The first you notice in Birdsville on Birdsville Cup day is the noise.
The airport is in the dead centre of town and on race day there was a constant buzz from small planes landing to crowd every parking corner of the airport while the local helicopter did brisk business ferrying punters the 3km across the Diamantina River to the race track.
The second thing you notice is the cloud of dust that rises with every puff of wind.
The red dust got in everything but it didn’t bother the 5000 or so people that came from every part of Australia and beyond to dress up for the race that has earned the title the Melbourne Cup of the bush.
It was only fitting then that the real Melbourne Cup was also on view at the Calcutta in the morning outside the pub and later on trackside, where Australian all-time great jockey Jim Cassidy paraded the Cup before handing it over to Birdsville Race Club President, David Brook.
There were 13 races over the two day carnival, culminating with the big one, the 1600m UBET Birdsville Cup.
And while North West Queensland trainers and jockeys – particularly trainer Jay Morris and country champion jockey had multiple winners they could not land the big one.
That was taken out by 17-year-old apprentice jockey Adin Thompson on Blue Jest. Topping a stellar 12 horse field, Blue Jest’s connection nabbed a record $40,000 – the largest prize-purse in the race’s prestigious 136-year history.
Thompson, one of the youngest Birdsville Cup-winning jockeys in history, is based in Miles, Queensland, with husband and wife duo Bevan and Mel Johnson, who co-trained Blue Jest to a nail-biting win.
After the race, Bevan Johnson, country trainer of the year in 2017, said the horse felt good all week.
“They told me you couldn’t win with top weight, and then we drew the worst barrier,” Johnson said.
“I’m going to celebrate tonight, that’s for sure.”
The Johnsons have been fielding horses at the Birdsville Races since 2010, but 2018 marks their first Birdsville Cup victory.
Their jockey daughter Dakota had ridden to many race wins upon Blue Jest but fell pregnant this year – giving young-gun Thompson the opportunity to ride in the Cup.
Outside of the race track, Fashion on the Fields was a final day highlight, with classic, contemporary and novelty divisions for men, women, couples and families.
As in previous years, entertainment and trackside hospitality were also key draw-cards, while live music, pub festivities and Fred Brophy’s famous Boxing troupe kept crowds bustling in the township of Birdsville itself.