Seventeen year-old indigenous model and cancer survivor Venessa Harris was today announced as the official ambassador for the 2019 Birdsville Races, which are set to kick off next week in Queensland’s Simpson Desert for a landmark 137th year on September 6 & 7.
Harris, an aspiring Aboriginal model whose family share a storied history with the Birdsville Races, returns as the face of the iconic Outback carnival, following her inaugural role as ambassador for the event in 2018.
“I loved attending the Birdsville Races last year, and it’s such an honour to be ambassador for the ‘Melbourne Cup of the Outback’ again in 2019,” said Venessa Harris.
“My Grandfather, Kevin (Spinny) Monaghan, and Uncle, David (Ted) Monaghan, have both ridden in the Birdsville Races, so I’ve grown up hearing plenty of stories about the event from a young age. I also love horses, and horse-riding was one of the things I missed most when I was sick, so to be out there in the thick of the Races is an amazing experience.
“I am so excited to be asked back in the role of ambassador for the Races, and to continue building a history between my family and the event.”
Vice President of the Birdsville Race Club, Gary Brook, said:
“Venessa did an exceptional job of representing the Birdsville Races and the region that is her family’s traditional land last year, that it was a no brainer to invite her back as our official ambassador in 2019.
“Venessa’s grandfather and uncle have both ridden in the Races, and it’s great that they’ll be trackside this year cheering her on as event ambassador. It was a very emotional homecoming in 2018 – Venessa was able to thank the local community that supported her throughout her cancer battle. We’re thrilled to be welcoming Venessa back as the face of the 2019 Birdsville Races.”After winning a major modelling competition at the age of 12, Venessa was on the brink of launching her modelling career when she was diagnosed with bone cancer. The cancer forced her to put everything on hold while she spent the next 12 months in Brisbane undergoing treatment and learning to walk again.
Following her cancer treatment, and because the neck of her femur had to be replaced, doctors advised Venessa against ever riding horses again.
“It was considered too dangerous, because a fall could damage her prosthetic. But she’s grown up riding horses, and is a sensible kid. Recently, when she made the decision to get back on a horse, we supported her,” said Venessa’s mother, Karen Monaghan.
“She is a bush kid and, to her, riding is a part of everyday life. While some teenage girls might enjoy manicures and the movies, horse and motorbikes are more Venessa’s type of fun.”
Venessa’s ambassadorial role at the Birdsville Races will also bring her back the region where she’s eyeing a future in the cattle industry.
“It is one of the things Venessa loves about heading back to Birdsville – being in prime cattle country. Our family roots are in the industry, with Aboriginal stockman playing a huge part in Australia’s cattle grazing history. My Great Grandfather was a stockman and built the first cattle yards on the way out to Big Red and my Grandfather moved cattle – and now Venessa is keen to study and get involved in the industry,” added Karen Monaghan.
Birdsville is one of Australia’s most remote towns on the edge of the Simpson Desert, housing a general population of around 115 residents. Situated on land traditionally owned by the Wangkangurru Yarluyandi people in Western Queensland’s Channel Country, the tiny township is located 1,590 kilometers west of Brisbane, 1,940 kilometers from Sydney, and 1,193 kilometeres from Adelaide.
Not only was Venessa born in the region, but her grandparents continue to live in Birdsville. It is for this reason that Venessa and her family term their annual trip back to Birdsville “heading home”.
With just over a week until the 2019 Birdsville Races, event organisers are preparing to welcome an influx of close to 7,000 visitors for a bumper two-day program of thoroughbred horseracing, and unique Outback entertainment and activities.
The Birdsville Races are proudly supported by Tourism and Events Queensland’s It’s Live! In Queensland major events calendar.