Wednesday, September 28, 2011






   The first race meeting held at the newly formed township of Birdsville, situated on the Diamantina River, eight miles north of the South Australian border, was held on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of September (1882), and was largely attended, nearly 150 station owners, managers, stockmen, and other employees being present. The weather was delightful, the entrances for the various events good, and the finishes in most of the races close and exciting. Nearly 200 pounds was raised by public subscription, which speaks well for the prosperous condition of the district.
   The settling took place in Mr Tucker’s hotel, where the amounts were paid over to the respective winners, the usual toasts proposed and duly responded to, after which a meeting was held in Messrs. Burt and Co.’s large iron store, when a jockey club was formed, to be called the “Border Jockey Club”, forty-two names being enrolled as members. Stewards were appointed, a working committee elected, and the next race meeting fixed for July, 1883″.

The Birdsville Races

   Birdsville's busiest week of the year occurs in September. Visitors converge on this tiny outback town from all parts of Australia and the World on the first Saturday in September for the Annual Birdsville Racing Carnival over two days (Friday and Saturday).
   The first race meeting was held in 1882 as an event for hack and stock horses with a few local spectators. The carnival now includes a 12-race program and prize money in excess of $110 000. The XXXX Gold Birdsville Cup is a much sought after trophy and is famous throughout the world.
   Situated three kilometres to the South East of the town the track itself is on a claypan alongside the sand dunes. The track is 2000m in circumference with the longest race, 1600m XXXX Gold Birdsville Cup starting in the back straight. All starts are on the course proper with the exception of the 1000m, which starts from a chute. Birdsville is one of four tracks in Queensland that run anti-clockwise
   Crowds of over 6000 racegoers celebrate the carnival each year enjoying two days of quality outback racing and two great nights of live entertainment. Other entertainment includes the AKUBRA Fashions of the Field, Fred Brophy's Boxing Troupe, whip cracking, sideshows, a giant auction and much more. Great entertainment, class horseracing and premium hospitality makes for a fantastic week in the heart of Australia's outback.

Interesting Facts of Yesteryear

  • Professional riders carried a 7lb penalty.
  • Special races were held for horses bred within 250 miles of Birdsville.
  • For a fee of 10 pounds owners could lead their own horses into the saddling enclosure.
  • Steplechase races were programmed when racing was conducted on the old course three miles to the west of town. This course was abandoned after regularly being inundated with floodwaters.
  • Prizemoney for the cup has varied from 500 pounds in the 1880’s to 50 pounds in the 1940’s, $5000 in 1982 for the Centenary Cup and has now reached $30,000.
  • A bell was rung as horses left the enclosure and connections fined 10 shillings for horses not at the starting post within 5 minutes.
  • Separate race were programmed for corn fed and grass fed horses.
  • Star Ace the 1970 winner in the absence of a horse float was trotted up the Birdsville Track beside the trainer’s vehicle.
  • Races were once started by the drop of a hat, later by strand barriers and now with barrier stalls.
  • Club was originally titled the 'Border Jockey Club' later becoming the ‘Birdsville Amateur Turf Club’. In subsequent years and to incorporate the Betoota race meeting it was changed to the 'Diamantina Amateur Race Club'. In 1990 it separated from Betoota and became the ‘Birdsville Race Club Incorporated’.
  • Unregistered horses were only allowed to start in Hack races.
  • Prior to 1954 with exception of the cup, prizemoney was only paid for 1st and second placegetters.

  • The cup distance has remained 1 mile or 1600 meters since its first running in 1882. In 1949 and 1950 the ‘Hospital Handicap’ (1 mile) was run in lieu of the Cup. Meetings were held then to raise funds for the construction of the Birdsville Hospital.
  • The annual race meeting is now held to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
  • With the exception of a period during World War II the Birdsville Races have only ever been cancelled on one occasion. This occurred in 2007 when the outbreak of Equine Influenza in Queensland and New South Wales (in the week prior to the races) saw a complete ban on horse movement. As a result horses were unable to travel to Birdsville and the horse races were cancelled. Entertainment and festivities did continue throughout the weekend despite the lack of horses.

   Birdsville is a small outback town situated on the banks of the Diamantina River between the sands of the Simpson Desert and the gibbers of Sturts Stony Desert. The area is steeped in history, from aboriginal meeting places to European settlement in the late 1870s and beyond.
   The Birdsville population currently stands at approximately 120. The town provides modern facilities for all travellers along with many thriving businesses. Comfortable accommodation and general supplies are available in the town. Facilities include:


-Caravan Park/Coffee shop


-Two service stations & General Store

-Post Office

-Working Museum

-Art gallery

-Guided Tours

-Police, Medical Clinic and Emergency Services

-Tourist Information/Library/Internet Facilities

-Airport with a sealed 1700m runway and unsealed cross-strip

Meeting for a pint after the races at the Birdsville Hotel

    'Road trains' supply the town with fresh produce and general supplies from both Adelaide (South) and Quilpie (East) on a fortnightly basis.
Airservices are provided by Macair who operate from Brisbane to Birdsville then Mt Isa and back the following day twice a week carrying both passengers and mail. From the South, Westwing Aviation operate the world's longest mail run from Port Augusta to Birdsville on a Wednesday, overnighting in Birdsville Wednesday night and Birdsville back to Pt Augusta on Thursdays, stopping at isolated outback stations along the way.
   Birdsville is located in the Temperate Zone with a generally arid climate. Rainfall average totals 160mm each year occurring mostly in summer with September being the driest month of the year. Daytime temperatures in the region reach an extreme mid 40C in the summer (November - February) down to typical desert nights of 4C in the winter. Milder daytime temperatures reach (15-35C) during the winter months.

A little boxing between races

   Summer rains produce an abundance of native grasses whilst winter rainfall results in a variety of lush herbage and attractive displays of wildflowers particularly in the Simpson Desert to the west of Birdsville.
   Approximately every three to five years Birdsville will experience a flood in the Dimantina River. The flood, as a result of extensive rains in the river catchment further to the North, results in the Diamantina bursting its banks and the river stretching out to many kilometres in width and at times flooding all access roads into Birdsville. It is not uncommon during a flood period for Birdsville to be inaccessible by road for up to three weeks.

History of Birdsville

   European settlers moved into the area in the 1870’s, looking for minerals and grazing land for cattle. Birdsville was established as a centre for stock routes for the cattle country and as a Customs collection point. In the days before federation in 1901, a toll was payable on all stock and supplies entering South Australia from Queensland.
   Birdsville was formerly known as Diamantina Crossing. Later the name Birdsville was adopted believing to be on account of the prolific bird life in the district.
   Many of Australia's pioneering European explorers travelled through the Birdsville district well before the town was gazetted. Monuments to acknowledge the feats of Captain Charles Sturt, Burke & Wills, Madigan and others are located throughout the town.

   Birdsville supported a population of over 300 at the turn of the century. The town boasted 3 hotels, a cordial factory, blacksmith store, market gardens, police and customs facilities. However following Federation in 1901 the customs depot was closed and the population slowly dwindled to approximately 50 throughout the 1950's. Livestock trade has kept the region alive and in recent times tourism has joined cattle as the major industry in the area.

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