close
Advertisement

A day at the famous Birdsville Races

Every September, the isolated dusty town of Birdsville in outback Queensland comes alive during its legendary horse races. Here's what it's like to be there in person...

A day at the famous Birdsville Races
Getty Images

Birdsville – few names better evoke the farthest reaches of Australia’s arid outback. Nudging the Simpson Desert in Queensland’s southwest corner, the remote outpost lies in a vast ochre-dirt ocean of saltbush and dry saltpan lakes – flat all the way to the horizon.

Advertisement
Horses gallop to the finishing line on the sandy straight under a sweltering sun
Getty Images

Tiny as it is, the township looms large in Australian bush heritage for two reasons: the harsh and historic Birdsville Track to South Australia; and the annual Birdsville Races, easily Australia’s most renowned outback racing carnival.

For most of the year Birdsville hibernates, baking in heat that hits the high 40s in summer. The cooler (still warm) midyear months (April-October) lure a steady trickle of tourists in 4WDs. But come the races in September – the first weekend of spring – and the population swells from 115 to around 7000.

Caravans, campervans and tents dot scrub designated as camping ground. A field beside the airstrip fills with small planes, owner-pilots camping under the wings. At the town limits, every vehicle is stopped for breathalysing by jovial police officers bemused by their exotic assignment. The cars are all 4WDs bristling with CB radio aerials; that’s what it takes to drive this far out.

The racecourse – a shuttle-bus ride or thirsty three-kilometre walk from town – doesn’t have a blade of grass. It’s as stony and dusty as the Birdsville Track itself. Horses shelter from 33°C of sun under a long tin-roofed stable. Nearby the similar grandstand serves the same purpose for people, if on a grander scale.

The horses set off on the track’s far side, mere specks beneath the dust kicked up as they gallop – the only cloud in a perfect hemisphere of blue sky. Shortly they’ve rounded the broad curve of the oval course and thunder along the sandy straight. A few seconds of thrumming hooves and they’ve flashed by, sparking an outburst of finish-line excitement. The scenario repeats over a laidback afternoon, culminating in Race Six, the 1600-metre, $35,000 Birdsville Cup.

Apart from the small crush near the bookmakers, relaxation reigns. A sprinkling of funny costumes – blokes in dresses, a few full-body beer-cans, girls as angels or devils – adds to the carnival atmosphere. The crowd is peaceful, happy to have a beer and a bet and a few laughs. Trouble seems as far away as Sydney or Brisbane.

Half the fun is the effort it takes to attend. There’s a kind of poetry in simply being here. The very act is somehow an expression of Australia’s vastness which, in Birdsville, forever stares you in the face.



Advertisement

More in Travel

Turn your dream into reality at Daydream Island Resort

Turn your dream into reality at Daydream Island Resort

Dust off the suitcase and prepare to hit the beach. Daydream Island Resort is ready to reopen in 2019 following an extensive $100 million renovation.
How to survive a plane crash

How to survive a plane crash

The odds of being killed on a single airline flight are one in 4.7 million.
23 unplanned travel mishaps you’ll never forget

23 unplanned travel mishaps you’ll never forget

Embarrassing incidents, hilarious stuff-ups, failed romances, shipwrecks, earthquakes, motorbike gangs and more – these true reader tales from around the world show us that even the best-laid travel plans can quickly come undone.
The best flight deals we have found this week

The best flight deals we have found this week

Welcome to our weekly wrap-up of the best flight deals we've been able to discover – just for you!
Say goodbye to airport boredom with these global wi-fi passwords

Say goodbye to airport boredom with these global Wi-Fi passwords

Blogging genius Anil Polat has created a map with Wi-Fi passwords from hundreds of airports around the world. See if there's one near you.


Advertisement