12 things to tick off while you’re at the Birdsville Races
Here’s 12 things to tick off when you’re visiting Birdsville (especially around the first weekend in September).
1. Watch the sunrise
Whether you rest your head at the Birdsville Hotel, Caravan Park, Tent City or the airport under the wing of an airplane, Birdsville sunrises are spectacular. You’re guaranteed warm golden landscapes sprinkled with wildflowers. Plus you’ll be up in time to boil the billie, listen to the early birds and start up the breaky BBQ for your race crew. It’s all part of the outback experience!
2. Tackle Big Red
Big Red is the first of over 1000 dunes in the Munga-Thirri National Park (aka the Simpson Desert), which begins 35 kilometres outside of Birdsville. It stands 30 meters tall and challenges locals and tourists daily with the sandy walk to the top. Big Red is also a popular spot to 4WD across the dunes and provides the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset with a cold ‘champas’ or XXXX in hand.
3. Hang out in the airport lounge
The Birdsville airport goes into overdrive during the week before and after the Birdsville Races. A satellite air traffic control team join the regular airport crew to keep the airport running during this peak time. Not only is the runway working overtime, but the planes themselves also multi-task as hotels by night. You will find tents and swags aplenty through the airport under the wings of the planes.
4. Go horizon hunting at the Dingo Caves
Big Red is on most Birdsville visitors’ to-do list, but just 15 kilometres north of Birdsville lies another spot to put on your radar, the Dingo Caves. The rustic colour of the caves makes it the perfect spot to capture the rich outback landscape. Or come back after dark and be surrounded by the stars. The Dingo Caves are also a great place to spot the rare desert Waddi trees. Please note that access to the caves is via private property and access is by approval only.
5. Swim in the Diamantina River
The best way to cool down after a long day in Birdsville is to take a dip in the Diamantina River. After the major race meet is over, you’ll find race revellers heading to the river for a recap of the day and to arrange plans for the evening festivities ahead.
6. Walk to the beat of Brophy’s drum
Crowds gravitate to the hypnotic drumbeat radiating from Fred Brophy’s stage after the sun has set. Brophy’s Boxing Tent, right next to the Birdsville Hotel, is legendary. Even if you’re not into boxing at all, you have to see the pre-show entertainment and feel the “ga-gung-ga-gung-ga-gung” drumbeat reverberate through your body as Fred fires up locals and visitors from the crowd to take on the professional boxing troupe.
This is one of the last old-school travelling boxing tents around. The boxing itself is secondary to the show and the traditions that come with this kind of night-time entertainment.
7. Get historic at the Burke and Wills tree
Your Birdsville trip is not complete without a quick trip to the banks of the Diamantina River to search for a special Coolibah tree, otherwise known as the Burke and Wills tree. It was marked by Wills himself back in 1860 on their historic inland journey from Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north of Queensland.
8. Build Tent City
The population of Birdsville grows significantly during the Birdsville Races. This means regular accommodation books out quickly (most of the races regulars book a year or so in advance). As visitors kept on coming to join in the races fun, Tent City was born! Most of the tours that go out to Birdsville create Tent City the Thursday before the races begin and stay under the stars. It creates an instant community and is an awesome way to meet people in between the big race week events.
9. Head to the border
Get your photo smack bang in the middle of the Queensland and South Australian border at Cameron’s Corner. But then jump swiftly right back onto the good side (Queensland, of course!).
10. Have a brew with a local at the Birdsville Hotel
The Birdsville Hotel has been the meeting place for after-work and weekend drinks 364 days a year since 1884. It’s one of Queensland’s favourite pubs. It’s not just because the beer is cold (although they do promote that heavily!), it’s about the locals, the stories they tell and the character that drips from the building’s many cheeky signs and well-worn hats.
During the Birdsville Races meet, let your inner greenie go and when you finish your can of amber liquor, place it on the ground and crush it … and leave it there. If you try to put it in the bin you will receive head shakes and foul looks from the otherwise friendly locals and races regulars. Don’t worry, there is a clean-up crew to recycle all of the empty cans at sunrise each morning. The Birdsville Hotel is one of those true blue Aussie experiences, so make sure you allow time to soak in the atmosphere and wash down a few tinnies.
11. Get your hands dirty and join in the fun
There’s no point in heading to Birdsville if you prefer to file your nails and keep to yourself. You’ll get the most out of the trip if you put yourself out there a little and join in. One fun event you should try is the toy horse races that take place outside the Birdsville Hotel.
There are loads of events and activities on around Birdsville during the race meet, so grab yourself a program and highlighter and plan to go all in.
12. Go to the races
The Birdsville Races are held on the first Friday and Saturday of September every year. The Friday of the race meet is a great way to get into the spirit of the weekend with six races. The racing is great and everyone is excited and fresh.
Saturday is the Birdsville Cup Race Day, which has been going since 1882. This is a showstopper day and the one that everyone frocks up for.
After the race day, repeat steps 10, 11, 8 and finally 1.
Here’s some handy tips for your next trip to Birdsville
What to wear to the races: Whether you’re going all-out fancy or having some fun with your fellow punters, here’s something we prepared earlier.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Birdsville?
This post was originally created in 2014 and updated in 2019.