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Race Week – The Birdsville Races

August 29, 2017 Sports No Comments Email Email

The countdown to the 135th Birdsville Races is well and truly on, with Australia’s most iconic outback bucket-list experience now less than a week away.

Event organisers are preparing for an influx of thousands to the tiny town on the edge of the Simpson Desert, which has a general population of 115 people.

The town usually swells to host between 6,000-7,000 visitors over the bumper race weekend, which this year runs on September 1 & 2, 2017.

The historic event – billed by many as the Melbourne Cup of the Outback’ – comprises a 13-race program and a jam-packed schedule of outback entertainment and activities – from film and comedy nights, to live music,  Fashion on the Fields, cocktail parties, gourmet trackside dining and Fred Brophy’s famous travelling boxing troupe.

The race program offers up a combined prize-purse of $200,000, plus a further $12,500 in QTIS (Queensland Thoroughbred Incentive Scheme) bonuses – making it outback Queensland’s richest two-day horse-race meet.

The 2017 Birdsville Races will once again support the Royal Flying Doctor Service, hosting a 6.1 kilometre fun run on Wednesday, August 30, to help fundraise for the vital service in their remote region.

Tickets to the Birdsville Races are still on sale through

Single-day race tickets can be purchased at the entry gates on September 1 & 2, while Souvenir Medallion 2-Day Racing Passes will be available for sale at the Birdsville Race Club Merchandise and Ticketing Office (located at Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre) from Monday, August 28.

What:                   Birdsville Races

Where:             Birdsville, Queensland

When:                  Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd September 2017

How much:       Starting from $62.75

More info:

Kylie Edwards @ Cardinal Spin M: 0422 233 996 or E:

Rob Verschuer @ Cardinal Spin M: 0477 396 794 or E:


The Entertainers

Fred Brophy, Outback legend and fourth generation showman of the world’s last boxing troupe

Based: Cracow Hotel, Central Queensland

A fourth-generation showman, Fred Brophy and his travelling boxing troupe — the last of its kind in the world — have become synonymous with the Birdsville Races and outback Australia in general.

  • The son of a sideshow operator and trapeze artist, Fred Brophy began his boxing career at the age of five before starting up his own boxing troupe before reaching 30.
  • Brophy told the Daily Telegraph in 2014: ‘Boxing is one of the first forms of entertainment in (colonial) Australia, starting in the goldfields where the lack of women and excess of alcohol turned bare-knuckle fighting into a popular past time.” “It’s really Australian, it’s part of Australia and that’s what I’ve got going now; it belongs to everyone – I’m just running it,” he told the ABC in 2011.
  • In 2009, Fred was inducted into QLD’s Boxing Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2010 for his services to charities in Birdsville and his contributions to bringing entertainment to the outback.
  • Fred claims he owes his success and profile to the race meetings of Birdsville, which he chose as the location for his first date with now wife, Sandi, almost 30 years ago.
  • Despite tent boxing being banned in New South Wales, Victoria, West Australia and South Australia since the 1970s, Fred says he will continue travelling with his tent boxing troupe throughout QLD until he dies. “I am not going to change my ways to make some bureaucrat or politician in NSW happy,” says Fred.

Brettlyn Neal, ‘The Beaver’–Brophy’s Leading Lady with a heart of gold

Hometown: Warwick QLD, Australia.

In true testament to the tough-as-nails attitude and unfaltering resilience native to members of Brophy’s famous Boxing Tent, ‘The Beaver’ trekked 1339 km through the blazing heat and rough terrains of Australia’s outback by pushbike to attend the 2013 Birdsville Races.

  • Brettlyn relocated to Thailand in 2003 to undergo training in boxing, muay thai and mixed martial arts. Six years later, she went up against and defeated a Brophy fighter in Birdsville and was asked to join Fred Brophy’s boxing troupe as the only female fighter.
  • Brettyln wears a pink jersey to her matches to raise awareness and funds for The McGrath Foundation— a breast cancer support and education charity.
  • Brettlyn also founded the KBB Fighting Fitness in Townsville, where she currently works as a head trainer, to help local kids stay off the streets and promote general health and fitness.
  • Brettlyn is also one of the World Surf League’s preferred security guards for female surfers when they compete in Australia.

The Foodies

Martin Josselyn – New Birdsville Bakery owner building on the legacy of the famous curried camel pie

Martin took over the reins of the iconic Birdsville Bakery this year. The bakery is widely famed for its award-winning curried camel pies – a rite of passage for anyone who visits Birdsville and voted Trip Adviser’s ‘Best Pie in Queensland’.

