The race that stopped Katherine: two men, a plane and a car

The greatest race Katherine ever saw


BIG STAKES: Former alderman Doug Collins tells a wild tale of how he raced his colleague John Phitzner to Mataranka.

BIG STAKES: Former alderman Doug Collins tells a wild tale of how he raced his colleague John Phitzner to Mataranka.

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In the early 1980s, one of the first Katherine Town Council aldermen decided to challenge his colleagues to a race.

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The Northern Territory is famous for its wild outlandish stories. 

And Katherine has no shortage of them. 

In the early 1980s, one of the first Katherine Town Council aldermen decided to challenge his colleague to a race. 

The rules were simple.

Alderman Doug Collins bet alderman John Phitzner he could beat him to Mataranka. 

Doug would drive his car and John would fly his plane. 

The race began at Kirby’s Outback Bar, each man had to finish a can of lemonade before hot footing it 100km south to Mataranka. 

The first man to down a can of lemonade at the Mataranka Homestead would be crowned the winner. 

Mr Collin’s said the reason for the race was to garner support for a dam in Katherine. 

“I was aware of the risks of floods in Katherine, one of the flying doctors was lobbying for a dam to be built in Katherine for flood mitigation,” Mr Collins said. 

“The race was my way to draw attention to the issue and try to get a dam built here. 

“Nothing ended up eventuating which was disappointing, especially when we saw what happened in 1998,” he said. 

Mr Collins said both he and Mr Phitzner went to incredible lengths to win the race. 

“I told the police I wanted a 20 minute head start so I got them to set up an RBT just out of town to hold John up a bit,” Mr Collins said. 

“I also got my mate to park a road train across the access to Tindal airport. But Phitzner had a mate already flying the aircraft to see what was happening in town. 

“He had parked a motor bike in the long grass outside the airstrip so he could get around the road train,” he said. 

“He got to the airport and jumped into the plane and flew to Mataranka.”

Mr Phitzner and his band of cheeky mates were no innocents. 

They had brought a concrete block and chain along with them to Kirbys to latch onto Mr Collin’s leg. 

Pity for them they attached it to the wrong bloke.

After the police road block and the conveniently parked road train, Mr Collins thought he would easily take first place. 

That was until he reached the flooded Roper River. 

“I could not drive through it, it was up too high,” Mr Collins said. 

“I had to park the car and wade through the water, my mate picked me up on the other side.”

Mr Collin’s said he was not nervous about the Roper’s reputation for big deadly crocs.

While Mr Collin’s was navigating his way through dangerous waters, Mr Phitzner was dealing with his own problems. 

The then Katherine Mayor Patricia Davies had teed up her husband Ted to taxi up and down the Mataranka airstrip so Mr Phitzner could not land his plane. 

According to Mr Collin’s at this stage, half the town of Katherine were in Mataranka waiting at the finish line. 

After a day of dirty tricks and wild antics, it was John Phitzner who finished his can of lemonade first and was declared the winner. 

“He might of won the race, but I beat him in pool,” Mr Collins said. 

If you have a colourful Katherine story you would like to share, email chris.mclennan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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