Aug 31 & Sep 1

The pride of birdsville

In a single-engined albatross we skidded into town
Through the Diamantina dust, I made my paces
As the crow flies through Australian skies, a thousand miles were down
And at last, I'd reached that mighty race of races!

The sun was out, a buzz about, the atmosphere was cracking
I was swanning in my RM boots and clobber
A pocketful of parrots I was confidently packing
So excited, I was on the verge of slobber

For the flock of all and sundry proved the icon to be true
As the ladies flowed like elegant flamingos
And the fellas bobbed like cockatoos, with only just a few
Doing circles round the chicks like toey dingoes

But I wasn't playing peacock in a game of forlorn hope
No I'd leave that to the maiden racecourse rookie!
There was something else inviting in this punter's rifle-scope
My target was that western Queensland bookie!

Like an overzealous pelican – his bag a giant beak
Scooping dollars notes in lieu of soggy pillies
I marked the sand and stalked his stand with vulturistic cheek
The Cup was what I'd come for, not the fillies

And the field was full of fortune as I eagle-eyed the guide
The bravest and the best of outback horses
In the wonderful tradition of this monumental ride
At the friendliest of friendly desert courses

Where Macorbe with a baptized burst in 1882
Prefaced Jenuant, Rough Osier and Snedden
Where Brashleigh won for Dawson with a wing on every shoe
And Star Ace trotted in like Armageddon!

Inspired by their legacy – I marked the solid tip
Then I went to find the pelican to back it
The ring was full of seagulls swooping low for every chip
So with every cent, I thought I'd best attack it!

And the caller studied colours with the ringing of the bell
Silks like lorikeets and magpies and canaries
My horse – The Pride of Birdsville – looked as good as I could tell
He was 10 to 1 and tough and mean and scary!

"Racing in the big mile!" Crowed the rooster with binocs
And the emus in the back-straight promptly scattered
The crash, the roar, the thrills galore from barrier to box
Yet to me, the winning nag was all that mattered

The pack resembled pigeons in a distant dusty rumble
But their courage shone when closer they appeared
With horse and hoop oblivious to doom by stack or stumble
And the man from Snowy River would have cheered!

But mine an orphan ostrich at the rear and racing poorly
He was caught three wide – a shag upon a rock!
The Kiwi bloke beside me chirped, "He couldn't win it surely!"
And it left me in a dead set state of shock!

Because I thought about my mortgage and I felt a fair galah
The kookaburra laughed but I was crying
I declared myself a goose but then before I sold my car
The Pride of Birdsville… somehow… started flying!

The dove of hope rekindled and I watched him like a hawk
He was still out wide without a hint of cover
But that little Bird was humming, and I let out half a squawk
As the cavalcade swept pass me like a plover

"Go you bloody bustard!" but the wall in front fanned out
And the gap to thread was perilously narrow
Still the jockey took his chances and with every ounce of clout…
He exploded like a kamikaze sparrow!

They hit the line – the leap was mine! And bouncing like a yo yo
All the way from 'weight is right' back to the ring
So proudly I collected - now the pelican turned Dodo
And he christened me the undisputed king!

Then as it often ends up when you've faired well on a flutter
In the middle of the dry and thirsty scrub
Whether you're on top or crawling lamely in the gutter
Everybody ducks into the pub

Yes I honoured the tradition of that famous drinking school
The winning owners sipping from their trophy
The Royal Flying Doctor even saddled up a stool
Right beside him in the boxing gloves, Fred Brophy

And the cracks were talkin' turkey and the station owners ravin'
Of another fine and truly golden year
But a nest egg of the amber kind was what the bar was cravin
So I shouted every person there a beer!

And I shouted 'Here's to Birdsville and the dust that never settles!
And here's to that which brings our mob together!
And here's to wealth in terms of health and other precious metals
And here's to birds of every flamin' feather!"

And I shouted and I shouted but the roar began to dim
As the race began replaying in my head
But this time when those gallant hooves swept past me on a whim
I was shouting from the pillow on my bed…

A bloody dream! So real it seemed! I cursed the act of waking
I was poor again – the dogs began to howl
I lay back on the pillow with my heart and hand still shaking
When I noticed on my windowsill – an owl

And it wisely said "One day you'll make that Diamantina town
By horse or plane or truck or train or ute
On that first September Saturday of legendary renown
I guarantee you'll have yourself a hoot!

Though the dividend you dream of is a figment of your zeal
No - you'll lose more than you win in that endeavour
The spirit of this special race is something very real
And The Pride of Birdsville stays with you forever"

Copyright: Rupert McCall 2008