The Melbourne Cup might be the race that stops the nation, but the Birdsville Races is the race that sees the nation flock to one of Australia’s most remote towns.
Well, maybe not the whole nation, but over 6,000 eager racegoers transform the 100–person town of Birdsville into a pumping metropolis the first weekend of September.
It’s not just punters who travel hundreds of kilometres for the event – with $200,000 dollars in prize money up for grabs – horses and jockeys have been known to venture from interstate and overseas to gallop in the 13-race program.
Never heard of Birdsville or the Birdsville Races? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know below.
How to get there
With 1,590km of tarmac separating Birdsville and Brisbane, you’ll need more than one Spotify playlist to get to the south-west corner of Queensland.
Before you hit the highways, remember you’re heading to outback territory (read: 4WD country), so leave your VW Golf at home.
Regional Express Airlines operates flights from Brisbane to Birdsville, but with limited seats they sell out faster than the favourite runs in the Birdsville Cup – get in early.
Alternatively, find a mate with a light plane and for a small fee, park it right next to the Birdsville Hotel. Did someone say #rockstar arrival?
Side note: if you’re hitting the red dirt early on Sunday following a late night at the Variety Show in the Community Hall, Queensland Police are offering a free “blow before you go” service. Because, safety first.
What to eat
Did you even go to Birdsville if you didn’t visit the Birdsville Hotel? Not only is it the only establishment in town to sit down to a meal, it’s also Australia’s most iconic pub.
For a no-frills option, head to one of the food vendors set up during race week outside the Visitor Centre – pumping out burgers, fried-rice, pizzas and the all-important barista-made coffee.
You won’t find a Coles or Woolies in Birdsville, but the Roadhouse or Fuel Service can sort you out for any last-minute supplies.
Take your dining experience up a few notches and book a seat in the OBE Pavilion to dine on the likes of 12–hour smoked OBE Organic beef short ribs, served by Simon Burr from award-winning South Australian restaurant, Olfactory Inn.
Where to sleep
DIY your digs, and either bring a hotel on wheels, book a cabin at one of the camping grounds and tourist parks or stake your claim at the free campsites on the Birdsville side of the Diamantina River.
If you prefer your accommodation to come with solid foundations, book to stay at the Birdsville Tourist Park, who offer cabins (with or without an ensuite), as well as caravan and camping sites.
Camping doesn’t mean you need all the gear, either. Turn up and roll into your pre-pitched tent at Tent City, which include a stretcher bed with mattress, hot shower facilities and bathrooms, just a short walk to the centre of town.
Sadly, no matter how early you organise your pilgrimage to the event, the Birdsville Hotel closes its accommodation doors during race week.
How to place a bet
Win, place, each way, exacta, quinella or trifecta, punters will be happy to know there’s no hidden tricks to placing a bet at the Birdsville Races.
Not familiar with how to place a bet or the different types of bets? Head to one of the 14 on-course bookmakers (bookies) to get in the know with the difference between placing a bet ‘on the nose’ or a ‘boxed trifecta’.
What to wear
Don’t think because you’re in the outback you can leave your fascinator or collared shirt at home – it’s the races, after all.
However, with a Best Dressed Novelty category as part of the Fashions on the Field competition, expect to see groups arrive in outfits normally reserved for Halloween.
Held during the first weekend in September, expect warm days and cool nights ranging from 10 degrees to mid-20s, so pack your sunscreen, hat and a warm jacket.
Oh, and take it from us, don’t wear any shoes you intend to keep pristine. This is red dirt country and you’ll be tipping sand out of your stilettos all day.
Have you been to the Birdsville Races? What did you think of the iconic event?