A DAY AT THE RACES - OUTBACK STYLE
(Click on the photographs to see the full sized image)
Birdsville, in outback Queensland, has a normal population of around 90 souls, but on one notable weekend every year the population swells to between 6,000 and 7,000 of so called racegoers. They come from all parts of Australia, using various modes of transport to get to this tiny spot in the middle of nowhere. Birdsville is surrounded by the Simpson Desert, the Strezleckie Desert and the Great Stony Desert and for the remainder of the year the population is mainly employed by the Roads and Transport Authority. There is one "pub" (hotel) built in 1844.
The race meeting itself is really just an excuse for a giant party and a great chance for the "locals" to get together. More importantly though, it raises badly needed funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The RFDS provides medical help for people in remote areas of Australia and air transportation to hospitals in emergencies.
It was estimated that there were around 300 light aircraft flown in just for the weekend. The following is a pictorial illustration of the weekend from a city slicker's viewpoint.
Aussies will travel a long way for a party.... in this case 7 hours flying time (877 miles as the crow flies from Canberra).
This photograph was taken at 6,500 feet above the Strezleckie Desert after 5 and a half hours flying time from Canberra. We noticed when scanning this photograph that there is the illusion of a kangaroo head on the right hand side of the lake.
Final approach to the Birdsville "airport"- the parallel lines in the foreground are actually the muddy waters of the Diamentina River. Landing at Birdsville has its hazards - there were hundreds of birds of prey circling above the strip, no ground control to assist pilots and a helpful local who held up large cards numbered from 0 to 10 ..... He set the mood for the weekend because it transpired that he was scoring the landings "a la diving or gymnastics judges" not directing pilots to parking bays as "our" pilot originally thought. The lowest score of the day was a 1..... given to a pilot for actually landing (just) in one piece after a particularly "hairy" approach. I should mention that "our" pilot scored a 6 - he says it was that low because of a vicious crosswind and being strange to the airport. Hmmmmmmmm.
First item of the agenda was to visit the town and mingle with the locals and visitors. Naturally most of the action occurred at the Birdsville "pub" where everyone was getting into the mood and stocking up for the evenings festivities a Ball. Formal attire was compulsory.
Then it was back to the airfield to find the aircraft which was parked amongst some 300 others. As you can see from the photograph the area leading to the "parking lot" must have been freshly plowed because the wheelmarks of many of the planes are clearly visible.
The next order of business was to organise the sleeping arrangements and a tent was erected under the wing of the aircraft. As accommodation at the pub was obviously out of the question, alternative arrangements had to be made. Our pilot did not go to the Ball, having forgotten his tuxedo, however he did say that there were some pretty wild interpretations of "formal attire" - apparently he wandered into "town" to view the "guests" arriving for the Ball. Unfortunately he did not take his camera along so we have been deprived (or should I say spared) of the sight of adults attired in jeans, with bow tie and no shirt, tuxedo jacket with shorts and other permutations of formal wear Birdsville style.
The night was not without its perils, sometime between 1 and 2am a reveller lost his way and crashed through the tent, landing squarly on our slumbering pilot.
The next day, before taking off, a trip into town was called for. Evidence of the previous night's festivities were all around, including the unconscious bodies of a few who had not made it to wherever they had intended to spend the night.
Shortly after this photograph was taken they took off for the return flight to Canberra.
When scanning these photographs I did notice that there was one small detail which had been missed. There was not one photograph of a horse, let alone a horse race. I never did find out why!!