  • The Bakery is the only bakery within a 400km radius – and it’s also one of only two alcohol-licensed bakeries in Australia.
  • Martin settled the bakery purchase in March this year for $1.2 million, which some said “marked a new era for investment and development” in Birdsville. As part of the deal (the single biggest ever private tourism investment in Birdsville), Dusty handed over all of the bakery’s recipes to Martin.
  • Dusty’s apprentice of 12 months Johnny Bonde and French-born chef, Sebastian Badey, have taken since over Dusty’s role in the kitchen – though Dusty stayed on board for a period of time to help make the transition a smooth one.
  • Like Dusty, Martin is not a baker by trade – but he is hoping to build on the extraordinary legacy that Dusty has left behind. Dusty used to begin baking for the Birdsville Races in March and would serve around 12,000 pies at the bakery’s peak trading over race weekend.
  • Since taking over, Martin has already made his mark, opening the bakery up for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday evenings. There was previously no night-time trading in the bakery’s history.

Simon Burr – acclaimed SA chef transporting fine dining to the outback

Hometown: Strathalbyn, South Australia

From sleepy-town Strathalbyn to the dust bowl of Australia’s outback – South Australian chef and restaurateur Simon Burr takes destination dining to a new level, travelling more than 30 hours (1,243 kms) to plate up each year at the Birdsville Races VIP Marquee.

  • Simon’s Adelaide Hills restaurant — The Olfactory Inn — which combines fine dining with rural hospitality, won the Food Awards for the Yalumba Best New Restaurant category in 2016.
  • Burr temporarily shuts the Ol Factory’s doors to make the trek to Birdsville with a group of nine. 2017 marks the ninth consecutive year that Burr has catered for the Races, with his team for the event tripling in size since a friend first roped him into the gig back in 2008.
  • No stranger to outback cooking, Simon previously headed up a mobile catering business which – at its height – had seven travelling food trucks servicing corporate clients for 42 weeks of the year – in areas as remote as Kakadu.
  • It is this experience that has helped Burr transport his sophisticated flavors and techniques – often associated with metropolitan dining scenes – to a remote rural town that usually houses more horse stables than people.
  • “We work out of two kitchens in Birdsville – one in the local Wirrari Visitor Information Centre and the other in a local community centre, which has a great oven. They’ve got the closest things to a commercial kitchen in town,” says Simon. “We send 10 pallets of food via refrigerated trucks out to Birdsville for the catering, and everyone seems to love the fresh vegetables we use in the food as they don’t tend to get a lot of fresh greens out that way,” he adds.

The Lone Ranger

Stephan Pursell, Birdsville’s only police officer

Hometown: Victoria, Australia.

For Senior Constable, Stephan Pursell, a typical day consists of chatting with community members, issuing weather warnings and patrolling a 240,000-square kilometre expanse of land in Queensland’s countryside, equal to the size of the U.K.

  • As the only police officer currently stationed at Birdsville, Stephan has become somewhat of a celebrity f.or the town
  • In early 2017, he was filmed frying an egg on the bonnet of his police car during a 47-degree heatwave. The video quickly went viral around the globe, amassing three million YouTube views in 5 days.
  • In August 2017, he made headlines again after he posted a photo of a lost wedding ring, found in the middle of the Simpson Desert, to social media and reunited it with its flabbergasted owner.
  • Stephan has only been stationed in Birdsville for one year. He took over the post from Neale McShane, who served as Birdsville’s lone police officer for the preceding nine years. During McShane’s entire tenure, he made only three.

The Family

David Brook (AOM), Birdsville Race Club President

Hometown: Birdsville, Australia.

As long-time cattle farmers and co-owners of the iconic Birdsville pub, David Brook and his family are a cornerstone of not just the Birdsville Races, but the town of Birdsville itself.

  • David’s connection to the western corner of Queensland spans back generations, all the way to the 1880s when his family first settled in Birdsville. He attended his first Birdsville race meeting in 1957, and has been involved in organising the races since the mid-1970s.
  • He is Chairman of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, co-founder and Chairman of Obe Organic – the biggest organic beef producer in the world and was a local councillor at just 20 years of age – serving in that role for 18 years and then 13 years as Mayor of the Diamantina Shire. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in the Australian Outback.
  • The Obe Beef co-operative he chairs is made up of 30 producers and has a combined seven million hectares of certified organic rangelands in the remote Channel Country. Of this, the Brook family properties span close to 3.5 million hectares – putting them in the top ten pastoral landholders in Australia.
  • David took over as the president of the Birdsville Race Club after his Uncle Bob passed down a leather bag containing all the Race Club documents.
  • The next generation of help has also arrived, with David’s son, Gary – who is Vice President of the Birdsville Race Club – and his wife Sherri giving birth to their first child, Henry, in January 2017. While Henry may be too small to hold the bag just yet, David has high hopes for his future at Birdsville.

