By HARRY CLARKE
SPARE a thought for the bookies as they nervously try set the odds at the Tara racetrack.
At least when it comes to horses there’s a wealth of information about form and breeding to help guide the price, but at the Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess.
“You’re betting blind,” says bookmaker Darcy Brennan who, alongside his mate Pat Troe, travelled from Dalby to try and make a buck on the camels at Tara’s biennial community celebration.
“You can look at the Boulia results. There was a couple of outstanding camels up there, so they’ll obviously be the favourites here, but other than that it’s a lot of guess work.”
Will it be Thirsty, Gunna, Billy or Ringer who takes out the 600m final?
Not even the jockeys could give you a tip with confidence. They aren’t even holding any reins as the 700kg animals beneath them thunder down the home straight at 40km/hr.
“You’ve just got to be able to hold on and hope for the best,” says Beaver, a camel jockey who’s currently on her second outback racing circuit.
How Beaver and her mate “Baby Rabbit” got into this sport, in the first place, is a story in itself.
The two north Queenslanders are professional fighters with Fred Brophy’s Boxing Troupe and decided to climb aboard a racing camel last year, despite having never even ridden a horse.
“We actually fought a camel jockey in Bedourie last year and from that they gave us a ride the next day,” Baby Rabbit told the Caller.
“They said thank you for not hurting the jockey, and that’s how we started actually racing camels.
“This is the first one I’ve done here in Tara, same with Beavs. We’ve done the rest of the circuit and we’re excited for this one. It’s a different atmosphere.”
Organisers estimated there were at least 8,000 punters in attendance at the 11th Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races.
Many among the crowd were former Tara locals returning to their home town, catching up with family and old friends and enjoying the colourful community celebration.
But most were travellers. A huge contingent of caravaners spread out across the Tara Showgrounds over the three day event, some first timers and others return visitors.
And it’s not just camels they were punting on. Eye-watering bets of up to $1,000 were being placed on yabbies pulled the day before from nearby Wieambilla Creek.
Leon and Brownyn Eadie’s trip out from Brisbane didn’t quite go to plan, but the couple still had a blast.
“Some friends of ours invited us out here and their car broke down, so they didn’t even make it in the end,” Leon said.
“But we’ve just bought a new van so we still wanted to give it a test run. I think it’s great. We’ve never seen camels racing. I’d definitely come back.”
The stars of the show were the camels but the program was filled with a huge array of entertainers, cultural performers and stall holders from far and wide.
Dutch performer Frans Vogels, now based in Brisbane, is part of a team of roving performers who take bookings from all around the world.
“Today I am the Bubble Ranger,” Frans said. “What a beautiful day! We’re so lucky. The crowd is fantastic.”
Where does he take his Bubble Ranger act? “The whole world!” he said. “Anywhere that they want to see bubbles. Zanzibar, China and Korea, Taiwan, all over Europe of course.”
Stallholders Julie and Colin Wakefield don’t travel as far these days, having come from only just down the road at Meandarra to be part on the festivities.
They’ve been taking their homemade miniature gardens, pottery and girls’ clothing to markets and events around southern Queensland for 30 years, but have kept their business fairly local in recent years.
They were one more than 160 stallholders doing trade at the Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races. This is their second time here.
“It’s great here,” Julie said. “The crowds are great. Everybody’s friendly. We’ve had a good day.”
Any more rain during the week leading up the Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races could have spelt disaster, but Mother Nature was forgiving on this occasion.
There was little bit of give in the ground underfoot around the showgrounds, but organisers were hugely relieved that the event was virtually a mud free affair.
“A week ago we got two inches of rain on the grounds,” said festival committee president, Kerry Kelly.
“We planned on having four days to set up but we ended up with two, so she’s been pretty hectic.
“It looks to me like everybody’s happy. We’ve got such a bloody amazing committee and volunteers. I’m really honoured to be working with all of these people.
“She’s a big show. It’s getting bigger every time.”
The Tara Camel Cup was won by a young bull named Ringer, owned by Rod Samson and ridden by the star Oakfield Ranch jockey, Chontelle Jannese.
Chontelle is based in Newcastle but has spent the past five weeks travelling outback Queensland on the camel racing circuit.
She said victory on Winston was particularly special.
“I rode him on his first circuit and I’ve been the only jockey that’s ridden on him, so this is amazing,” Chontelle said.
“He was bucking and weaving and trying to dump me last year, so to win the cup this year is great.
“I just love camels. There’s something pretty exhilarating about flying along at 40km/hr on the back of a camel, such a massive animal.
“We love coming to Tara. It’s a fantastic festival. They organise everything so well and there’s such a variety of events and entertainment.”