2011 BETOOTA RACES, BIRDSVILLE RACES and BIG RED

Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012 at 10:10

Navigator 1 (NSW)



(That straight line shouldn't be there!)

23rd August – 6th September 2011

After six days, we finally left the Diamantina NP and headed south 244 km through Davenport Downs, Palparara, Currawilla and Mooraberree to Toorijumpa Crossing. It was muster time and the huge cattle trucks were either loading or making their way along the track. Rounding up the cattle was being done using a helicopter and the boys and girls on their bikes. The dust created by the trucks could be seen from a long way off. We had a long chat with Dale, the head stockman for Davenport Downs and Currawilla Stations and Bobby, one of the boys on the bikes. Dale told us that they were taking 15,000 head out of the paddock we were standing in. Now that's a lot of rump steak! Their stock numbers at the time were 40,000 head spread out over 4 million acres and so far they had been on the job for 9 days.





Through comments made in our Diamantina Blog, ‘Gidgea Jack’ let us know that he was carting cattle through that area just a months after our visit – it’s a pity our paths didn’t cross. ‘Member - Dave B1 (QLD)’ let us know that we would have been welcome on the Davenport Downs property for a visit as he works there. Next time! Also, Ma ‘Ma & Pa’ through a member message let us know that her grandfather once managed Diamantina Lakes and other properties. Don’t you just love this site!



Toorijumpa road crossing was dry but we could see that in the wet it would not taken much for this crossing to be closed. We camped right alongside the track at our waterfront site. We were not in anybody’s way – as there was no traffic at all. The most amazing thing about the creek was that its water was crystal clear. Quite unusual as everywhere else we went, the water was muddy. We took full advantage of this and over our 2 day stay, we washed everything. It was peaceful, quiet and the weather magnificent!



A further 93 km south, travelling on the Currawilla/ Mooraberree Rd, we reached Betoota.
Betoota is a small town situated on a gibber plain, 170 kilometres east of Birdsville and 227 kilometres west of Windorah. It is in the Diamantina Shire, in the Channel Country, in far south west Qld. Its population is seasonal with its last permanent resident being Sigmund Remienko who died in 2004. Betoota is the town that has been designated as Australia's smallest town. The only facilities in Betoota are a racetrack and a dry weather airstrip. This strip was flooded in 2010 so the council graded the road outside Mt Leonard and this was used as a temporary measure. When we came into Betoota we thought it was rather strange to use the road as the town’s airstrip we later heard the story. Visitors are drawn to the town during the annual Simpson Desert Racing Carnival which is held in September.

The town was surveyed in 1887 with only three streets were ever named. The Betoota Hotel was built in the late 1880s and is now the last remaining building in town. The building is constructed of sandstone and has timber floors. The hotel operated until 1997 when its owner, Sigmund (Simon) Remienko, retired at 82 years of age. Originally from Poland, Sigmund worked as a grader driver until he bought the Betoota Hotel in 1957 and was Betoota's sole resident until ill health forced him to move. He was an outback legend!




History revealed that in 1885, the Queensland Government opened a customs post to collect a toll for stock travelling the stock route with Betoota once a Cobb & Co change station.
We passed through Betoota back in August 2008.This time we were there to attend the annual Betoota Races, part of the Simpson Desert Race Carnival circuit, to be held on Saturday 27th August. This is a country race meeting, priding itself on being family oriented. We arrived on Thursday, being one of the first campers to arrive. The weekend started with a dance on Friday night and the races held the next day. With most of the locals from surrounding properties not arriving till race day, this was a low key event but full of fun. For a one day event a lot of time and money had been poured in. The Diamantina Shire Council had spent the week grading the race track and the road between Betoota and Birdsville. The ablutions blocks had been opened and were being cleaned. These facilities are only used for 3 weekends in the year! Being such a small race meeting the campers were able to walk around the stables and talk to the owners and trainers. We were on site to see the horses being showered, taken for their morning or evening walks and see them training out on the track. As you can imagine, country tracks like these contain a lot of stones and although the graders and rollers had worked for a week the stones were still poking out of the ground. One of the trainers organised for volunteers to do the emu walk ie walk, bend over and pick up a stone, walk, bend over and pick up a stone. Half way round the track we all realised it was a futile activity – the horses in the first race would have the track back to the condition it was in a week ago. Well, it was something different and occupied quite a few people for a long time.





We placed a bet (or more like it made a donation to the bookie) in every race and had a good time. The small country race meeting - a must do.

