For most of the year, Derby, in the Kimberley area of Western Australia, sits in mud flats, about as vivid as a brown cardigan; but it turns on the colour for the biggest day of its social calendar, Derby Cup Day. I land in town on Cup morning after a week 'out bush', make the transition from feral to fancy dress, and head out to the Turf Club.
Punters have come from hundreds – even thousands – of miles around to imbibe the spirit of country racing, and fascinators and fancy dress are the order of the day. Despite – or because of – the relentless heat, the beer and champagne are flowing. I buy my 'beer tickets', trade them for a plastic cup of champers and head to the bookies' ring to lay a bet on the Cup.
'I’m a novice,' I say. 'My name's Swindle,' replies the bookie, with a wink. 'I'll give you a tip: number two will be hard to beat.' I hand him a tenner.
Locals and 'blow-ins' from around the country are mixing it at the bar, by the track and in the inevitable endless queue for the ladies' toilet. The Lamb Van is doing a great trade in bread rolls full of meat and onions – great for soaking up beer – and as the shadows lengthen, it's Cup time. The track is pindan-rock red and lined with boab trees. The horses pound past and… I win! Number two romps it in.
Festivities continue with foot races, dancing to live music and the great Aussie gambling tradition: a game of two-up. The game is illegal in most states except on Anzac Day. Here it's as much about laughs as lucre and no one seems to mind losing. And the moral of the day? Don't judge a bookie by his cover!
Kerry Lorimer travelled to Australia on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow her adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.