Some of Australia's Wild and Wacky Sports Events.

exclaim.GIF (2101 bytes) Including a Calendar Guide of What's On and Where!

Story by VAUGHAN MAWBEY and Illustration by ALAN ROSE

In Outback Eulo, Queensland, the locals have built a granite monument to a champion racing cockroach named Destructor, that beat a champion racing lizard.  Author Steve Strevens asked the town’s mayor, Darby Land, about the insect’s fate.

Darby recalled the excitement when a rapid reptile named Wooden Head won the World Lizard Racing Championships, in the town, in 1980.

“Then Destructo challenged him to a race of breeds,” he said. “We set it all up, and bugger me if Destructo didn’t beat Wooden Head by a fair bit.”  But sadly, after Destructor won the coveted title, a drunk accidentally stood on him.

Steve Strevens covered 50,000km to attend some of Australia’s most offbeat, zany, weird, strange, sporting events, as research for his new book Which Way to the Lizard Races? (published by Pan MacMillan).  Other zany events that he attended include the world rabbit skinning championships at Moyston in Victoria, the Henley-on-Todd regatta for dry land boats, at Alice Springs, NT, the annual goat races at Lightning Ridge, NSW, the Ferret Racing Cup at Geelong, Vic, and the Sportshear (a sheep shearing contest) in Keith, SA.

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If he had the time, he also could have gone to the Sorbent Australian Dunny Derby, in Winton, Qld, camel races in Alice Springs and outback Queensland, and the Compass Cup, where jockeys ride dairy cows, in Mt Compass, SA.   The list goes on...
smlArrowright.gif (507 bytes) The waterless Henley-on-Todd Regatta in Alice Springs.

It all goes to show that Australians — especially those in the bush — haven’t lost the knack of creating their own amusement.

Growing up in the country, author Steve Strevens noticed that sport was important as a binding force in local communities.   “Sport is about a place where people from all walks of life can feel safe that they are accepted for what they can contribute, rather than who or what they are,” he says.  “But what about the other sports lovers around the country? Those who not only play the more common sports, but those who invent their own?”

Steve decided that the best way to understand the bush and its people was to look at the things they do for fun. “Anyone watching television these days would probably think fun is the last thing sports person should have, or want,” he says.  But, in the country, he found people whose sport was for friendship and simple enjoyment.  “They know that it is a binding that keeps them together,” he says. “A common thread that runs through their lives. It gives them a sense of belonging, and it’s important to them.”

His search for authentic Aussie sports took him to the Birdsville races, the Coober Pedy Open golf competition, played on a grassless course where the putting greens are doused with engine oil, and to The Man from Snowy River Challenge for mountain horsemen, described by an organiser as “simply the greatest test of horsemanship there is”. 

Sometimes work becomes sport, such at the Keith Sportshear, in South Australia, where the locals share the excitement of watching some of the fastest shearers in action, stripping sheep of their wool in 42 seconds.  One participant, George Wood, told how he’d won a contest a few weeks earlier, and won a prize that was his weight in beer.  “They sat him on a seesaw and cartons of beer were stacked on the other end until it tipped up,” Strevens says. “It took 14 slabs before the seesaw moved.”

Sometimes local invention becomes a major media event — such as the Henley-on-Todd Regatta in Alice Springs, where bottomless boats race along a waterless river, propelled by the feet of their crew.  In fact, the variety of Australia’s home-grown sports is remarkable.

Camel races are held in Alice Springs, NT, Maree, SA, and in the outback Queensland centres of Charleville, Boulia and Blackall, often using camels that have been captured in the surrounding desert.  A few years ago, a buyer from the United Arab Emirates looked over the camels at Boulia and bought 32, to race in the Middle East.  From Darwin, it is said they were flown back to the Persian Gulf in a private jet.

WIN A COPY OF THE BOOK!

Which Way to the Lizard Races? A Journey Around Australia’s Other Great Sporting Events, by Steve Strevens. Published by Pan MacMillan, price $22.95 from most bookshops.

On The Road has three copies of Steve Strevens’ Which Way to the Lizard Races? to give away. For a chance to win a copy of this interesting book, simply write your name on the back of an envelope and send it to On The Road/Lizard Races Giveaway, PO Box 310, Williamstown Vic 3016 to reach us by December 31, 1999.

