Cockroach Racing

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Only in Australia would they celebrate their national holiday by racing cockroaches.

Yes, that's right I'm talking about those pooey brown, hairy legged, skin crawling, under the fridge indulgers and lights out kitchen partiers that infest much of the land Down Under.

On a day when most countries would be flag raising, parading the streets and celebrating their nationhood Australians head to the pub for some serious cockroach action.

A sport that has become a bit of a tradition.

At the Story Bridge Hotel in Brisbane they've been racing the insects every hot summery January 26 for the past 21 years. It all started in 1982 when two barflies began arguing that the roaches from his part of town were the fastest in Brisbane. They tested their alcohol-fuelled convictions in a parking garage, the bar crowd enjoyed it and thus the races were born.

Now described as "the greatest gathering of thoroughbred cockroaches in the known universe" the event has not come of age that much. There's a bit of sponsorship, TV cameras, microphones and live bands but much of the tradition has remained the same.

The beer comes out, the water guns, the Australian hats with the dangling corks, the tattoos and all the best of Australiana. It's Australian Bogan culture at its understated best.

Midday arrives and the first set of races is due to start, although these are considered mere crowd pleasers and warm-ups for the 13 more to come. The crowd gathers around a boxing style ring. Anticipation builds as the bagpipe band marches in with much aplomb to announce the arrival of the cockroaches. These are displayed by the headrace steward in a clear plastic lunch container, which he displays to various members of the public, holds proudly above his head or occasionally shakes to rattle them up.

The stage is set for a good race. For a lot of the roaches it's their first time out from under the fridge so nerves are expected and anticipated. Some of them never overcome their stage fright and remain frozen in the middle of the ring. The shaking of the box is one way to alleviate this.

The stewards position themselves around the ring. The head steward removes the lid of the box and turns it upside down on the ground. The cockroaches mill over each other, still trapped inside.

Each cockroach is introduced as is any competitor in major sporting events. The roach backers cheer and spray their rivals with water, beer and any other substance they can locate. Others rise in Mexican waves, chant, or scream. It's a hubbub of noise and excitement.

When the head steward finally releases the cockroaches it's the climax. The cockroaches scramble and scuttle in every direction. The stewards dive all over the mats to locate the first three. Inevitably a few manage to get past them and escape into the screaming and recoiling crowd in the front rows.

It's seconds of confusion, then the winners are announced and their human representatives come out to cheers or booing from the crowd. Some bring water pistols and gun down other spectators, others carry their XXXX (Queensland beer) or VB's (another Australian beer) with them to stand on the podium in singlets and flip flops / thongs (Australians never dress up, not even for cock roach races), and others run laps of honour around the 4m wide ring.

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