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Late scratching: Covid halts Birdsville Races for first time since 1882

Queensland’s iconic Birdsville Races is the latest COVID-19 victim, with organisers announcing this year’s event has been scratched.

May 25, 2020, updated May 25, 2020
Queensland's Birdsville Races scheduled for September has been scratched because of coronavirus.  (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Queensland's Birdsville Races scheduled for September has been scratched because of coronavirus. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The event, known as the Melbourne Cup of the Outback, has been held since 1882 and is a major tourist drawcard for operators in the state’s far west.

The races, staged in the Simpson Desert, were to be held on September 4 and 5.

“It is with heavy hearts that we have made the difficult decision not to stage the Birdsville Races this year,” Gary Brook, Vice President of the Birdsville Race Club said on Monday.

“As much as we were holding onto the hope that we could run them, we’re at a point where we’ve had to concede defeat.

“The health of our patrons, and those who live in outback Queensland, is of paramount importance to us – and it is impossible to know what the status with COVID-19 will be, come September,” he said.

The races usually attract more than 7000 visitors to the tiny township – which has a population of just 115 – near the South Australian border.

Yabby races, street parties, an outdoor cinema and live music lead into the big Friday and Saturday race days at the Birdsville Race Track.

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The last time the event was cancelled was because of an equine influenza outbreak in 2007.

The races recorded its largest-ever attendance the following year, and organisers are hoping 2021 crowds will make new records.

“Racing has a key role to play in driving Queensland’s post-pandemic tourism recovery and we look forward to seeing Birdsville return bigger and better in 2021,” Racing Queensland CEO Brendan Parnell said.

-AAP

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