Unless you are a masochist, it’s a lot better to be a spectator than take part in outback races. Here are four events worth the long, long trip to sit back and enjoy.
Camel Cup, NT (12 July)
Alice Springs’ annual Lasseters Camel Cup is as the event slogan promises: “temperamental, terribly unpredictable and very entertaining”. Drawing crowds of 5000-plus, the day is a spectacle as riders race to the finish line… that’s if their noble steeds feel like cooperating. Outside the arena is more family-friendly entertainment with dancers, rides, food stalls and Mr and Miss Camel challenges.
Yabby Races, Qld, (3 september)
Whoever said race meets require four-legged competitors? Windorah’s annual International Yabby Races, 1200 kilometres west of Brisbane, is a testament to just that, attracting hundreds of passersby for the night as they make the voyage to the Birdsville Races. The 10 competing yabbies in each race (there’s four main events) are named and auctioned off beforehand, with funds raised going back to the local community and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Lightning Ridge Big Dig, NSW, (18–20 April)
Every Easter long weekend, this little opal-mining town (730 kilometres north-west of Sydney), comes alive with its annual festival that centres around The Big Dig. That is, a large mound of soil is dumped in the main street hiding $10,000 worth of local opals inside. You’ll need to buy tickets to go into the draw to compete, or watch on as those drawn dig madly to find the sparkly treasure. But the competitions don’t end there – throughout this three-day fest there’s also a busk-off for buskers, horse races and the Miner’s Challenge, which sees opal miners, coal miners and hard rock miners compete against each other to showcase who has the fastest skills.
Birdsville Races, Qld , (5–6 september)
Home to the granddaddy of outback races, Birdsville (700 kilometres south-west of Longreach) swells from a population of about 100 to 6000 during this iconic event. And if you tire of the trackside races, head to the town’s main drag for the ‘Not the Birdsville Races’ event, where wooden horses are raced down the street, drawn by reel and string. And beyond the fillies, fascinators and 80,000 beer cans consumed each year, there’s also live music, comedy acts and cocktail parties, with funds raised going to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.