THE red earth of outback Queensland is set to come to life next weekend with the thundering of hooves as thousands of people converge on the tiny Queensland town of Birdsville for the annual Birdsville Races.
The country’s most remote horse race is an iconic and prestigious event.
Set in the Simpson Desert and one of the most isolated towns in Australia with a population of just 115, the 134th race meeting next weekend welcomes more than 7000 racegoers for the hotly contested event.
One of those thousands of racegoers this year is 69-year old Mandurah man Rob Repacholi.
A self-confessed country boy originally from Kondinin, Mr Repacholi noticed adverts for volunteers and decided to help.
“Coming from a small country town, I know its always the same people doing all the work,’’ he said.
His duties will likely involve helping set up the marquee for the gala dinner, fetching VIPs from the airport and selling souvenirs.
But things have so far run less than smoothly for Rob and his wife.
Their caravan became bogged on the first day out when one side dropped into a hole.
Later he ran out of gas when the batteries gave up and his battery charger broke down due to an infestation of black ants.
“It cost more in repairs than it did in petrol,’’ he said.
Now, due to floods when five months rain fell in one day, the road to Birdsville is under two foot of water and Rob is unsure if the races will go ahead.
The floods stopped his progress in the small town of Bedouri, although he has now arrived in Birdsville, where there was no mobile coverage and, according to Rob, none of the residents own a mobile phone.
But as the sign on the back of his caravan proclaims: Aint No Plan When You Have a Van.
The colourful character and one of Birdsville’s oldest volunteers, started off as a farmer, before becoming an insurance broker and delivering coaches around Australia.
“Seeing the plume of red dust and colour of the jockey’s silks against the barren landscape as the horses thunder around the dirt track is a spectacular site and a bucket list experience,’’ says Birdsville Race Club vice- president Gary Brook.
The two-day event includes a 13-race program with a $200,000 prize pool.
Last year, the event achieved a record 121 starters – “all good horses, no country nags here,” says Rob.
Average field sizes were 9.3 starters per race, 16 per cent above the average (8) for non-TAB meetings across Queensland.