We had meant to go to the Boulia Camel races in 2012. We arrived in Winton but over the next few days it rained rather heavily. The road is only a single strip of bitumen, so when meeting oncoming traffic (especially road trains) one vehicle is required to leave the road . This is not recommended when the dirt of each side of the bitumen is wet. So we stayed in Winton for their camel races. We did hear later that some of the racing was cancelled and many vehicles got towed out of the mud.
Fast forward to 2013. We had finished our stint at Cannington Station and with good weather in the offing we headed to Boulia after a shopping stop in Mt Isa.
We arrived at the racecourse onTuesday, plenty of time to get settled and chose a nice camp spot. For $50 each we had camping until a week after the races as well as entry to all three days. The bonus is that there are hot showers and toilets. Our chosen site was close to the amenities block.
Friendly neighbours and campfires were the highlight of the pre race period. According to some who had been here in previous years,camping numbers were down. This however did not dampen the enthusiasm during the weekend.
The Friday evening started with DJ Richo and JoJo Magician wandering around the tables doing various magic tricks. The kids followed him around like the Pied Pipe. He had shows during the weekend as well as wandering through the crowd.
Racing started in earnest on Saturday, 4 heats of 400m and 4 heats of 1000m. In order to get to the finals a camel needed to finish in the top 3. We had a punt on each race, but did not make our fortune.
Camels can be unpredictable and this one just simply stopped about 20 metres short of the finish line. Courtney,the jockey, had a hard time in getting him up.
There was an upset during in the 1000m races. The winner of last year’s cup, Chief, was eliminated. This was the first time a defending champion was not in the Cup. Our money was on Chief, a camel owned and trained by Glenda Sutton, a Victorian. There are articles about her on the ABC and also this video made several years ago by Public Radio International.
The on track announcer made a big deal about Glenda but he should remember that there are other owners involved in the sport with credentials just as impressive .
For the locals a high point was the form of local camel Uncle Bob. He flew home in his heat with the fastest time of the day.
After the races we were treated to a camel barrel race.
At the various rodeos we have attended this is an exciting horse riding event. But camels are not really known for there agility. There was a time limit of 5 minutes to complete the course. Glenda Sutton showed how it could be done in a time of just over 30 seconds. One or two of the other camels took much longer and gave the crowd plenty to laugh about as they refused to go in the right direction.
That night the was a spectacular fireworks display , followed by Guitarist Laurence Sorbello, entertaining the crowd with a mix of country music and rock’n roll. This capped off a great day
Sunday and it was back to the serious stuff of Camel Racing. A couple of consolation races for camels of involved in the cups and two finals ( 400m Flyer and the 1500m cup). The course announcer got very excited when he described Boulia event as the Melbourne Cup for camels. 1500m would certainly test out the ten runners. Our money was on Ace (a Glenda Sutton camel). Unhappily for us Ace was not up to the task. It was the local camel ,Uncle Bob , that saluted the judges in a canter.
That was the end of the racing, sort of. There was still some novelty donkey racing and the serious business of gems of 5 pulling a Prime Mover over a measured distance. The winning time was a group of grey nomads lead by one of our neighbours. Each member of the time winning $20.
Before leaving the course and going back to our camp, we decided that it was our turn to have a camel ride. The ride itself was like rocking in a hammock. The hard part was when the camel stood up and went down to the kneeling position. You really did need to hold on.