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By Josh Fleming | Sunday, September 9, 2018

For many, it started out as a single ‘bucket list’ item and became an annual pilgrimage. That’s the power of the attraction of the Birdsville races and race-caller Josh Fleming was there to savour that special experience for no less than the sixteenth time this year. Here Josh reports on his 2018 trip to Birdsville and gives some insight in why the Birdsville racing weekend is such an iconic event.

“It was a little bit different for me this time in that we flew to Birdsville so we took the shorter route. It was different to years gone by when we have mainly driven to the town. The club chartered a flight. It came from Sydney and picked us in Brisbane.

“As I say it was a bit different to the normal seventeen hour drive that we would break up over three or four days or something. What that did though was give me an amazing view of Birdsville from the air. It’s something I’d experienced only once before.

“We arrived in the dark and the long line and steady stream of headlights coming into town was quite something to see. Flying in and seeing that was pretty cool.

“You basically come in over the southern tip of the town. You come in from that direction to land. You come over the town and you can see the Birdsville Bakery sign on the top of the building.

“I think it would have been a sight for people to see from the ground as well with a hundred-seater jet landing at Birdsville. Apparently, it is the biggest plane to ever land at Birdsville.

“They flew in that many people to cover the races. The coverage of the racing is just going through the roof. Channel 7, 9 and 10 were all there. It was great.

“The airport is directly opposite the hotel so you step off right into the thick of things.

“People were just happy to see us and we were happy to see them. Some of them you might only see once or twice a year but everybody is so involved and have such a great attitude.

“That’s the beauty of Birdsville. It’s all about the people and the way they interact and get together for those two or three days a year.

“It’s pretty special.”


“Some of the media were lucky enough to fly to Birdsville but we are really only small cogs in the wheel.

“We have nothing to do with the running of the race meeting and all of the hard work that goes into that behind the scenes. We just turn up and do our job.

“For me personally, things did take on more importance this year with the races being televised live. Like any race-caller, I wanted to do a good job. I wanted, through the live commentary, to really put Birdsville out there in a good light.

“The pictures and the audio went out really well. I had a little bit to do with that but, again, it had more to do with all of those working behind the scenes who made it all happen.

"All those boys did great work getting the pictures out to all of Australia.There is a lot involved and it really is a team effort.”


“The Fred Brophy boxing tent is always a special attraction.

“He was there again. Fred’s being going to Birdsville for, I would guess, nearly forty years. I don’t know how much longer he is going to keep going. He said ten years ago I reckon he wanted to retire but thankfully he’s still going.

“It’s a big part of Birdsville races. People go to the races and then all go back into town and ask each other, ‘are you going to the fights?’ It’s right opposite the hotel and they must pack in four or five hundred people in that tent.

“It’s sort of the main attraction in town. It’s one of the first things you see and you can hear it right across town. You can hear those drums beating. I love being there and hearing it!

“A good thing about having Fred there is that anybody who has got the urge to have a fight can go into the ring and get it out of their system. There has been one half-fracas at the Birdsville Hotel in the sixteen years I’ve been going there. Fred looks after it. Nothing really gets out of control.

“There’s much more on offer though. I liken the whole thing to sideshow alley at the Ekka. They’ve got stalls … from food stalls to places where you can buy souvenirs and different things right through town.

“There truly is no event that I have been to that is like it.
“The atmosphere on the street … it’s hard to explain. It’s pretty magical. That’s why people just keep turning up year after year.

"You can try and explain it to people the best you can but you really have to experience it yourself to understand the pulling power that it has.


“You see some crazy outfits at Birdsville … and I’m not necessarily talking about at the races here.

“I mean that. Some of the outfits are just crazy. I saw one bloke there who was dressed up as a woman and he was the last bloke you would want to see in a dress, but that sums it up, you know. He was there to have a good time … and so was everybody else.

“Fred Flintstone, Scooby Doo and so many others … they were all there.

“The range of outfits and the carefree attitude of the people who wear them really help bring home the point that if you can’t have a good time at Birdsville, you really are struggling!

“It’s a big effort for a lot of people to get there and they make the trip knowing what they are coming into. They know they are not going to get the Hilton there, or any other flash hotels with their luxuries, but that doesn’t matter because they arrive with a fun attitude and determined to make the most of their visit.

“That again is what sets Birdsville apart from the rest. It is like a massive magnet that draws all the adventure minded people out there.

"The four-wheel drives … they can try and take on Big Red … and then there are that many campervans that people buy or hire. It’s a challenge for them to drive out there … to get a couple of weeks off work and get away to the real country!


“In the sixteen Cups that I’ve called the 2018 edition was probably the best win of the whole lot.

“The winner, Blue Jest, had so much against him from the bad gate with the big weight and an inexperienced boy on … but he just got up on the speed and kept going.

“The two in front were basically there all the way and the other horse, Boggoms loomed up to get past them but the winner was just like a fighting tiger. He refused to get beaten.

“It was a great moment for young Adin Thompson. He’s only been riding for about six months. He looks like he is twelve years old but I guess he is probably about seventeen or eighteen. He is a baby-faced fellow.

“Apparently he was thinking of fighting in the Fred Brophy tent. I'm told he fights like a thrashing machine even though he’s only a little fellow! There is no doubting the fact that attitude helped him in the finish of the race.

“While Thompson was winning first time out, it was also good to see trainer Bevan Johnson taking out the Cup. He is a regular visitor to Birdsville and the result was a fitting reward for the perseverance he has shown over the years.


“I really want to pay tribute to the trainers and jockeys who support the Birdville meeting.

“I’ve visited a lot of the trainer’s camps at Birdsville over the years and the commitment some of those trainers show for the Birdsville cause is really remarkable.

“They are away from home … some of them for a week or so but others are away for three to four weeks if they travel the whole circuit.

“Craig Smith, for example, brought ten or eleven horses this year. Each horse has got a feed bucket and a rug amongst other things and that’s before they even think of bringing something for themselves.

"Craig and Sandy came out and brought workers, strappers and organised jockeys and who knows what else … and then there is the rigour of all of the travel involved.

“I have just used Craig as an example to make the point that I don’t think many people realise the huge effort trainers make to ensure Birdsville racing is the success it is.

“People would have watched Birdsville on TV without any thought about how the horses got there, the miles they travel, how the horses are looked after during the visit and during travel, the trainers running costs, the fact that they sometimes have to deal with an adverse situation, such as a tyre that has blown on the truck (it happens) … and so on.

“It takes a massive effort for them to get there wherever they come from.

“Everybody wants to keep the show going but if there are no horses there is no racing and all trainers deserve a great deal of respect and to be acknowledged for the essential part they play in the Birdsville racing weekend.


“I believe a figure of around $50 000 was raised by the Ubet / Racing Queensland initiative linked to the Birdsville races to donate a percentage of wagering revenue from the meeting to a Drought Relief fund.

“Racing Queensland with the sponsorship from UBET kicked the prize-money up for Birdsville. With better prize-money comes better racing. We had the biggest fields we have ever had out there and strong racing. It was the richest Birdsville Cup ever run I believe.

“All of those things count in attracting turnover which obviously helped the size of the donation so all credit to Racing Queensland and UBET for getting right behind, and supporting, the Drought Relief effort.


"It’s been a pleasure talking about something that is very close to my heart.

I hope this has given you a little bit of insight into the Birdsville races … perhaps just enough to make you give some thought to making the trip next year if you have never been before.

"Perhaps I'll see you there."

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Josh Fleming
Josh Fleming
Queensland's Own www.horseracingonly.com.au Queensland's Best