29 September 2023

Fun-loving, dancing ferrets to raise more than the roof at Taralga

| John Thistleton
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ferret racing track

Martin White prepares his ferrets for the next race in a course he built himself. He will be bringing his little racers to Taralga on 14 October. Photo: Whitey’s Ferret Racing.

There’s a good chance a ferret will dance at Taralga this year. That’s what they do when they’re excited. Funny, novel and at the forefront of fundraising across Victoria and now Taralga, ferrets will feature in a six-race program in the village on 14 October to raise money for research into children’s health.

Martin White, who provides a field of entrants for the annual Taralga Fun Ferret races, said sometimes they jumped with excitement at the end of a run.

“They put on a bit of a dance, jump up and down and go round and round, hopping around on their four feet like a kangaroo jumping around,” he said.

Caroline and Simon Greig introduced ferret racing to Taralga in 2022 as a fundraiser for the Children’s Medical Research Institute. They were looking for something different that would create a fun fundraising event.

“Our son Richard mentioned that he had been to the Coleambally pub and a guy was there ferret racing. We thought that could have potential,” Caroline said.

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They contacted Martin, who lives at Avenel, a little town 129 kilometres north of Melbourne. He brought with him to Taralga 10 ferrets that he keeps in fitted-out cages on the back of his truck, and a race ”course” comprising transparent plumbing pipes and enclosures on either end.

“It’s turned out to be hilarious because there is no way you can pick a winner,” Caroline said. “They can shoot down the end of the pipe very quickly, then get right to the end and leave their tail out.

”They have to go all the way into their finishing-line house to be declared the winner. Or they can mosey on down, not do much and end up winning because the others have left their tails or noses out. It was fun, everyone loved it, the kids loved it.”

Businesses bid for race sponsorship and naming rights for one of the ferrets, while other runners in the field can be named by anyone for $20 per ferret. Last year’s event raised about $6500.

Rural auctioneer Charlie Croker takes the bids, creating a pot of prize money that is split between whoever bought the race-winning ferret and the charity.

“We were blown away by this right from the go,” Caroline said. “People join consortiums, pooling their money so they could win a ferret. It is all done in a really positive and fun way.”

The enclosed course has individual starting-line houses with an amber starting light. As on-course judge, Caroline keeps a sharp eye out to confirm the winner.

“They are funny little things, I have never seen a ferret up close before,” she said.

Simon and Caroline, who moved to Goulburn from Sutton in 2014, have raised money for the Children’s Medical Research Institute for many years and established a fundraising committee for Goulburn and surrounding areas in 2018. Since then, they’ve raised more than $30,000.

“Many of the researchers are these amazing young people who are PhD students doing this wonderful work on genetic childhood diseases and childhood cancers,” Caroline said.

people cheering at ferret races

Like an afternoon at the races, ferrets scurrying down clear pipes raise plenty of excitement and money for good causes. Photo: Whitey’s Ferret Racing.

They have made significant breakthroughs in gene replacement and are encouraged by fundraising committees. Eleven CMRI personnel will be attending this year’s event and have booked accommodation in Taralga.

Descended from European polecats, ferrets have been used over several generations in Australia to help eradicate rabbits, which is why Martin breeds them.

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In 2012, when he was president and life member of his local football club at Avenel, the committee was looking around for a novel fundraiser. The cricket club had been racing yabbies in summer but Martin had a hunch about his ferrets. He was right. They took to racing like, well, a ferret up a drainpipe.

With sponsorship and a mate’s help, he has made a portable course and has been busy ever since throughout Victoria. In cities and towns, his races raise from $5000 to $10,000 for football and cricket clubs, at camp drafts, country shows and for efforts to combat cancer.

He handles his ferrets with thick gloves to protect them and himself, having been bitten before.

“It was quite painful, put it that way,” he said. “Each ferret is different; some are good, some are vicious.”

Martin has lost count of how many towns he has visited this year alone. Families bring their children, who have never seen a ferret before, and their grandparents, who grew up with them during previous rabbit plagues.

On 14 October at the Taralga Sports Club, the pre-race auction and racing will be held from 6 pm to 8 pm.

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