Monday, 20 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #7

Even though it's far too well known as one of the world’s weirdest racedays to retain much of the spirit that originally characterized the event; the setting and iconic status of the place should ensure that it remains a unique one for decades to come, even if in a totally different way.

This annual event, first held in 1882, doesn't bear much resemblance to its early days anymore, or even to what it was two decades ago, when it was still largely an authentic Outback festival. The famous Birdsville Races have pretty much become “Royal Ascot meets Spring Break meets Burning Man” by now. Not many of the 5.000 visitors who make their way to this 120-inhabitant village, otherwise best known as the first re-entry into something remotely resembling civilization for travelers crossing the Simpson Desert, are from nearby towns (or whatever nearby means in an area where postmen deliver by plane and the average farm is bigger than some European countries).

The racetrack itself has basically remained the same tough, an oval route through the desert (talk about an original Dirt Track!), ending at a winning post that seems randomly-placed, somewhere in the overwhelming vastness of the Outback's Great Big Nothing.

Not so well known is the fact that Birdsville is merely the first of three stages for the Simpson Desert Racing Carnival. For an experience that more closely resembles the original Birdsville, the other two stages - Bedourie (where the focus is just as much on rodeo and camel racing) and the “family-oriented” Betoota, - are certainly better alternatives. As are other Outback racedays like the ones at Cloncurry, McKinlay or Boulia (all in Queensland).

Make no mistake though, Australia has for the last few decades been more radical than any other country in selling out every bit of its sporting heritage for the almighty AUS$, which means that any of those that you hear about for the third time has probably lost much of its appeal by then. For the purpose of the WWR however, there’s no denying that precisely this over-the-top kind of joyful larrikinism is what sets Birdsville apart from the other Outback racedays (and for all parties involved, let's hope it stays that way).

Watch this clip for a decidedly touristy and kitschy account of what has become a decidedly touristy and kitschy raceday.

A better account, albeit with lower-quality footage can be found on youtube.

("Downtown Birdsville scene", although presenting Birdsville as an isolated cowboy - or jackaroo - community is a pillar of most articles about the raceday, the village's economy is actually tourism-based all year; Panoramio images by Jonathan Berry and A2thaMFK [top])

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