Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Birdsville Races

7:59 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me take you to a postcode not many politicians have bothered to visit: postcode 4482, population 100. From Brisbane it is 1,581 kilometres; from Melbourne, 2,158 kilometres; from Adelaide, 1,170 kilometres and from Darwin, 2,283 kilometres. I emphasise the distance from these major cities because I joined around 8,000 racegoers over the weekend who made the trek from cities and regional towns from across the country in their four-wheel drives, planes and coaches to revel in the annual Birdsville Races, held on the first Saturday of September.

What's in Birdsville? Not a great deal. But, as the old saying goes: it's not the size that matters. Birdsville boasts one of this country's most iconic pubs, the Birdsville Hotel—a pub that was gutted by fire and lovingly restored by its current owners. Then, there is the Birdsville Bakery, where you will find the equally iconic camel pies, and hordes of people queued outside the door for a wholesome feed. I have to point out, it's one of the only bakeries I know of in the country that can serve a steak and pepper pie and a can of XXXX.

The Birdsville health clinic is the go-to place in times of trouble, staffed by a wonderful roster of men and women, including Andrew Cameron and Georgia. Then there's the one-man police station and plenty of red dust. These locals form the backbone of Birdsville. With makeshift tent cities both sides of the river and a warm welcome 'howdy' or a wave as you walk past the tents, this is home for the next few nights. It doesn't matter who you are and how big your bank balance is, everyone camps. Pre-races each day, four-wheel drives tackle Big Red, a rich red sand dune. It will cost you $1,000 to recover your car if you can't meet the challenge. I decided to walk up the dune just in case.

With races on Friday and Saturday, there is no shortage of bookies in the undercover area, and punters that cling to any bit of shade and their cold beer. Birdsville dishes up some of the harshest conditions that Australia has to offer, yet it draws this massive crowd. When the sun sets, the party intensifies. With clear star-like skies, the backdrop of food vans and Brophy's boxing tent, the closed off streets become one giant beer garden and literally anything goes. I know; I was there. I was actually card girl and judging the boxing. What an experience it was in my life, and it goes into my memory bank. The sounding drumbeat signals a call for budding amateur boxers to muster the courage to take on Fred Brophy's troupe. It is as pivotal to the Birdsville Races as the cup itself. This is the world's last travelling boxing troupe, with a bloke by the name of Fred Brophy who beats the drum 15 feet above the thousands who gather to watch the show. The accompanying ringing of the bell pays tribute to past and present boxers who've helped create the icon. It never ceases to amaze me how many people line up at each show to take on the troupe.

The Birdsville Races are an event you have to experience to fully understand. They truly are a bucket list event—a cross between Munich's beer festival, the Melbourne Cup and the recent Jeff Horn match. To the countless volunteers who marshal the aircraft in and out over the weekend, the jockeys, race organisers like Garry Brook, food stall operators who tow their caravans across the desert, Fred and Sandy Brophy, his boxers, the paramedics and police who come from far and wide to help, the tow truck operators who pull stranded cars off Big Red and the thousands of people who made the trip this year: thank you. Lastly, a final farewell to a bloke I have got to know over the last number of years, who boxed in Fred Brophy's tent—Digger. In all the fights I have watched you box with that cheeky smile; it will be sadly missed from the ring. You finally joined the list of icons painted on the canvass facade of the tent. I can picture Fred asking the crowd to give you a rally as he hypes the thousands that gather out the front of next year's event.