THOUSANDS of visitors converge on Far North Queensland in early September for the annual Cairns Amateurs, which is much more than a horse racing carnival – in fact it offers something for everyone.

Those making the trip from all parts of the country and even overseas are not simply there for two days of horse racing. This is one of the biggest social events on the thoroughbred calendar and it offers an added bonus of being able to enjoy some of the most popular tourist attractions in Australia.

The Far North Queensland Amateurs have grown from a small country race meeting in 1959, designed to bring the city and country together, to a carnival that now attracts national media, betting and television coverage.

It’s a carnival where the horses often take a backseat role to the personalities, politicians and celebrities who want to be seen there. Trainers from as far away as Brisbane take horses to the north for the two-day meeting, which attracts some of the big name jockeys of Australian racing.

The 2009 carnival will be held on Friday and Saturday, September 11 and 12. Economic surveys undertaken over a decade indicate that the Cairns Amateurs generate in excess of $15 million in direct spending over the four days of social and racing activities. Over 10,000 attend the Friday meeting and this number doubles a day later for the Saturday fixture. Up to 5,000 of these are estimated to attend from interstate and overseas. The carnival attracts some major national corporate sponsors who trek north with guests for a big week of social and racing activity.

The Far North Queensland Amateur Turf Club was founded in 1959 as a coastal version of the historical Oak Park races. It was the brainchild of the late Sir Sydney Williams OBE and Les Gallagher.

Few individuals have done more to promote the natural attractions of Far North Queensland as an international tourist destination than Sir Sydney. For half a century he was involved in most aspects of the tourist industry — from resort development and aviation to public sector endorsement and environmental research.
Among the many ventures, which combined Sir Sydney’s entrepreneurial spirit, his capacity for fun and his love of horse racing, was the Cairns Amateurs. Such was its success, that it gained a reputation as ‘the Melbourne Cup of the North’. Sir Sydney died at the age of 83 in 2003.

The inaugural committee consisted of a combined group of 10 from local businesses and outback station properties. There was no such thing as race sponsorship as it is now known back then but local businesses and regional branches of national companies were approached to volunteer their services and support. From the outset, the Carnival has been under Vice-Regal patronage, with then Governor Sir Henry Abel Smith beginning the tradition in a half century ago.

Jockeys were, as the club name suggests, amateur riders and came mainly from stations in outback areas of the region. Professional riders started to participate many years later due to changes in racing regulations. The club was disappointed by the mid-1990 ruling that amateur riders were no longer permitted to compete in Queensland race meetings. However, the amateur tradition remains in spirit with the Club.

By the late 1960s, this ‘little racing carnival in the north’ was attracting attention ‘down south.’ Visitors from interstate began to flood the far north – a trend that has continued to this day.

Stakes money has increased from £1,260 for the first 10 races to present day figures of around $300,000 spread over the 15 races on two days.
Much is made in the media of the celebrities who make an appearance at the Amateurs but this event proves just as popular with the every-day racing enthusiast. The club has set aside a ‘Picnic in the Park’ area, which is designed to cater for groups of people who wish to host their own race-day party.

In 2008, the Picnic in the Park area underwent some significant changes. All the elements that patrons of this area had enjoyed in the past were retained. The club took all the hard work out of the equation - no longer were site holders required to set up their own areas prior to the Carnival.

Their booking with the club for a ‘Picnic in the Park’ Site conveniently provides access to a fully constructed area located under a large marquee. These marquees are divided into sites that allow groups to mix with their invited friends within an allocated area, but still socialise with others in Picnic in the Park. Each Site allows for up to 25 guests and bookings can be made for additional sites to cater for extra guests. Sites have to be booked for both days of the Carnival. There are two locations available for sites – trackside in the ‘Dress Circle’ or back from the track in the ‘Gallery’.

Many who travel to Cairns for the two-day Amateurs extend their stay to take in some of the magnificent tourist attractions in the Far North, spearheaded by Kuranda-Skyrail experience, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation rain forest and a visit to Green Island or the Great Barrier Reef.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is a world first in environmental tourism, taking visitors on an amazing journey over Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest canopy and deep into the forest. Positioned in a six-person gondola cabin, tourists glide just metres above 7.5km of pristine rainforest with magnificent views out to the Coral Sea.

The Skyrail experience can best be sampled in a joint package with the Kuranda Scenic Rail link. Tourists can join join the famous Kuranda Scenic Rail for a delightful journey, which winds over waterfalls and through many tunnels. At the village of Kuranda you can visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary or discover some of the world's most beautiful and exotic birds on your visit to Birdworld.  

Green Island is a beautiful coral cay readily identified from the air by its emerald rainforest surrounded by white sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs. From its home base in Cairns, Tropical North Queensland, Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises operates full day and half day cruises to famous Green Island.

Tourists can discover the fascinating underwater world among the coral reefs surrounding Green Island where they can see an endless variety of colorful fish, turtles, giant clams, starfish, shells, eels, sponges, sea urchins and many more incredible marine creatures.

Green Island is the perfect place to snorkel, scuba dive, swim all year round, view the coral and fish life from the comfort of a glass bottom boat or semi-submersible or see the reef from the air either by joining a tandem parasail or a helicopter scenic flight.

There are also trips to the Great Barrier Reef, the fastest takes five hours and stops at two exclusive, protected outer reef locations with diving, snorkeling, underwater viewing or just plain relaxation. Less travel time, more time at the reef. No big crowds. A premium reef cruise, at great value. This tour is big enough to take you to the edge and small enough to make it personal.
Those looking for a different experience can take in one of the many tours to the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation which take up to 11 hours. These involve private cruises down the Daintree where crocodiles can be regularly seen, a visit to the pristine rivers and white sandy beaches of the World Heritage Listed Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Parks.

You can stroll through lush rainforests, enjoying a bush lunch and view the picturesque Mossman Gorge.

As you can see a visit to the Cairns Amateurs can be much more than a trip to another thoroughbred carnival. It is a great example of being able to getaway and go racing.        

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