They call it “the Melbourne Cup” of international yabby racing at Windorah in outback Queensland. And who am I to disagree, since this is the only one I’ve ever experienced.

I am, however, reasonably skilled in the art of yabbying, having spent countless hours with nets on the dusty banks of farm dams over the years, and it would never have occurred to me in a pink fit to attempt to race the little crustaceans.

So I take my hat off to the organisers of this rather bizarre annual event that takes place early September in front of the Windorah pub, on the road to Birdsville.

I think I can safely say these are the only international yabby races in Australia, or anywhere in the world, with an official race caller and bets that can be laid in advance.

Yabby racing at Windorah always attracts a crowd.(ABC Back Roads)

Just to set the scene for you, excited locals and tourists cheer the yabbies on to victory in a chalk-drawn arena in the middle of the road near the front of the pub.

The yabbies all have names of course, just like any Melbourne Cup field.

Heather Ewart yabbying in Windorah.(ABC Back Roads)

This race meeting was the brainchild of a handful of residents, including the publican, over a few beers (well, possibly several) 20 or so years ago. 

They were eager to give travellers a reason to stop at their tiny town en route to the more famous Birdsville horse races and raise some money for Windorah and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  

Well, they’ve certainly achieved that.

The yabby races are now considered a must for those driving the western Queensland outback circuit, and personally, I wouldn’t have missed the event for quids when I visited back in 2018.

I even helped to catch a few of the competitors at a nearby watering hole on race eve, although I consistently failed to back a winner the next day.

Heather the crab for the win  

I did have more luck though on a visit to Derby in the Kimberley when I was invited to an impromptu crab race in front of the Norval Gallery in the heart of town.

This didn’t seem to surprise anyone. Apparently, it’s by no means a rare occurrence around Derby. 

I’d been out crabbing that afternoon with a local builder who’d decided to share our spoils with a gathering of friends. First, there had to be a race before we dined on them. Fair enough.

 Every attendee had his or her name painted on a hand-picked crab, and mine easily crawled to victory. Sadly, Heather would later end up in the delicious hot pot in the gallery kitchen.   

Howls from the High Country

At Dinner Plain in Victoria High Country, dog sleds in the snow are the races of choice once a year, in the heart of winter.

Competitor Courtney Persson participates in the dog sledding races at Dinner Plain.(ABC Back Roads: Heather Ewart)

The enthusiasm and barking noise levels of these big fluffy huskies and similar breeds are quite something to behold.

Earmuffs are worth considering along with the rest of your ski attire if you choose to attend.

Be warned competition is just as fierce amongst the owners of the canine contestants, who travel from far and wide to take part in the stampede to the finish line.

Heather Ewart’s race day attire for the Dinner Plain dog sled races.(ABC Back Roads)

Get in on the carnival atmosphere

The same pretty much applies at Marree at the start of the Oodnadatta track in outback South Australia for the Camel Cup, held every July.

They’re a bit more of a relaxed mob out here, but spectators travel huge distances to join in the fun and the camel owners are in it to win.

After all, this was home to the pioneering Afghan cameleers, so they know their stuff. Cameleer descendants time their family reunions for Cup weekend, adding to the colourful carnival atmosphere.  

Camels and riders get in position for the starting line at the Marree Camel Cup.(ABC Back Roads)

The racetrack of any description has always been a great leveller in Australian society, a place where all types come together.

It can be both a distraction for locals in tough times like drought, and a drawcard for visitors in search of new experiences.

You don’t have to wait for the Melbourne Cup season to be in on the action.

Try going further afield and the odds are you’ll be giving a big boost to our regional communities. You’ll be welcomed with open arms and have a lot of fun.

Heather Ewart at the Marree Camel Cup with a champion winner. (ABC Back Roads)

To catch up on more of Heather’s adventures on Back Roads, head to ABC iview.