If you’re travelling, here’s where to catch up with some of Australia’s most eccentric sporting events.

JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
ALL YEAR

JANUARY

Sanitarium World Weet-bix Eat-a-thon, Port MacDonnell, SA. Gut-buster event in which contestants cram themselves with breakfast biscuits. January 2, 2000. It’s part of a festival that also includes an octopus-throwing competition which was won this year by Olympic hammer thrower Sean Carlin. Contact: (08) 8723 1644.

Valla Beach Fair, Valla Beach Reserve NSW. Duck races, gumboot throwing, hay sheath throwing. First Sunday in January. Contact (02) 6569 5371.

Nude Olympics, Maslin Beach, SA. Unclad athletics at Australia’s first official nude beach. Naked contestants are cheered on by crowds on the overlooking cliffs. Contact: (08) 8558 2999.

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The Great Country Music Duck Race, Tamworth, NSW. Numbered plastic ducks float down the Peel River to a finish line during Tamworth Country Music Festival, from January 21 to 30. Contact: (02) 6755 4302.

Wellington Bushracing Carnival Dog High Jump, Sale, Vic: Three height sections for small dogs, medium dogs and large dogs. January 22 and 23.

Queenscliff Scooter Challenge, from Pt Lonsdale lighthouse to Queenscliff Post Office, Vic. Riders on foot-powered scooters race over a 12km course. Last year’s best time was 22 minutes. January 26, 2000. (03) 5258 1377.

Victorian Boomerang Throwing Championships, Seamist, Wensleyvale, Vic. Seven event program. January 30, 2000. Contact: (03) 5288 7255.

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FEBRUARY

World Penny Farthing Championships, Evandale, Tas: Big-wheel bikers battle it out. Third weekend in February.

Compass Cup Cow Races, at Mt Compass, SA: Dairy cows become mounts for "jockeys", assisted by "urgers" who help them stay aboard. Second Sunday in February. Contact: (08) 8556 9072, or (08) 855 2202.

Cradle to Coast race, Cradle Mountain to Hobart, Tas: This could be the toughest test for iron men, and iron ladies, in Australia. Contestants run, kayak and cycle 380km over three days. Long weekend in February.

Ocean Grove Cup Carnival, RAAF’s Beach, Ocean Grove, Vic. Horses race along the beach. February 27, 2000. (03) 5223 2588.

Outback Surfboat Carnival, Port Augusta, SA. Events include competition for boat crews in fancy dress. February 12, 2000. Contact: (08) 8642 6888.

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MARCH

Millthorpe Murphy Marathon, Millthorpe NSW. Contestants carry a 50kg bag of potatoes in a 1610-metre race. Lots of other potato contests including the longest-peel March 18. Contact: (02) 6366 3033 or (02) 6366 3191.

International Kite Festival, Semaphore Beach, Adelaide. A free event showcasing big kites, small kites, art kites, sport kites, kite buggying and kite surfing. March 20 to 26. (08) 8271 8155.

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APRIL

Geelong Camel Cup Carnival, Geelong, Vic: Nine camel races, with on-course bookmaking and prize money of more than $10,000. April 9, 2000. Contact: (03) 5221 1707.

Yabby races, Talbot, Vic. April.

Montara Scarecrows in the Vineyard, Ararat, Vic. Competition for scarecrows built for vineyard use, with a sense of the quirky, and they must have movement. April 22 to May 7. Contact: Eileen (03) 5352 3868.

Australian Championship Tractor Pull, Quambatook, Vic: Souped-up farm machines pull heavy loads. Easter Saturday, April 22, 2000.

Bylong Mouse Races, Bylong NSW. Eleven-race program ending with the Bylong Cup. BYO mouse or race one of the ones provided. Lots more entertainment. Late April. Contact Bylong Store (02) 6379 8252 or Andrew (02) 6379 8246.

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MAY

World Championship Egg Throwing Competition, Taylors Arm, NSW. A thrower pitches eggs 40-metres over the roof of the original "Pub with No Beer", celebrated in Slim Dusty’s song, and the catcher tries to catch it without breaking it. Sunday after Mothers’ Day. Contact: (02) 6564 2101.

