Perched on the edge of the Simpson Desert in south-west Queensland rests the outback town of Birdsville. On an average day, Birdsville is home to 110 residents but once a year that number swells to an amazing 6000. The reason? It's the holy grail of bush racing: the Birdsville Cup. For two days a year the town is inundated with visitors from across Australia
and around the world, arriving in every mode of transport imaginable. Dermott Brereton joined the throng.
Every September, the Birdsville Races kick-start the regional Simpson Desert Racing Carnival. The first race meeting was held in 1882 as an event for stock horses. Except for a period during World War II, the Birdsville Races have only been cancelled once and that was during the equine influenza outbreak. That didn't stop partygoers, and entertainment and festivities continued throughout the weekend.
The carnival includes a 12-race program and prize money in excess of $110,000. The 1.6km claypan track is one of only four tracks in Queensland that run anti-clockwise. The annual race meeting raises funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Birdsville receives an estimated 50,000 tourists annually. Many tourists ensure they visit the famous Birdsville Hotel before attempting the challenging desert crossing, the Birdsville Track. The 514km track stretches from Birdsville through the Strzelecki Desert before ending in Marree in South Australia. Originally used as a stock route for moving cattle from Queensland to southern markets, the track is now a pilgrimage for adventures and four-wheel driving enthusiasts.
Be sure to pack your sleeping bag as the only accommodation available during cup time is the Birdsville Caravan Park. Situated on the banks of the Birdsville Billabong, the 12-hectare grounds house more than 2000 campers. Get in quick as individual camp sites are allocated on a first-come basis. If you are feeling a little more adventurous camping along the banks of the Diamantina River outside of town is free, but there are no showers and toilet facilities are limited.
Make your way to the Birdsville Hotel for a warm outback welcome and icy cold drink. This outback treasure has been serving travellers since 1884. Outside of cup time, the Birdsville Hotel provides accommodation. Please be aware that accommodation is not available during race week.
Racing is not the only thing to keep you busy. Other entertainment includes fashions on the field, sideshows, a giant auction and Fred Brophy's Boxing Troupe, the last travelling boxing tent in Australia. The beating of Fred's drum can be heard all over town announcing the start of the nightly show held outside the Birdsville Hotel. Punters are invited to try their luck with a round in the ring.
This year the Birdsville Races are being held on September 4-5, 2009.
Birdsville in south-west Queensland.
Birdsville Races general admission is $15. Corporate tent entry is $150 per person. Cost includes exclusive trackside access, race book, gourmet lunch and open bar.
Birdsville Caravan Park unpowered sites are $11 per person and powered sites are $35 a double.
Prices correct at May 7, 2009.
For further information
Ph: (07) 4656 3216 or 1300 794 257
Birdsville Caravan Park
Ph: (07) 4656 3214
Ph: (07) 4656 3244