DISCLAIMER: This is an actual news story for the Warrego Watchman, Charleville. Personal antics and photos to follow.
IT’S NOT the race meet it used to be, many old-timers said. It still has the pulling power of a road train and a reputation for wild parties where beer cans spill onto the street and naked men climb the chimney of the pub. But the 7000 or more people that flocked to the small inland town to watch Roma-trained Dancefloor Prodigy take the cup barely put a toe out of line last weekend. Security guards, Irish bartenders, grey nomads and race-organisers waxed lyrical about the grace and patience of the crowd.
The lack of troublemakers is remarkable considering 30 tonnes of grog were lugged across the desert for the event. Former Diamantina mayor and owner of the Bedourie roadhouse Robbie Dare said the tough cops and the light beer on offer at the races had restricted the party antics. “They used to be wild. There used to more fights here than in Fred Brophy’s tent,” he said. But he’s not complaining, it’s still a ripper weekend.
For the president of the race club David Brook, the meet has never been about wild shenanigans. “If that’s the tag it’s got I don’t know where it came from,” he said. He explained people needed to be respectful because they’ve lobbed on a town that’s usually home to about 150 people.
David reckons the race crowd was one of the biggest he’d ever seen in almost 40 years at the club. The weather was kind, too, with a clear breezy weekend.
The good-natured tomfoolery began on Thursday with hobby horse races outside the pub. A wheelie-bin race and fashions of the field contest got the crowd roaring early on before Toowoomba muso Mick Lindsay took to the stage.
As the XXXX cans were swept from the pub floor on Friday morning the races hotted up. Terraplex, trained by Bevan Johnson and ridden by Tim Brummell took out the first race of the day, the 1000m maiden plate, with Charleville trainer Brendan Richardson taking a close second with Clear Decision. In the second race, the 1000m class B handicap, Yannicki lost its rider and Kashnite, trained by Kym Healy came home first. Rapid Leica Jacko, trained by George Tipping, Jam Tin, trained by Kylie Geran, Well Satisfied, trained by Barcaldine local Todd Austin and Kym Healy’s Cruziero also had wins. Fred Brophy’s boxing tent captivated the crowd on Friday night. His booming voice touted the punching skills of the Barramundi Kid and the Son of Mauler. “Give him a rally,” Fred shouted to the crowd as the visitors flocked to fight the professionals. A few blokes were seen rubbing their jaws on Saturday at the racecourse.
About 5500 people watched Gary Geran ride Dancefloor Prodigy to a win in the 130th 1600m open handicap Birdsville Cup. Jockey Gary Geran, who rode Just the Touch to a win last year at the meet, said he had to fight hard to get the cup. “It’s not an easy race to win.”
Roma-based trainer Craig Smith said it had taken him eight years to pull off the win. Todd Austin’s Greys A Rockin, ridden by Shane Egan was half a length behind and Lotto Blues, trained by Kym Healy and ridden by Tara O’Donnell was third.
Earlier in the day Bevan Johnson’s Baroque Star took home the 1200m maiden plate, Jay Morris’s Outstandingly won the weight for age 1200m, General Calm, trained by Ken Foord won the class four 1000m handicap while in the class two 1200m handicap Todd Austin’s Samski got over the line by a nose hair. Charleville’s Ron Sullivan’s Edwardscissorshands took fourth. Todd Austin’s Streetson won the class six plate and Charlie Prow’s Silverado took out the John Flynn outback dash class one 800m handicap.
Ron Sullivan had two races in Betoota the weekend before and two horses in the Birdsville pool. He said the competition is similar to most of the southwest races with the same pool of trainers. It was his third year at Birdsville and he said it wouldn’t be the last. “There’s nothing like the Birdsville races. The next comparison is the Melbourne Cup.”
Back in town, Frontier Services patrol minister John Case from Charleville was helping to man the pancake parlour at the old Birdsville hospital.
The veteran race-goer said he believed the weekend was not as wild as it used to be. “It’s become mainstream and the people who are coming have changed,” he said of the older demographic that filled the town. He said the last few years have been quiet for the police, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost character. The people were still much friendlier than they would have been in a city setting, he said. On Friday morning they dished up more than 4000 sausages at the launch of the company’s great outback BBQ fundraiser. He said he hoped to raise about $15000 for the charity this year.
The Birdsville crowd were more than happy part with cash. A carton of beer began at about $60 and the charity auctions were out of control at times. David Smith from Wyong spent $400 on a stuffed emu on Thursday to commemorate hitting an emu on the trip out. Then he forked out another $450 for a painting on Saturday night. Other stuffed animals roused the crowd. Gumnuts fetched $190, Dixe Normous raised $210 and Fast Beater was sold for $100. Auctioneer Don Cullen from Jamestown in South Australia said the crowd should have paid more for the novelty items. He said he doesn’t feel guilty about conning people to part with their coin at the event even though they’re likely to throw it out in ten years. It’s all donated to the Birdsville clinic, after all.
The once-a-lifetime factor opens wallets. The Charleville bookmakers, David ‘Crocket’ Power, Red Alexander and Lindsay Newbie were impressed with the size of the bets coming in. “I’ve never seen so many cash bets in 35 years at the Birdsville races,” Red Alexander said.
The southwest sent a significant consignment to the races. Charleville lad Paddy Baker was at his sixth races. “You can do what you like here,” he said. Mate Lincoln Brennan was there for the women, he said. Although he had probably gone to the wrong place as rough estimates took the crown to be about 75% male.
Deb Lindsay from Charleville, dressed as a pirate’s wench, said she was in Birdsville to play up and run amuck. Her mate Katherine Castles from Quilpie, also dressed up in ‘pirates of the desert’ garb, said she was at the races to go terrorising.
In the sideshow department Helen from Jundah bought a swag full of Helens melons t-shirts and bumper stickers and lifted her shirt at every possible opportunity. British backpacker Emma Park didn’t mind being chucked in a dirty garbage bin in the wheelie-bin races and swagging by the creek. “We love it. It’s so different to what we’re used to in the city,” she said. On Sunday Irish barmaid Laura Ryan kicked off her ninth day on the grog. She served a lot of drinks over the weekend too, but praised the crowd’s attitude even though a fair few men gave her some stick about her accent.
Federal member for Maranoa Bruce Scott said the weekend was a unique part of the Australian culture. “I recharge my soul out here.” He said he was proud to see the Roma and Barcaldine trainers take first and second in the cup. But he wasn’t planning to cut loose with the rest of the punters.
The airport was hot property, as usual with 137 planes, seven roulettes and three choppers using the strip next to the pub. Airport manager Rodney Cecchini from Wagga Wagga said there was a takeoff or landing every three minutes between Thursday lunchtime and Saturday 6pm. But there were no incidents to report on the airfield.
In the pub there was one fight between two local ladies on Sunday night, but the crowd kept their clothes on and noses in line, mostly. Racing action out west continues this week with Morven expecting to pull a record crowd and Bedourie races keeping punters on their toes.