As the horses belted down the famous Birdsville racetrack, so too did the wild winds lashing punters with 50km dust-filled gusts.
In its 137th year, racegoers from across the country descended on the tiny town of Birdsville in outback Queensland, swelling the community of 100 locals to 7000.
Fuelled by Great Northern tinnies and stuffed jacket potatoes, stylish punters dressed to impress as they arrived for an afternoon at the ‘Melbourne Cup’ of the outback.
After consecutive 35-degree days for the first week of Spring, temperatures on day one of the race meeting dropped to just 23 degrees at its warmest and the winds picked up.
But punters didn’t let the dust storm get in the way of their bold fashion moves for the annual meet.
It’s dubbed the ‘Cup of the Outback’, and while there is a Fashions on the Field event and a VIP marquee, that’s where the similarities with Melbourne’s famous race event end.
Rolling with a “whatever goes” fashion brief, racegoers drive thousands of kilometres to reach the dusty track for this outback race meet that gets more popular each year.
Set on the edge of the Simpson Desert, the Birdsville races are the biggest event to hit the small town of around 100 locals each year.
Each year the races changes the demographics, with hundreds of the traditional “grey nomads” replaced by “younger travellers” wanting to see “the real Australia”.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” Chris, who was joined by his two brothers, said of the adventure from Sydney to Birdsville.
“Australia is a giant country and not many people get to see it and there’s so much to see. We all grew up in the city, but coming in to Queensland and out here you see how much there is to do.
“We have all been overseas, but this is another aspect to see the real outback.”
Brothers Lee and Michael, who travelled to Birdsville from Melbourne on a last minute jaunt together, said coming to the races is the new Bali adventure for Millennials.
“It’s something different … it’s seeing Australia and it’s better than going to Bali which is what everyone else is doing in our generation,” Michael said, noting an influx of photos on social media prompted them to book their flight.
“It’s good to see Australia and support Australia … see the culture and get among it and support the locals.”
Vice President of Birdsville races, Gary Brook, said a trip to the races has become more popular each year, with 2019 recording some of the biggest ticket sales.
“Birdsville over the last 20 years has been about grey nomads and the like but the event has evolved online and with things like the Fashions on the Field novelty today and a more formal day tomorrow, it has attracted a younger audience,” he told news.com.au.
“The accessibility of the roads has changed, and people are able to fly in. With things like ‘tent city’ accommodation, the race provides an opportunity for people who may not have the caravans and the motorhomes [to visit the outback previously].
“With the rise of social media we can connect with that group much easier and therefore they get interested which translates to their attendance.”
Mr Brook, who is born and bred in Birdsville, said the annual race meet is like no other in the country. And with the rise in Millennials embarking on holidays out west rather than on the coast, he expects to see more and more make the trip to Birdsville for the annual event.
“Birdsville is so much more than just about the race day,” he said.
“It’s about the journey and it’s about the destination. You can go to the Melbourne Cup, you fly in and you stay in a hotel, go to the races for the day and go home. Here, it’s weeks if not months and sometimes years in planning, and people are often away from home for two or three weeks at a time all for this pinnacle event which is the Birdsville Races.”