Australia has a pretty strong international reputation when it comes to drinking, but it’s certainly not the country’s only great national pasttime. As it turns out, Aussies also love to gamble.
Australia actually boasts the highest rate of gambling in the world, a fact I quickly saw for myself when I first moved to Melbourne. There, pubs designate entire rooms for placing bets on sporting events, tram stops prominently display addiction awareness posters and commercial breaks regularly stream advertisements for gambling. Australia today may enjoy gambling in all of its myriad forms, but it all started with one sport: horse racing. Truly, is there any better way to combine the joys of drinking and gambling than with a day at the races?
I had no idea before arriving here that in Broome, the races are kind of a big deal. While Melbourne is considered Australia’s racing capital (a title it holds for all things sports), all of Australia’s major cities host big racing carnivals. Broome, however, is one of the few places to host races between June and August. As winter starts to take its hold in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, Broome is only just reaching its peak season. Here, it’s the dry season that translates to perfect summer weather. The Broome Turf Club bills itself as “the winter racing alternative” accordingly, and the Broome Cup Carnival draws tourists from around the country.
The Broome Cup Day is the biggest race, the grand finale of the season. Naturally, it corresponds with Broome’s biggest tourist weekend, which means that I was working my hospitality gig when it occurred a couple of weekends ago. Luckily, I’d been able to catch a more low-key race when I first arrived in Broome last month.
When some hostel friends from Perth first invited me, I was completely clueless about horse racing in Broome — and, to be honest, in general. My parents always followed the Triple Crown kicking off with the Kentucky Derby back home, but I was always more intrigued by the horses and their awesome names than by the racing itself. This was my first horse race ever, and more than anything else, it was the perfect opportunity to dress up, hang out in the sun and, you know, day drink.
The breaks between the races gave us plenty of time to take bubbly-inspired selfies and explore the food trucks. We also spent some time perusing the Cup Carnival guides in an attempt to make some educated bets. I went for an underdog with an interesting name. My strategy didn’t pay off (this time!), but at least the bet only cost me five dollars.
We did the races in one of the most casual ways possible: early in the season, in the general admission area and with minimal bets. We dressed up to the extent that our backpack wardrobes allowed, and surprisingly, we were among fanciest outside of the members’ areas on the day we attended. In a town where Thursday night wet t-shirt contests at the Roey are usually the biggest night out (yes, Broome is an exceedingly classy place!), it made for a fun change of pace.
While our approach was laidback, the races definitely have a more extravagant side. If you’re looking for a more upscale day out, you’ll want to plan on attending one of the big races: the Kimberley Cup, Ladies Day or Broome Cup events. If you really want to do it big, you’ll have to make some connections to get yourself into the members’ areas. While these are definitely fancier events, they’re still no Kentucky Derby. This is Broome, after all!
Practical Odds & Ends
Broome’s racing season runs from the end of May to mid-August. All races take place at the Broome Turf Club at Ganthieume Point, which makes for a truly stunning backdrop. The town bus service provides rides to the races for $4 each way. You can check out the schedule here.