Eclectic mix part of Broome’s magic

ONLY in Western Australia would federal politicians, the rich, the famous and the beautiful sit together around a dirt track beside the blue singlets and thong brigade to watch a horse race and share a beer.

But the Broome Cup is more than a meeting of Armani and King Gee, a gathering of suits and sarongs, it is a race that has survived everything from war to cyclones to relocation since its inception in 1884.

Held at the Broome Turf Club, which is a bit of a misnomer since the track isn’t turf at all – it’s dirt – on the last Saturday in July (July 28 this year), the Broome Cup attracts as many as 8000 people.

“People come from all around Australia for the Cup,” club president Doug Milner said.

“Federal politicians and their wives, business people from Melbourne and Sydney, you name it. It’s a very multicultural society. You’ll have builders and labourers mingling with Perth socialites.”

It’s the outback Aussi-ness of the event, the rough and ready facility, the meeting of classes and glasses that intrigues and attracts so many.

“It’s a social event that tourist are attracted to because they think that they are experiencing some taste of the old bush racing,” Mr Milner said.

“And they are, to a large extent.”

Although some modifications have been made to the track over the years (most notably the rebuild after cyclone Rosita destroyed 75 per cent of the club in April last year) and the quality of the horses has improved, the Broome Cup is still very much an outback dirk track race.

As is the case at many major racing events in Australia, such as the Perth Cup and the Melbourne Cup, half the visitors in attendance on the day have little to no idea about the intricacies of horse racing. But even this fact has been turned into an advantage by Mr Milner and his 12-member committee.

“I think a secret of our success in recent years (is that) we have turned it into a little bit of fun,” Mr Milner said. “Many clubs are bogged down in the mystery of racing and it becomes a little bit boring unless you’re a dedicated gambler.”

The popularity of Broome as a tourist destination has steadily increased over the past decade. In the financial year just finished the Broome airport had a 10.4 per cent increase in passenger numbers, with 211,000 extra visitors passing through the terminal in the year gone. This figure is quite impressive considering only 24 per cent of arrivals in Broome come by plane.

This year is set to be one of the biggest ever in Broome, with record numbers of tourists stopping in at the Broome Tourist Bureau.

Tourist Bureau manager Sue Mountford said this year’s July figures were already up by 13 per cent.

“We’ve had two of our busiest days ever recorded at the Bureau,” Ms Mountford said.

“One of those days we had 1056 people come in and the other was 1054.

“I think there is such a magic that surrounds Broome that people hear about it and they just want to come.

“Obviously at this time of the year the climate is very attractive to people living in colder regions of Australia.”

The traditional peak season for Broome is from June through September, but the summer months in the tropical oasis also have started to get busy.

Much of this business is provided by visitors from the Northern Hemisphere, who come south to escape the first chills of the European winter.

“This time of the year (July) you’re inclined to get more people from Australia, but later on in the year you get more internationals. They don’t seem to mind the heat,” Ms Mountford said.

As well as the racing season, Broome’s social calendar includes a plethora of other activities, including the spectacular Stairway to the Moon, the Pearl Festival, David Helfgott concerts, opera and ballet.

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