It was in 1958 when Bruce Samuels, a local footballer and railway porter, ran to the top of Mt Cooroora as a hangover cure. He later casually announced in the bar of the Railway Hotel (since demolished), that he had done it in under an hour. His claims brought doubts and scoffs from the idling drinkers who needled Samuels into declaring that he was prepared to do it again, under supervision. The race was arranged for 22 March 1958, a good few side bets placed, and after no special preparation Samuels set out to prove he could do it "inside the hour". To the amazement of most, Samuels returned with 20 minutes of his hour to spare and collected the 100 pound wager. He became the town hero and was nicknamed "Hilary" Samuels. The feat was recorded on the wall of the hotel bar and it was there in 1959, that Barry Webb, a 21yr old Brisbane man, decided to take up the challenge. Barry was no speedster but knew that he had stamina and was in good condition. He declared that he could beat Samuels' time and a race was set for the following Saturday.
There was little publicity, no fanfare, but as was the way in small communities everyone knew it was on and the street in front of the hotel, just before 2:30pm, resembled a city rush hour. Webb, ruddy faced and hot but showing surprisingly little distress, delivered the sealed envelope that he had collected on the mountain top to the door of the hotel as the stopwatch recorded 35 minutes. To the cheers and backslaps of the crowd he received about 25 shillings from the passing around of the hat.
One of the first to shake Webb's hand was "Hilary" Samuels who later announced that he would do some preparation and attempt to recapture his record.
On June 27, 1959, the first race was organised with each runner having to run the course before the next was allowed to start. Frank Mainwaring was the fastest, taking 31:51, while Samuels came in painfully close at 31:52. The other three runners were Reg Ollenberg (32:06), fourteen year old Ken Fullerton (32:27) and Barry Webb (33:34).
The race became a regular event with the record standing at 29:44, set by Ken Fullerton in 1960, and winners were awarded the "Gold Crest Cup".
Nobody remembers how many races were held from 1960 until 1979 when the Cooroy Pomona Lions Club revived the race.
|1979 – The inaugural race
The Cooroy Pomona Lions Club was looking for an event to run in Pomona.The original Gold Crest Cup, which can be seen in the Pomona Museum, was found in a box in the back shed behind the local QATB Station and upon investigation into its history, it was found to be the trophy from the original races during the late 1950's and early 1960's.
The Lions Club decided to reintroduce the race to the top of Mt Cooroora, and elected to call the race the "Pomona King of the Mountain Race" and for the first couple of years it was staged as a hinterland event within the then Noosa Festival of Waters. They could not foresee what a great event that it would become.
Prior to the first race being held a blue VW Beetle drove into town to ask about this new mountain race, and how runners were going to be handicapped. These three members of a Brisbane Cross Country Running Club were told that all would be off scratch, and to this they smiled and said that they would be able to tell us the winner before the race started. However they had not yet seen the track and were told where to go to check it out. A short time later the VW Beetle was seen racing back over the railway crossing with its wheels almost off the ground, and were never heard from again (must have thought that it was too tough...)
The Club looked at various ways to promote this new event in a small hinterland town, and it was decided to run a Steam Train from Brisbane to Pomona and run side trips from Pomona to Cooran and back to Pomona. The job of selling a train ride to Brisbane residents from Brisbane to at that stage a relatively unknown small town, promoting a race up a mountain that most had never heard of, proved a very difficult task. So on Saturday 1st September 1979 the train arrived at Pomona; only half full, but the side trips to Cooran by locals were a bit hit and very well supported.
The crowd was entertained with local food stalls and fun events run by club members and the first KOM race was run at 2pm. George Fewtrell, a bean grower from Curra north of Gympie and a State Cross Country Champion, won the first of his six consecutive titles in a time of 26:14. Anne Daly won the women's title, and continued on to win a further two titles in 1982 & 1984.
Right from that very first race the crowd adopted the race and the runners, and they lined the streets, which was at that stage just a narrow strip of bitumen with gravel edges, and cheered and clapped each and every runner back over the finish line. Over the years runners have often remarked that his is one of the best races to compete in for crowd support, no matter what position they finish in, and is one of the reasons that they come back year after year to compete against that bloody tough mountain and experience the atmosphere and support of the crowd.
The Lions Ladies had made a Crown and a "robe fit for a King", so George was decked out in the royal wares and was crowned the very first Pomona King of the Mountain Champion.
