If they walk up the wall, we’ll place bets on them all
It’s funny how the something we take for granted as an everyday part of Australian life is viewed by those unfamiliar with our lifestyle, but a friend’s reaction to the concept of camel racing – and betting on it – drove the reminder home last week.
“You’re going to race what?” she said with stunned confusion via Skype after I’d explained the concept of the Boulia Camel Races.
“So they’re like those feral camels you see in the desert and people actually ride them like horses?”
After I reiterated what the iconic event was all about and that there were also on-track bookmakers, she started laughing, shaking her head at the idea of wagering hard-earned money on the ships of the desert.
“Man, you Aussies will literally bet on anything,” she said with her thick New York accent.
Her comments about Australians having a penchant for betting on anything that moved made me think, and after our conversation ended, I sat back and contemplated the gambling eccentricities of punters in this country.
That’s when it hit me.
We actually will bet on anything we can get odds on, including what are essentially feral pests.
It’s part of what makes Australia the unique country it is but when you consider what else we place wagers on, an annual punt on camel racing doesn’t even make the top three weirdest things to race and bet on.
I don’t know why, but Australians love to bet on pests.
In addition to camels, cane toad and cockroach racing round out the trifecta of animals-we-could-do-without that we’re happy to support with our wallets, as long as they’re racing and not invading our houses.
While the noxious cane toads are raced weekly in pubs from Cairns to Coolangatta, it’s the cockroaches that raise the eyebrows of most tourists when they witness them racing for the first time.
Perhaps the most iconic of all cockroach races in Australia is held every Australia Day in my old stomping ground of Brisbane, at the Story Bridge Hotel in Kangaroo Point.
According to a spokesman for the annual spectacle, the event “has had a long and distinguished history” that set the foundation for cockroach racing in Australia.
No, I’m not kidding.
I couldn’t make this up if I tried but it gets better: organisers fly in cockroaches for racing.
Yes, racing cockroaches apparently travel to compete, just like Black Caviar.
“We actually buy them [the cockroaches] and fly them up from Melbourne,” the spokesman said when I posed the question last week.
“It’s a huge event.”
If insects and feral animals aren’t your style, you can always bet on the lizard races in Eulo.
Feel like a seafood fix?
If so, crayfish racing may be your forte.
The first time I saw a crayfish race was on Magnetic Island in about 2004 and while the crustaceans are hardly the most enthralling
racers, they are certainly supported by spectators like they’re running in the Melbourne Cup.
Worse still, punters who decide to bet as well as splash out the $10 or $20 needed to purchase one of the ‘thoroughbreds’ act like they have just purchased Makybe Diva for $15,000.
The only difference is that, if your crayfish doesn’t perform well during the race, you can always commiserate eating with a little bit of garlic butter and a cold beer.
I spoke to my friend in New York again last night and after I rattled off the list of amphibians, insects and crustaceans Australians regularly bet on, she burst out laughing and said it proved her point.
“Do you guys just look at random animals and decide to catch them, race them and bet on them?” she queried.
Who said horses and greyhounds were the only animals you could bet on?
Australia’s love of a punt is evident in the crazy things we race and wager on but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, if you are betting on something ridiculous – including the proverbial flies on the wall – in Australia this weekend, take a moment to reflect on how unique what you are doing is as you put your betting slip into your wallet.