The south-west Queensland towns of Betoota, Birdsville and Bedourie have had a win with their Simpson Desert Racing Carnival.

Story By Kelly Theobald

A deserted, boarded-up hotel stands alone on a vast gibber plain in Queensland’s far south-west. It’s the only remaining structure in the tiny hamlet of Betoota, which lies between Windorah and Birdsville. Empty for most of the year, on the last Saturday of August it’s humming with people eager to experience a traditional outback race meet.
“The races bring Betoota back to life,” says Betoota Race Club secretary and treasurer Bev Morton. After the demise of racing activity in the mid-1960s, Bev was instrumental in reviving the club in 1979. “It’s not so much for the town of Betoota, it’s for the area,” she says. “The Betoota Races are a real social gathering because, being so isolated, people around here don’t get together very often so it brings the community closer.”
This year’s meet will be held on August 31 and is the first in a three-week-long carnival that stretches from deep in Queensland’s Channel Country to the towering red dunes on the edge of the Simpson Desert.
With a population of zero, Betoota is officially Australia’s smallest town. Until his death in 2004, Polish immigrant Sigmund ‘Ziggy’ Remienko was Betoota’s sole resident. He bought the Betoota Hotel in 1951, half a century after the town’s heyday when it served as a toll point for drovers transporting cattle between pre-federation colonies. He lived out the rest of his life in Betoota, managing the hotel until his retirement in 1997, but remaining as the town’s sole resident until his death.
Betoota swells by hundreds for the race meet, which sets the tone for the Simpson Desert Racing Carnival, a series of three racing events. A week later, the famous Birdsville Races are held, followed a week after by the Bedourie Races.
Betoota, Birdsville and Bedourie – it’s a trip that promises an experience rich with characters, history and stunning landscapes. To travel to all three race meets is a journey through sweeping grassy plains, shadow-filled rocky outcrops, ochre-red dunes punctuated with colourful wildflowers and black gibber stones that turn deep indigo in the fading light of sunset.
Longreach in central Queensland is a good starting point and worth at least one day on the itinerary. Apart from the well-known Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Museum, the Longreach School of Distance Education is worth a visit. Here radio lessons are transmitted to children on remote properties all over outback Queensland.

This story excerpt is from Issue #89

Outback Magazine: June/July 2013