Everyone was excited and the Lions Club called the first attempt at this event a successful project. It had achieved what they were after; a lot more people knew where Pomona was, and Mt Cooroora was to become one of the toughest short course mountain races.
Over the years as the event grew, the Festival side of the day developed with many and varied runs and fun events trialled. A relay race used to be staged during the early years which started in Cooroy and finished in Pomona. Also Fun Runs of varying distances, Mini Mountain Challenge, a Half Marathon, Duathlon (bike / run events), Pram Push, and the most successful - Primary school relays - which continue to be a great drawcard.
However there has always been great crowd participation in the array of novelty themed events which have been staged, and which have included a wide array of iconic Australian contests such as Nail driving, Can crushing, Egg & spoon races, Three legged races, Iron man race, Vegie Iron man race, Slalom roller blade race, Broom & roller pin throwing, the fiercely contested Billy cart racing, the imposing Tug-of-War, and the Thong Throwing contest.
The billy cart races were held for a number of years until the carts got so fast and the crowds got bigger it was stopped for safety reasons. In those days the street was only a narrow strip of bitumen with gravel sides, so Armco rails would be set up along the full length of the street from the Post office to the old bank corner, and hay bales placed at the finish as brakes for those who could not stop. Heats would be run in the morning and the finals just prior to the KOM race. There was a steep ramp set up at the top of the hill which held 4 carts at a time, so that all carts got an even start. The races were originally "a bit of fun" for kids & dads with all sorts of contraptions turning up, though majority were little more than a few pieces of leftover timber nailed together, the wheels taken from washing trolleys across town, a piece of rope for steering and a sturdy pair of Dunlop volley's for brakes. But like all things someone would build a better cart, so everyone else would try to do better, and so they got lower and sharper and faster - to the extent that one lass went on to win an Australian title and a trip to America to compete.
The thong throwing event was derived as a result of having to give up the broom & roller pin throwing, after some of the brooms end roller pins found their way out of the throwing area and into the crowd.
The thongs were found to be difficult to throw — and had a softer impact than brooms or pins if they went flying into the crowd - and so the "World Thong Throwing" was introduced. Specifications for size and weight of thongs were sorted and the throwing area was designed and marked out. Despite the difficulties, many outstanding distances have been have been recorded and listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
Another event staged during the early years was a lolly drop by a local businessman, Joey Bazzo, who flew his small Cessna Plane over the grounds and would throw lollies out for the kids. All was well until one year he got the wind wrong and instead of the lollies landing in the festival grounds, they landed in a neighbouring resident's prize garden and so lots of kids invaded the garden in search for the lollies.
Another event was the "Catch a Greasy Pig" chase. It was great fun for the kids until the year following the lollies mishap, when the pig got away from the kids and you guessed it, straight through the same garden as the year before. A quick pig and a heap of enthusiastic kids in a garden is not a way to get on well with the neighbours. Needless to say a lot of garden repairs and some flowers helped stall off the law proceedings.
In 1984 the Lions Club was raising funds to provide a special wheel chair for a disabled youth. John Liversey, a club member offered to run from Brisbane to Pomona and arrive on the morning of the KOM to raise funds through sponsorship. To help promote this run the then 62yr old Cliff Young, the winner of the first Westfield UltraMarathon from Sydney to Melbourne was invited to come up and start the run in Brisbane and to also be the guest starter for the KOM race. Cliff started John off and then ran with him for the first 10 to 15kms. He then attended the Festival on KOM day and was a big hit with the crowd, especially the -kids - we think that he signed almost every kid's shirt that day.
John completed his run on KOM morning and then lined up and competed in the race that afternoon.
Cliff was the guest starter for the race and after firing the starter's pistol he said "l may as well go with them", and so he dropped the starter's pistol and off he went and completed the KOM course.
It was in about 1984 the Lions Club opened the KOM committee up to the general public to become involved At tha! time, a committee was endeavouring to raise funds to build a community swimming pool in the grounds of the Pomona State School. Stan Topper, a local school teacher and member of the pool committee, joined the KOM committee and it was decided to use the event to raise money to go towards the construction of the pool. Stan was given the job of race organizer and took to it with great enthusiasm. The commitment he demonstrated and the legacy he left, is recognised in the naming of the Festival grounds as Stan Topper Park.
By 1985 George Fewtrell had won six consecutive titles and we were beginning to believe that no one would beat him. However Graham Barralet from Brisbane arrived at Pomona and inflicted the first defeat on George, winning in a time of 23:27.
