The smallest town in Australia, Betoota, hosted record crowds at last weekend’s horse and motorbike gymkhana. The event was almost cancelled, due to hardship suffered by competitors, sponsors and organisers as a result of the debilitating Queensland drought. However, voluntary organisers and the communities of the Diamantina Shire rallied together to host the event despite the odds, which resulted in astounding success and, miraculously, heavy rain.
Traditionally one of the smaller events on the Diamantina Shire’s events calendar, the Betoota Gymkhana is run entirely by volunteers living on remote pastoral properties near the ghost town of Betoota, which until 2004 had a population of one and now has an official population of zero.
Betoota Social Club secretary Lorraine Kath says that this year’s event attracted a whopping crowd, which was over three times bigger than expected. “Not only did we get a record number of competitors in both the horse and motorbike events, but we also got more spectators than ever before,” she says. “I think the drought has really hit people hard and we are taking any opportunity we can to get out, socialise and take our minds off our woes.”
In the early stages of organisation, the Betoota Social Club was struggling to find sponsors. “In stressful times such as this, most local sponsors struggle to find spare funds to support events,” says Mrs Kath. “We know that these events are essential for our mental wellbeing, but it’s difficult to justify the sponsorship dollars. We were very lucky to get some major sponsors on board, such as Drillsearch, Skytrans, SANTOS, the Birdsville Bakery and Smiley’s Transport. Without them, there’s no way the event would have gone ahead. We would like to thank all of our sponsors, big or small, for their assistance.”
To top off the extraordinary weekend, Betoota recorded 30.6 ml of rain on the Sunday afternoon, which put an end to gymkhana events. The race track was too wet to hold the remaining wheel stand competition. However, the early finish was celebrated by attendees as they revelled in the rain, which was the biggest rainfall in over a year and nearly half of 2013’s total rainfall of 74.9 ml. The only other major fall since June 2012 was 30.2 ml in February 2014.
Competitor Dave Hannan, from Birdsville, said the rain didn’t dampen the crowds’ spirits at all. “I don’t think it concerned anyone because we were all just happy to see the rain,” he said. “It certainly settled the dust.” He said that he’s already looking forward to next year’s Betoota Gymkhana. “It’s a very well-run event. My kids had a ball and it was good for us all to get out on the bikes in such a safe and friendly environment,” he said. “I was surprised by the amount of people there – it was a great turnout and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.”
Official 2014 Betoota Gymkhana leading rider results are as follows:
Hayden & Ashlee Lasker Memorial Encouragement Award: Jesse Lorenz, Durrie Station, Birdsville
10yrs & Under leading Rider: Jacob Kath, Mt Leonard Station, Betoota
15 years & Under: Marie Field, Jundah
Leading Open Rider: Jacob Hutherroth, Glengyle Station, Bedourie
Encouragement Award: Megan Brook, Cordillo Downs, Birdsville
Under 8 Leading Rider: Emma Brook, Cordillo Downs, Birdsville
8- 11 yrs Leading Rider: Dean Woods, Durrie Station, Birdsville
12-15 yrs leading Rider: Boof Matheson, Jundah
Leading Open Rider: Aron Rayner, Jundah
Longest Jump Winner: Aaron Maunsell, Jundah.
1st: Nick Dillon, Birdsville 5:10.01
2nd: Aaron Maunsell, Birdsville 5:10.27
3rd: Matthew Johnson, Leigh Crk SA 5:16.17