On Sunday morning everyone moved out and Betoota once again became quiet.
We moved onto Birdsville, 169 km further west and after a drink in the Birdsville Hotel we went back out of town about ½ km and camped by a creek. Described as the Melbourne Cup of the outback, Birdsville gets set to hold its annual race meeting one week after Betoota. The program features horses from all over Australia competing for the coveted Birdsville Cup. Prize money is worth the effort. http://www.birdsvilleraces.com/Races2008/RaceProgram







The Diamantina council had spent a lot of money in recent years running water pipes from the town out several km for all the campers. Unlike Betoota with around 400 people in attendance, Birdsville’s population swells to well over 4,000. At intervals along the road were banks of porta loos that were emptied daily and on the two race days buses ferried visitors to the course, about 4 km out of town. The bus fare was a gold coin donation and the proceeds went to the Royal Flying Doctor, I think.

We arrived on Thursday but had no trouble filling in the time till the weekend. We were there to see Fred Brophy set up his famous boxing tent as well as all the food and souvenir vendors. Fred Brophy is the last boxing tent showman in the world and he's become a legend at events around the outback. Fred's a fourth generation showman; his dad was a side-show operator and his mum - a trapeze artist. His current project is the writing of a book about his life and then it'll be retirement for Fred and the end of an era.

Over the next 2 days thousands of people arrived and the camping ground filled to overflowing. By Friday morning all the bar stools, tables and chairs, glasses and bottled drinks were all gone from the hotel – it was cans only from this time on. Of an evening Noel Brophey coaxed members of the crowd into this tent to box with his boys and 1 girl and of course, the pub was raging. On Friday and Saturday nights entertainment with strobe lighting was provided in the beer garden. Cans littered the street outside the pub and the police just turned a blind eye and you flung your can high into the air to fall to the ground with the rest. It is a tradition! Chicka flew into Birdsville several times back in the 70’s and 80’s and told me how beer cans were ankle deep outside the pub. Now, when all are asleep, the council workers are hard at it cleaning the streets for the next day. He thought it was not quite the same! Also, when he used to fly in there would be around 200 small planes flying in for the event. Now, it is a much, much smaller group.
Birsville Races are a must do but for me, just once will suffice.





On Monday the thousands of tourists were pulling out heading north, perhaps to Bedourie for the last race meeting in the Simpson Desert Race Meeting calendar, south down the Birdsville Track, west to Big Red and the Simpson Desert crossing or east through the vast NSW or Qld outback. Our path took us to Little Red then Big Red, the highest of the Simpson Desert’s 1,100 sand dunes. This time it was not our intention to cross the desert as it was back in 2004 but to firstly see how well the truck would climb the dune and then to camp on top as we did before.
As the crow flies the first dune is very close to Birdsville and it would have been a quick, easy run to Big Red. However the enormous amount of rain encountered in these parts over the past several years has put a large lake in the traveller’s path making a 50 km diversion necessary. At the road closed sign traffic was sent south to the SA border, east across a much lower section of the dune then north to Little Red. It was late in the day and Chicka preferred to attack Big Red first thing in the morning so, as you would, we climbed up on top of Little Red and camped for the evening. We were alone and it was magical. All except for the mice! I thought they would be down in the swales not on top of the dunes but I was wrong once again.



About 7.00am we drove west off Little Red then north to BIG RED! The air and the sand was cool and Hugo 1 (the truck), with his super single tyres deflated , just drove up the hill without any hesitation. If you know Chicka at all, you would know he doesn’t rush into anything.Big Red was no exception - he selected 2nd/low and just idled all the way to the top. It was the greatest feeling! We did a little drive around the top and then positioned ourselves on the western edge of the dune where we could watch the day’s entertainment. The next car up to the top said, ‘How did you get up here?

It is just so funny watching all the different techniques in trying to reach the top. I just love the ones who go back a couple of hundred meters then charge like a bull only to dig into the sand when they lose momentum and try to change gear. Most don’t give up, they just keep trying and trying till they finally conquer. Back in 2008 our first attempt ended in the 80 Series digging in. Of course all the experts on top of the dune were calling out advice on UHF. Chicka realised that, although our tyre pressures had been down for the desert crossing they had built up pressure on the hot sand and now had to be deflated even more. The second attempt, as they say, was a ‘piece of cake’.




We camped on Big Red under the stars with 2 other cars and thousands of mice!
In the morning we returned to Birdsville to get a few provisions before heading off on our next adventure – Innamincka via the Cordillo Downs Road then south along the SA fenceline to Silverton for the Exploroz 2011 gathering.
The outback calls
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