Also that year a New Zealand runner by the name of Rosalie Hyland had travelled to compete at the invitation of Stan Topper. Rosalie was accompanied by her husband Howard, who at that time was the race organizer for the Tasman Mountain Race held on Mt Edgecombe in Kawerau, NZ. Rosalie was the then Queen of the Mt Edgecombe race, and she won the women's category in a record time of 31:17. With this, a bond was formed between the two towns and the two races, and so the seed for a Trans Tasman challenge was sewn. 30 years later it's still as strong.
The first team from NZ included the NZ Champions Barry Prosser (Wellington) and Maureen Lawson (Kawerau), both of whom took home the title in their first year. Barry beat Graham in a finishing time of 23:48, and Maureen also won in a time of 30:48.
Over the next decade Graham and Barry went head to head in some furious and hard fought races, with Graham wining 5 titles and Barry wining 5 titles —but Barry was able to capture his 6th title in 1999.
From that year on, Pomona and Kawerau have exchanged teams to compete in each other's event.
Graham Barralet took back the crown from Barry Prosser, and set the record for fastest time at 22:50, which stood for over 20 years until -Neil Labinsky set a new record in 2009 at 22:43.
Almost overshadowing Graham's great win and record was the effort of 13 year old Sydney girl, Susie Walsham, who had come 2nd in the NSW cross country championships held in Sydney the day before the Pomona KOM. Susie arrived in Pomona on the Sunday morning and asked where the track was. She went on to win the women's category in a time of 30:04, and in doing so beat many fancied female runners. Channel 9's Wide World of Sports were present filming the event and they interviewed Susie after she finished; she was so fresh she would not even have blown out a candle during her interview.
Barry triumphed against Graham this year and set his personal best ever time of 22:53, just 3 seconds off Graham's 1987 record. Also that year. Sue Malaxos (Perth) ran the only KOM race she ever competed in and won the women's category in a race record time of 27:48. Sue's time still stands as the record within the Women's category (before records were reset due to track changes).
Graham and Barry continued to wrestle for the crown. By this time these two champions had become crowd favourites with neither giving an inch whilst racing, but heartily congratulating each other when they crossed the finish line, therefore proving that not only were they champion mountain runners but champion sportsmen as well.
During this time the women had various winners with Maureen Lawson (NZ) picking up another win 1989 before Lynette Gordon (Aus), who was Graham Barralet's sister, took 3 titles on the trot from 1990-92. In 1993 a local girl Kim Beckinsale (Aus) triumphed to take the first of what would be 4 titles — which she has been able to achieve over a 20yr period (1993, 2003, 2004 & 2014). In 1994 the title returned to NZ, with Meagan Burton (also known as Meagan Edhouse) starting her run of 4 consecutive wins from 1994-1997, with a fifth title secured in 2001.
Over the next 11 years the King of the Mountain crown was shared between 6 competitors, with NZ dominating having racked up 8 wins against Australia's 3. For Australia, 1995 saw Mathew Kaluder, fondly known as the "Tamworth Tiger", get the first of his 2 wins (1995 & 1998).
During this period the title of Queen was shared between 5 strong competitors, including Meagan Burton's continued form, Kim Beckinsale's return and the arrival of Brisbane based Hubertein Wichers to the top of the podium in 2005. In the Women's category, Australia lead the charge with 7 wins over NZ's 4 wins.
|2006 - 2012 - The Labinsky era
2006 heralded the start of what would be Neil Labinsky's run of dominance. A local lad from Nambour, Neil achieved an outstanding record run of 7 consecutive wins (2006 — 2012), and holds the most number of wins at Pomona across all categories. Neil also achieved what most thought could never be done, when in 2009 he broke Graham Barralet's record time by 7 seconds, a record that had been set in 1987 and had stood for 22yrs, when he came home in a lightning fast time of 22:43. Refer to "Outstanding Efforts" section for more insight into why this was such an outstanding achievement.
Neil's understated nature, his gentle but cheeky grin and his lengthy pre-race warm-up jogs where he would meet and greet those who lined the street, has made him one of the most popular runners with the crowd and one who is warmly supported by all.
