HISTORY OF THE BIRDSVILLE RACES
The first race meeting held at the newly formed township of Birdsville, situated on the Diamantina River, eight miles north of the South Australian border, was held on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of September (1882), and was largely attended, nearly 150 station owners, managers, stockmen, and other employees being present. The weather was delightful, the entrances for the various events good, and the finishes in most of the races close and exciting. Nearly 200 pounds was raised by public subscription, which speaks well for the prosperous condition of the district.
The settling took place in Mr Tucker's hotel, where the amounts were paid over to the respective winners, the usual toasts proposed and duly responded to, after which a meeting was held in Messrs. Burt and Co.'s large iron store, when a jockey club was formed, to be called the "Border Jockey Club", forty-two names being enrolled as members. Stewards were appointed, a working committee elected, and the next race meeting fixed for July, 1883″. (Queenslander, November 18, 1882, p.702)
Interesting facts of yesteryear
- Professional riders carried a 7lb penalty.
- Special races were held for horses bred within 250 miles of Birdsville.
- For a fee of 10 pounds owners could lead their own horses into the saddling enclosure.
- Steplechase races were programmed when racing was conducted on the old course three miles to the west of town. This course was abandoned after regularly being inundated with floodwaters.
- Prizemoney for the cup has varied from 500 pounds in the 1880's to 50 pounds in the 1940's, $5000 in 1982 for the Centenary Cup and has now reached $30,000.
- A bell was rung as horses left the enclosure and connections fined 10 shillings for horses not at the starting post within 5 minutes.
- Separate race were programmed for corn fed and grass fed horses.
- Star Ace the 1970 winner in the absence of a horse float was trotted up the Birdsville Track beside the trainer's vehicle.
- Races were once started by the drop of a hat, later by strand barriers and now with barrier stalls.
- Club was originally titled the 'Border Jockey Club' later becoming the 'Birdsville Amateur Turf Club'. In subsequent years and to incorporate the Betoota race meeting it was changed to the 'Diamantina Amateur Race Club'. In 1990 it separated from Betoota and became the 'Birdsville Race Club Incorporated'.
- Unregistered horses were only allowed to start in Hack races.
- Prior to 1954 with exception of the cup, prizemoney was only paid for 1st and second placegetters.
- The cup distance has remained 1 mile or 1600 meters since its first running in 1882. In 1949 and 1950 the 'Hospital Handicap' (1 mile) was run in lieu of the Cup. Meetings were held then to raise funds for the construction of the Birdsville Hospital.
- The annual race meeting is now held to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
- With the exception of a period during World War II the Birdsville Races have only ever been cancelled on one occasion. This occurred in 2007 when the outbreak of Equine Influenza in Queensland and New South Wales (in the week prior to the races) saw a complete ban on horse movement. As a result horses were unable to travel to Birdsville and the horse races were cancelled. Entertainment and festivities did continue throughout the weekend despite the lack of horses.