Men’s Style RECENTLY TOOK IN THE BIRDSVILLE RACES AS WELL AS THE DUST, FLIES AND VAST OPEN SKIES OF THE BIRDSVILLE TRACK ON A CAMPING TRIP DRIVING THE MAZDA BT-50.
One of Australia’s most iconic outback events is the annual Birdsville Races, held in the remote town of Birdsville on the edge of Australia’s vast Simpson Desert. The event swells Birdsville’s population of 115 people to about 7,000 people during the weekend of race-going and partying, and this year Men’s Style was in the thick of it before a drive down the legendary Birdsville Track in a Mazda BT-50.
The famous desert race meet draws a wide cast of characters – many in fancy dress – from all parts of Australia to watch horses and jockeys battle the endless dust in a seven-race meet, first held back in the 1880s. Australian GovernorGeneral Peter Cosgrove attended the hospitality marquee along with Men’s Style as we enjoyed the dry conditions with – what else in Australia? – icy cold beer.
Once the race meet was over the crowd headed back to town to congregate around the famous Birdsville Hotel, where a range of bushies demonstrated whip-
cracking and other bush skills in front of the pub, watched by a thirsty, can-chugging crowd. Opposite the pub Fred Brophy’s famous boxing tent sets up for the duration of the race meet, where all-comers arrive to take on Brophy’s international troupe in willing bouts definitely not sanctioned by the WBA, WBA , IBF or RSPCA. Brophy’s tent is an old-school fixture of the Birdsville event.
That night Men’s Style ‘glamped’ in ‘Tent City’ on the edge of town, treated to more cold beers and the makeshift gourmet feast prepared by our touring chef for the next couple of days, Adelaide’s Billy Dohnt of Billy Dohnt Does. There’s something surreal about sitting in a camp chair under a tent watching the stars come up over the Australian desert while eating a meal you’d be more likely to find in a top Sydney restaurant… but hell, it was enjoyable.
Once the concert at the Birdsville Hotel wrapped up about 1am, we got some sleep ahead of a big day – driving the famed Birdsville Track into South Australia in the Mazda BT-50.
After Billy’s breakfast of bacon and eggs with hollandaise we hopped into the cars for the unmissable photo op outside the Birdsville Hotel, surprisingly spic and span after the raucous night before. There were things to immediately note about the 4X4 Dual Cab BT-50 we hopped in: while it looked like a rugged, bush-bashing piece of equipment that most of the bushies would use every day, it felt like a city SUV once you sat behind the wheel, i.e. comfortable.
After a brief safety talk from drive manager Tony and a warning about some of the road conditions on the Track, we left Birdsville via a police breath testing unit (passed!) and hit the open road. The famous Track was in fairly good nick and as we opened up the BT-50’S 3.2 litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine, we were soon passing caravanners on their return from the races. About two hours into the drive we hit some soft sand and hard-to-spot hollows in the road which put the handling capabilities of the car to the test. Steering and suspension were remarkable in these conditions, with driver and passenger in complete comfort as the BT-50 bumped through the dips and back onto the flat track.
That night we camped at Clayton Station, most of the way down the track towards our final stop of Marree. A trip to a nearby mesa saw some of the party test the car up a rocky incline to the top, where the view of a mob of kangaroos and the treeless plain in the late afternoon was a peerless sight. Back at the camp Billy worked his magic on the Weber and tales were told and marshmallows incinerated around a rip-roaring camp fire.
The next day we rolled into Marree for lunch at “probably” the only pub in Marree (it is the only pub in Marree) before flying out on our journeys home. Remarkable places visited in a remarkably tough car.
The Clayton Station camp (main pic); post-races at the Birdsville Hotel (above, top); at the race meet (above, middle); Billy Dohnt (above).