Nell Brook

Hometown: Birdsville, Australia.

  • South African born Nell was working as an air hostess with South African Airlines when she met David Brook, fell in love and left the city of Pretoria to settle in Birdsville.
  • David and Nell were married in 1974 and had six children.
  • After settling in outback Australia, Nell got her pilots licence so that she could fly herself around the region and not be so isolated. Flying herself around their property holdings remains an integral part of Nell’s role in managing the family pastoral business, Brook Proprietors, which produces organic beef for Obe.

Jenna Brook, Birdsville Race Club Treasurer

Hometown: Birdsville, Australia.

In 2012, Jenna Brook trekked through gruelling sand dunes, freezing nights and wild camels over 15 days as she crossed 435km of the Simpson Desert on foot to raise $24,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

  • Jenna is one of David and Nell’s six children and is the Birdsville Race Club Treasurer. She has only missed a couple of Birdsville Races in her lifetime.
  • A real child of the outback, Jenna often goes stand-up paddle-boarding with her dog on a billabong near Birdsville.
  • Alongside volunteering experiences in wildlife reserves, Jenna also spent 5 months in Africa in 2012 where she braved Mt. Meru and Mt. Mt Kilimanjaro on some of her biggest adventures to date.
  • Jenna will once again be running for a cause in 2018 when she sets out to complete a 4,500km solo run ‘Running for Bums’ from the bottom of Tasmania to the tip of Cape York over a period of 4 months to raise bowel cancer awareness in rural communities.

The racing community

Graham Saunders, The Bookie

Hometown: Mt Isa, Australia.

Graham Saunders hasn’t missed a Birdsville Cup since 1985, and is returning to Birdsville for his 32nd consecutive year to serve as the races’ longest standing bookie.

  • I’ll never forget the first time I came to the Birdsville Races until I turn 100,” says Graham. “It was mind blowing, planes everywhere, buses, people all over the place, you had to see it to believe it. “It’s just a good old fashioned country carnival.”
  • Graham says betting at Birdsville has changed over the years, as technology and infrastructure at the track has improved. “I remember in the old days; they used to have one payphone and you’d cue up with your 20 cents to get information on a horse and form a market. “When I first started, we’d all be flipping through the Australian racing calendar. You’d all sit around for a couple of weeks, going through the books.”
  • Graham and his family like to have a punt themselves – they’ve won a couple of Birdsville Cups as well as The Magic Millions. “We got a bigger thrill out of winning the Birdsville Cup” he says.

Larry Lewis, The Starter

Hometown: Dalby, Queensland

A firefighter from Dalby, Larry Lewis hasn’t missed a single Birdsville Races since he fortuitously became the event’s starter some 26 years ago.

  • Larry says he got the job at Birdsville when “Race Club President David Brook was asking the senior steward at the time who he’d recommend, and I’d started one or two country meets, so got the nod.”
  • Despite having the job for more than a quarter of a century, Larry says he always has his on the ball because trainers and owners have often travelled more than a 1000kms to compete at the races.
  • Larry says the racing has improved a lot over the years, which makes his job a little easier. “My main concern is just keeping everyone safe. That can mean our own racing club volunteers, the jockeys and the horses too” he says

Josh Fleming, Race-caller of 15 years

Hometown: Barcaldine, Australia. Based on the Sunshine Coast.

Josh Fleming spent his spare time as a kid in the backyard calling phantom race meets into a tape recorder; and at just 14, he got a chance to call his first Birdsville Cup. “I remember people looking up thinking, is this a gimmick? But for a 14-year-old kid, I did ok. I’d be in trouble if I hadn’t improved since then though,” laughs Josh.

  • The late Queensland racing steward, John Wallis, was the first to spot the young race caller’s ability after hearing Fleming do a phantom call out of the Sunday newspaper form guide.
  • In 2015, Josh was appointed Chief Race Caller for Sky Channel in Brisbane and is now a Group 1 race caller at major metropolitan race meets. He’s been called a ‘rising star’ of race-calling.
  • Josh has also called The Magic Millions.
  • Josh will call his 15th consecutive Birdsville Cup in 2017.

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