The 125th Oodnadatta Race and Gymkhana, South Australia

7th May to 10th May

And they’re off and racing!!! We had first stumbled upon the races flyer stuck to the front door of the Marree Hotel some 200km south and couldn’t believe our luck that we would be passing through at the same time. The weekend offered something for everyone, bar and catering facilities, horse racing and motorbike races for the adults whilst the kids were entertained by the lovely woman from Remote and Isolated Children’s Exercise (RICE), who kept the kids busy for hours with playdoh, beading, coloring, toys and crafts. The RICE ladies are pretty amazing and are a godsend to many remote families and station. They are a government funded organisation and offer families at remote stations with young kids up to 6 weeks (32 hours a week)of child care a year, this service is used a lot especially around mustering time. The cost is nothing except free meals and accommodation for the carer.  The racecourse also had a children’s playground to boot.

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The kids with the women from RICE.
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The RICE activities.

The fun kicked off on the Friday afternoon with the bar opening at 3pm and the first event of Steer riding followed at 4pm then a sausage sizzle for dinner. The Oodnadatta Cup and Gymkhana was a fantastic introduction to the outback for us and we all loved it, though we did wonder as to how big these proper rodeo bulls get because the steers weren’t exactly small……. The winning steer rider was a local from Macumba Station, about 40km east of Oodnadatta. He was a great rider and turned out to be quite the allrounder over the weekend, although he couldn’t top his encore performance of riding the steer in a mankini!!!!! As expected the outback hospitality was warm and welcoming and we met some lovely people whilst eating and having a chat around the campfire. The bar stayed open till 10pm with locals, station hands and travellers all enjoying a few ales. After we had long retired to the van we heard a few mates trying to calm Johnno down a bit who was beginning to get quite vocal and rowdy. We all drifted off to sleep under the outback stars with the sounds of talking, laughing and hooting, together with the gentle hum of the generator.

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The winning cowboy.
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The winning cowboy doing his encore performance in a mankini.

The next day we woke up to yet another pearler of a sunrise, hearing the horses gently neighing in the yards and better yet the smell of coffee from the coffee van who had made the trip up from Murray Bridge. First off the mark were the kid’s events starting at 8:30 or thereabouts….. The kid’s events included the flag & barrel race, the apple race, the potato race as well as musical chairs. These races were on horseback and quadbikes for the 9 & unders and 10- 15 year olds who were mostly from the surrounding stations and Aboriginal community in town.

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The kids quad bike race.
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The kids boot race!!!!

After the kids had their fun it was time for the adults events, which were a mixture of horse races and gymkhana events. The morning started off with an 800m sprint horse race, followed by the gymkhana events such as flag & barrel race, motorcycle barrel race and thread the needle race. After a hectic morning it was time for lunch, which meant the adults all got a chance to eat whilst the emcee rounded up all the station kids, town community kids and traveller kids for some light hearted games and races. There was the sprints (without shoes of course), the egg and spoon race, the egg throwing competition and lastly the tug of war between adults and kids with the kids coming out victors once again. All kids won prizes for competing and when lunch break was over they happily went back to beading and crafting with the women from RICE or the jumping castle and fairy floss that had been set up earlier.

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And they’re off!!!
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Home straight.
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The winner.
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The kids egg and spoon race.
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Tug of war- boys V girls. Girls won of course!!!!

The afternoon events were just as much fun, there was sprints for the men and ladies, whip cracking, ladies bullock tail throwing and the highlight of the afternoon for the guys was the motorbike mono competition. The winning rider did a mono for over 2km around the track, the crowd loved it and after the race I even quietly saw some money being handed over between the winner and another rider. The other highlight of the day of course was the 1600m Oodnadatta Pastoral Cup which was won by an outsider from Adelaide. Whilst there was no betting or bookie on the day you could buy raffle tickets in the Calcutta raffle which put you in the running to be drawn out and linked to one of the horses, if that horse won then you got around 10% of the pool. Or you could ‘buy’ a horse at the pre-race auction and pick up 30% of the pool.

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The crowd cheering the horses home.


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The Oodnadatta Cup Trophy.
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Winner of the mono competition.

The fun didn’t stop after the days events with the evening kicking off with a $12 roast beef and pork and roast vegetables. The function room was full of locals, cowboys and travellers tucking into a hearty meal and laughing and joking about the days proceedings. After dinner was served the auction began, fundraising more money for the RFDS, the colt and filly of the meet were announced and finally the real fun begun with the band starting up. The theme for the night was blue and pink, with lots of people making a real effort which was great to see, especially the young cowboy dressed in a provocative blue mini dress with matching glitter stilettos. The band played a great mixture of songs and the party went on well into the early hours of the morning, these station people certainly know how to party, not surprising really as one had told us earlier it had been four months since she had left the station.

And just like that the weekend was over, the mess was quickly and expertly cleaned up by all involved and the horses were all loaded into trucks and floats. By lunchtime it was only us and the crows that were left to scavenge whilst the station managers and workers all went back to their stations. All the while whispers and plans were being made for the upcoming Bronco Branding weekend in July, unfortunly though we can’t squeeze that one into our itinerary on our next destination on our OZLAP……………

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The whole crew at the races!!
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Less than 50 metres away was a Wedge Tail Eagle.


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