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JUNE

Coolabah Goat Races, Coolabah, NSW. Sunday of long weekend. Three preliminary races, with winners going for the Coolabah Cup. Many other activities during this carnival including bush stew and damper at night. Contact: Angela (02) 6833 2121 or Leroy (02) 6833 2145.

Wooli Goanna Pulling Championships, Wooli, NSW. A tug-o-war between pairs of contestants, lying in the push-up position and joined by a thick leather belt looped around their necks. June 13, 2000. Contact: (02) 6649 7575.

International Wool Challenge, National Wool Museum, Geelong, Vic. Teams of blade shearers, spinners and knitters compete to knit a jumper of greasy wool straight from the sheep. June 11, 2000. Contact: (03) 5233 6241.

Pinnacle Guinea Pig Races, at Pinnacle, NSW. Sprints and hurdle races for guinea pigs. June long weekend and Easter. Contact: (02) 6343 1857 or (02) 6343 1612.

Black Rock Stakes, Pilbara WA. A Pub to Port wheelbarrow race that runs over more than 100km! Wheelbarrows may be modified, but must have headlights and red tail lights. A full weekend of fun, June 24. Contact: (08) 9173 4278.

Cane Toad Racing, Maclean Cane Harvest Festival, Maclean, NSW. Snails will compete if toads not available. Lots of other activities and displays. Late June. Contact; (02) 6645 3381.

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JULY

Lions Camel Cup Carnival, Alice Springs, NT. Program of camel races, followed by pocamelo (polo on camels). July 1, 2000. Contact: (08) 8999 3900.

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AUGUST

Darwin Beer Can Regatta, Darwin, NT. Boats built from drink cans battle it out for line honors off Mindil Beach near town. Contact: (08) 8927 5775.

Giant Platypus Throwing, Nymboida Heritage Festival, NSW. Competitors take turns to throw a giant plastic platypus as far as they can. Lots of other activities. End of August. Contact: (02) 6649 4155.

World Lizard Racing Championships, Eulo, Qld. Held at a specially-built racetrack. The event starts with a lizard auction and features a five-race program. Contact (07) 4655 1506.

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SEPTEMBER

Sorbent Australian Dunny Derby, Winton, Qld. Enthroned "dunny jockeys" are pulled along in outhouses on wheels. Every second year in September. The festival includes the Crayfish Derby. Contact: (07) 4657 1500.

Whitsunday Fun Race, Airlie Beach, Qld: A yacht event in which topless bathing beauties act as figureheads for the racing craft. Every September.

The Great Pram Battle, Yulara, NT. Each team of four runners pushes a "baby", minimum age 18. around the Yulara resort’s ring road. Contact: (08) 8956 2097.

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OCTOBER

Rydges Henley-on-Todd Regatta, Alice Springs. Human horsepower propels bottomless boats along a dry riverbed. October 7, 2000. Contact: (08) 8955 1253.

Back to Bowra Festival, Bowraville, NSW. Billycart races, gumboot throwing, Mullins Mail Ride, whip-cracking, one arm wheelbarrow race, egg throwing. October long weekend. Contact: Paul (02) 6564 7135.

Landor Races, Landor Station WA. The population of the station swells from two to more than a thousand people for a race meeting, a ball and other sporting events. Long weekend, October. Contact (08) 9941 1146.

Ararat Festival Gold Dig, at Greenhill Lake, Ararat, Vic. Participants use electronic metal detectors to find buried prize tokens. October. Contact: (03) 5352 2096.

NSW Cooee Championships. Competitors "Cooee" across the Castlereagh River, to judges armed with a sound meter. Judged on authenticity, clarity and volume. Saturday, October long weekend. Contact: 02) 6847 2045.

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NOVEMBER

Gold Nugget Race, Dunolly, Vic, November.

Rotary Duck Race, Strathalbyn, SA. Rubber decoy ducks are floated down the Angas River. November (next event November 21, 1999). Contact (08) 8536 3222.

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DECEMBER

World Rabbit Skinning Championship, Moyston, Vic. Boxing Day. Contact: (03) 5352 1392.

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ALL YEAR

Cane toad racing, at Club Crocodile, Airlie Beach.