being made to the communications systems and emergency set-up over the past 10 years, Darren said the safety aspect of the Hattah Desert Race is second to none.

“Put it this way,” he said, “I’m quite happy to let my son race because the safety side of things is outstanding.

“I’ve been to Finke Desert Race and it’s a great race, but nowhere near as safe as ours.

“They rely a lot on the public to service and help the downed riders and cars, where as we have trained medics and people continuing around the track.”

Each year Audisound provides radios and towers for the whole communications team, which are spread out across the track.

Each official and outrider has a series of maps with grid patterns to make it simpler to identify parts of the circuit.

“We have bikes spread around the track in groups of three and their spread out at five kilometre pegs all the way around the track,” Darren said.

Antony said the efforts of the team of outriders should be recognised.

“They do a magnificent job every year,” he said. “They are as good as any going around. In every group there is a rider who has first-aid training, and they are very capable of looking after a downed rider until the medics get there.

“We’ve got four recovery crew as well who go out with quads and trailers, and they do a good job as well bringing all the bikes and broken riders back to a central position near us.”

How it all works

SO how does it actually work on the ground?

“The outriders will radio in and say, for example, ‘we have a bike and rider down at grid point B11’ on the map,” Antony said.

“We will ask them what they need and they indicate if it is medical support, recovery, or both.

“We take down the number of the bike and the rider’s name, ‘Daggy’ writes it on his map and when the bike and rider get back to the central position, it disappears off the map so he can keep track of everything that’s going on out there.”

Darren added that the outriders who will take doctors and ambulances out know the track like the back of their hand.

“We also have a crash zone, which is right out the back corner, that’s where a lot of accidents have occurred in the past, we actually have a team of high-level first aiders so they can respond very quickly,” he said.

“We’ve also got written running commentary on the site, because you’ve got no idea how many parents run up saying ‘my kid isn’t back, where are they?’ We’d get their bike number and we can immediately tell them what the situation is.”

If you’re going to get injured anywhere…

WHILE no one wishes injury or illness upon anyone, Darren said “if you are going to need emergency help, Hattah is the place to do it”.

“You get two or three serious injuries each year, broken legs, arms, collarbones, a lot of sprains,” Antony added.

“I’d be guessing but I think we would have at least 100 call-outs each year. There’s times when there is nothing left in the pits because everyone is out around the track.

“We would also do about 15 ambulance rides a year, minimum.”

St John’s Ambulance Service and the Victorian Medical Assistance Team, or VMAT, have everything covered on the ground.

“VMAT have a triage tent and operational theatre where they can deal with anything that requires immediate attention,” Darren said.

“VMAT can deal with all minor injuries and then transport them via car. If they’re severe, they go into the ambulance.”

Antony said that VMAT base works well for the event.

“No one wants to see five ambulances on the road going back into Mildura at any one time, because they have to cover the rest of the community,” he said.

A special event

WHILE they don’t see a lot of action, Darren and Antony said the calibre of riders who take to the Hattah Desert Race track make it so special.

“I used to outride, and watching the professionals race is mind-boggling,” Darren said.

“They go up to a corner on the tap, flat out, and they just lay down and go around the corner, you’ve never seen anything like it until you’ve watched it.”

Antony said former champion, Toby Price, was always special.

“When you see him (Price) coming over the hill with one hand waving at you and riding with the other, it’s a pretty good spectacle,” he laughed.

“I’ve seen before when I’m walking through the pits a rider will come in to re-fuel and he doesn’t step off his bike, he just falls off it because he’s that exhausted he can’t get up.”

Darren said the riders all have a combination of skill and ‘guts’, with a healthy dose of naivety thrown in for many newcomers to the event.

“There’s a lot of people that come from away who are very naive thinking it’s just a race and it’s nothing like Finke,” he said.

“Finke’s a straight line and they go over it once. This is around seven times over a 35km course and the track changes every lap.

“As far as I know, we’re the only ones that run the juniors identical to the seniors. That’s very unique and having the kids is fantastic.”