Julia Creek is a small town of about 300 people situated 650km inland from Townsville. It’s normally a fairly quiet place except for one weekend in April when it swells to ten times its population for the Dirt N Dust Festival.
Dirt N Dust Festival is centred around one of the toughest triathlons in Australia and also has a music festival, a rodeo and races that brings people from all corners to pack the town. The festival started in the 1990s as locals looked for ways to put the town on the map. The triathlon began with a handful of competitors but gained traction when organisers hit on the idea of coming it with the other events on the same weekend. It’s now one of the highest funded Tourism Queensland projects outside Brisbane.
The fun started on Friday afternoon with some celebrity bog snorkeling. Bog snorkeling is an ancient Irish dark art, inexplicably omitted from the annals of Ulster and other early chronicles. The Dirt N Dust version brought together Cairns Ironman champion Liz Blatchford (who was favourite to win the women’s tri) and Andrew “Reidy” Reid, apparently a star of Bondi Rescue, for those that know their TV. I hadn’t heard of either but they were both lovely people and up for a laugh.
Also on Friday afternoon, the kids did their mini-triathlon which was still tough in plus 35 degree heat.
On Saturday morning the big event started. The swim leg and start of the bike leg were 30km out of town so all 250 plus bikes had to be put on cattle trucks to take to the transition area.
They came from everywhere to compete in Dirt N Dust including this trio from Canada.
Pictured is Amanda Gowing, last year’s female winner, at Eastern Creek. Swimmers have to do 800m in the syrupy creek with visibility down to 30cm. The guy in the canoe, Steve Carson, is the guide for Tristan Bowen, a blind 16-year-old (not pictured) from Mount Isa who is doing his first Dirt N Dust.
This is Liz Blatchford showing why she was the favourite, well clear of the pack in the 25km bike leg. She even managed a smile despite battling head winds all the way back to Julia Creek. Only three men crossed the finish line ahead of her.
This is eventual men’s winner Connor McKay, 18, of Townsville on the run leg of 5km which does three circuits of Julia Creek’s main street. He did the combined event in a time of 1hr 9mins and 1sec.
Steve Carson leads blind Tristan Bowen on a tandem in the bike leg.
Steve and Tristan also did the run leg tied together by a rope. But Steve let Tristan free to cross the finish line by himself in a time of 2:36:57.
Two of the oldest competitors compare notes at the end of the race. Dale Rackham who competed in the 70-74 age group and the oldest competitor Fred Schneider aged 80.
Afterwards everyone frocked up for a day at the races. With everyone still on a high from the tri, the party really started there and moved on to the bullride that night in the centre of town.
Sadly for me I had to drive back to Mount Isa on Saturday afternoon so couldn’t kick on with the party. But Dirt N Dust was great fun and I’ll be back.