Published: September 28th 2009September 7th 2009
Yes we actually went to the races too!
On a warm winters evening on a bus bound for Birdsville, I met up with a gambler (90 something of them actually), and I asked of them advice....They said "You gotta know when ta....keep your money in your pocket out here! It's the only way you'll win". And so it began...my trip to Birdsville!
From Brisbane, Shandell, Amber and myself along with ninety or so other punters set off on the outback adventure of the year. Travelling overnight and into the following day, we watched as 24 hours along with over 1600km of road passed us by before we arrived at the remote little outback settlement of Birdsville. With a population of just 66 and nestled between the Simpson and Sturt Stony desert, the Lonely Planet guidebook rightly describes this town as one of the most isolated towns in all of Australia.
Now I should clarify myself by saying that we did not set off into quite literally 'the middle of no where' without purpose. To the contrary in fact...as the first lines of this blog were to suggest, 90 plus of us set off into the far western reaches of Queensland for nothing less than "A day at
the races". And what more of an excuse should one need I ask you! For one weekend in the year, this sleepy little desert oasis becomes alive with racing punters numbering 8000 plus. And all this madness is for the best of causes, to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctors.
We arrived late on a Thursday evening and set up our base at 'Tent City' before having some super, a well needed shower and a quick look around town. Being in holiday mode once again it did not feel right to finish the night without a little night cap so the three of us dipped into a nearby 'Yeehaw' country music gig where some of us then allowed ourselves to dip into a drink or two before we called it an early night and caught up on some well needed sleep that the previous 24 hours had deprived us of. Friday begun bright and early as we all sat around camp are were treated to the most forgetful of breakfasts that there is to be had, at least I hope I forget it...someday...hopefully someday!! The two days of races kicked off just after midday and for the dedicated
The Royal Hotel
....has seen many a better day!
punters amongst us the rest of the morning was spent discussing the possible winners and losers the day might bring.
For us three however, the races would have to wait another day as there was exploring to be done! Our bus driver 'Dave' (who insisted on calling me 'Your shout' the entire trip for some reason?) piled us back on the bus and brought us out (on a dirt track - at Formula 1 speed!) to the true verge of the Simpson Desert, arguably Australia's most isolated and inaccessible region. Our destination was 'Big Red', the largest of the deserts red sandhills, coming in at over 40 meters in height. While we were there we got to see a number of 4WD's and motorbikes taking on the hill and trying to make it to the other side. Not as easy as you may think and it was acheived with many varying degrees of success. Thankfully Dave decided on letting the bus on the town side or else I could still be in Birdsville today! Although, would that have been such a bad thing? Had I enough time and the means of getting back out of there again I very
Amberpatra, Pond... Aidan Pond & Shandellahontas
well may have stayed a while longer. I would love to experience Birdsville without the crowds. On top of that, Shandell and Amber pointed out to me that it was possible to head off with the postman on his three day post run to all the outlying cattle stations. And these are some of the most remote farms on the planet. In their remoteness they are therefore by defacto, extremely large. They have to be, to support any stock. To the untrained eye, it seems that there is no growth to support cattle whatsoever in this part of Australia. That however, is not entirely true although it does take about 125 acres to support one animal. Madness!
To give you an even better idea of the scale of things here, these farms are so big that the town of Birdsville is actually part of one. Yes, a farmer owns the town, the pub in the town, the petrol station in the town... and all the land around the town. And what I mean by all the land....land that roughly equals the size of Ireland! You could travel for hours on end here and not reach your front gate
Approach into Birdsville from the Simpson Desert
But enough of the geography lesson...after our trip out to 'big red' we made our way back into town where we had ourselves a lovely lunch of camel pie! Well wild camels have become a major problem in this part of Australia and one local entepreneur came up with this novel idea to try and do his part in the great cull! Another animal knocked off the list in my epic taste test I thought to myself. And not a bad entrant either.
Saturday morning brought another uniquely forgetable breakfast around campfire before another short trip and the opportunity for my first footsteps on South Australian soil. State number 4 down. Only 4 more to go! As Birdsville lies a mere 12km for the SA border (and little over 170km from the Northern Territory) it seemed almost obligitary that we headed out across the border to have our photos taken beside the "Welcome to South Australia" sign. Then it was back to base camp, a quick change of costume and off to the track for the afternoon. As you may have gathered from the photo...we decided to dress the part for the day too. All thanks to Shandell it
Why drive and camp when you can fly and camp! (as most people did by the way)
has to be said. A few weeks previous she had come up with the idea that we all wear something 'special' for the day. The result being Pocahountas, Cleopathra and the upper half of James Bond replaced Shandell, Amber and Aidan at the track for the afternoon. And we fitted in just fine as the day had attracked all sorts. From the normal people wearing their shorts and T-shirts (its not a race meeting that warrants dressing up for in all fairness) to people wearing the full collar and bowtie... and of course everyone in beween.
Well the afternoon came and the afternoon went and not enirely heeding the advice I had recieved on the bus on the way out, a few dollars were gambled here and a few dollars were gambled there and by the end of the meet I could only but try to feel content in knowing that many more people had left a far greater amount behind at the track than I had!
The final super was had around campfire and then it was off to the towns lone pub 'The Birdsville Hotel' (They call pubs 'Hotels' in Oz....for what reason I still do
not know?) for one last night of self-indulgence. 'The Birdsville Hotel' on race weekend is a unique place. A place where manners are frowned upon. With the huge numbers of drinkers about, all drink is confined solely to that of the canned variety. And with simply not enough staff to sell the beer and keep the place clean one of them had to suffer. And believe me, they sold plenty beer! As for the empty cans.. well God forbid but you put it on the counter, one of the bar staff would quickly toss it full force onto the ground! In fact everybody did the same. When your can was empty you took aim for the corner of the room and let fly! By the end of each night the floor had become a carpet of beer cans. In fact there was a group of people in the corner taking running dives into the mound of beer tins that had formed over the course of the evening.
...and then it was over, the night had ended in a blur of activity around the tiny desert oasis and before I knew it I was waking up to the pre-dawn cooking
of our final breakfast and it was time to go again. Bags were packed and showers were had to rid us of the bitter cold that the desert night had brought and shortly after breakfast our goodbyes to Birdsville and the mayhem that the weekend had brought were said and it was back on the bus again and back to a replay of the 24 hours we had experienced only 4 days previous. Magic!
Note: If you want to see some more photos from this trip check out the link below (You do NOT need a facebook account to view them)