Hubertien Wichers (Aus), a crowd favourite Dutch girl, continued her winning streak of 4 consecutive titles (2005 — 2008), with a fifth win in 2011. Maree Stephenson (Aust) took the title in 2009 and 2010, and NZ's Demelsa Murrihy winning in 2012.
|2013 - 2019 - The changing of the guard
Brisbane runner Ben Duffus made his first trip to Pomona in 2013, having first heard about the race only a few weeks earlier. He won the race in a time of 24:22, and backed up in 2014 for his 2nd title, despite having only just returned from competing in the World Mountain Running Championships in Europe.
NZ's Helen Roundtree took out the 2013 title in what was her first attempt on the mountain, with Kim Beckinsale (Aust) racking up her 4th title in 2014, 21 years after her first win, and after having competed in (and winning) an adventure race earlier that day.
2015 was the year for NZ stalwarts Hayden Wilde and Shay Williamson to shine. In a closely fought battle Hayden become the first junior ever to take out the outright title of King of the Mountain. Local runner Leslie Saunders became the Queen of the Mountain for the first time and backed up in 2016 to retain the title and be accompanied by new King Mark Bourne.
2017 was the first showdown between 2 time winner Ben Duffus and current King Mark Bourne. With Mark holding a lead at the top of the Mountain Ben closed in on the descent and took the lead through the forest on the way back to the finish line. Mark took the lead just before hecklers hill and held on to retain the title. Ruby Muir from NZ lit up the mountain in her first attempt and set a new record for the fastest female time since records were reset in in the late 80's due to slight changes in the track. Ruby clocked 27:49 and finished 4th outright.
2018 was once again a showdown between Ben Duffus and Mark Bourne for the title of King. NZ runner Daniel Jones was the only threat to the 2 Aussie speedsters and he took it out hard. Ben was first to the top with Mark second and it was a rapid descent from Ben that saw him stretch his lead on the way to the finish line to take out the title of King. Brisbane runner Meg Reeves took at the title of Queen in her first race up the mountain in a time of 30:47.
2019 saw the changing of the guard theme continue as Boaz Clark took out the title of King of the Mountain with Reesha Lewis claiming the queen of the Mountain title. Boaz hot the summit first before losing the lead on the descent and regaining it on the run back to the finish line. Reesha stormed down the mountain and hit the base in second place before taking the lead on the race back to the finish line. What will 2020 hold for us?
|2019 - 2021 - The COVID era
In 2019 we saw two new champions. Boaz Clark took out the King title and Reesha Lewis claimed the Queen title. In early 2020 the decision was made by the race committee to cancel the 2020 event. With community funds needed to plan and run the event it was decided the risk of financial outlay was not worth it due to the unknown circumstances of the new COVID situation. As the 2021 race approached, there were new lockdowns in place but the main race and the Prince and Princess race went ahead on the same day. Jorge Hernaez Navarro took out the title of King and Leslie Saunders took out her third title as Queen. The weekend after the races Qld went into a snap 3 day lockdown.
|2022 - 2023 A new course forward
In 2021 we were advised by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service that the track from the base of the mountain up to Checkpoint A (near where the stairs start) was to be closed. This meant a change to both the King of the Mountain and the Prince and Princess courses. The King of the Mountain course in 2022 is now 1km longer and has even more vert in it, making it noticeably harder than the old course. The Prince and Princess course is now shorter with less vert which lends itself to a frantic and fast pace race for the 8 to 13 year olds. A positive of this change is 30 seconds after the start of the King of the Mountain race the Princess and Princess race can begin and finish before any of the runners from the King of the Mountain race reach the finish line. In 2022 we saw blistering times of 12:20 by Wade Wallis to win the crown of Prince and 13:59 by Charlotte Reed to take the Princess crown. The King for 2022 was Mark Bourne with a time of 31:24 ahead of 2021 winner Jorge Hernaez Navarro who finished in 33:09. Former Princess Lee Cleary set the standard on the new course with a time of 40:39 and taking out her first title of Queen. And so begins the new course forward for these iconic races.
In 2023 we had near perfect conditions. The temperature was magical and the trail through the forest had been recently overhauled by the QPWS making it perfect for running fast. Both King and Queen course records fell with 2022 runner up Jorge Hernaez Navarro tearing down the mountain and across the finish line in a record time of 31:15. Ange Harries held off reigning Queen Lee Clearly and second place Katy Booth taking the tile and course record in a time of 40:22. Prince was Lachie Hudson in a blistering record time of 11:45 while Charlotte Reed took the title of Princess for the 3rd year in a row with another record time of 12:20. So there we have it, King, Queen, Prince and Princess all run record times in 2023.