Goats played an important role in the early history of Queensland. Arriving in Australia on the First Fleet, goats spread across the country with European settlement. Serving as a handy source of meat, milk, and transportation, they thrived in the harsh Australian landscape and were often financially viable for those who could not afford cattle. In Townsville, goats were so ubiquitous by the mid to late-nineteenth century that they were a well-known nuisance, with the council making attempts to control the population.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, goat racing (either with a cart or bareback) was a popular pastime, appearing at school sports days, shows, and celebrations. Goat carts (generally large enough to seat one or two children) were also part of everyday life, being used for leisure and to help children perform chores or paid work such as hauling firewood.
During the 1920s, professional races were held regularly in Brisbane, Rockhampton, and Townsville. Rockhampton’s races could attract thousands of spectators. In 1927, a goat race along Quay Street was planned to celebrate a visit by the opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, although it was cancelled by the police due to its effect on the traffic. During the same year, a selection of Rockhampton goats and the boys who raced them appeared in the silent film The Kid Stakes.
Goat racing was also very popular in western Queensland, serving as a fixture of sports days and celebrations in Barcaldine, where goat ownership was nearly universal. While the popularity of goat-racing peaked in the 1920s, it was occurring in Barcaldine into at least the 1970s. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, goat-racing had disappeared from the area. Recently, goat racing has been enjoying a minor revival. In 2008, it was revived in Barcaldine, with the lawyer and former goat-racer John de Groot funding a goat race with a $1000 prize. The town now hosts annual goat races and is, according to the president of the Barcaldine Goat Racing Committee, ‘the goat racing capital of Australia’.
- John Brady. “The Kid Stakes.” National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/kid-stakes).
- Kathleen Calderwood. “Goat Races Prove to be a Crowd Pleaser in Central Queensland.” ABC News, 10th June 2014 (https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-06-09/qch-goat-races/5509852).
- Trisha Fielding. “Goats in Townsville.” North Queensland History, 24th May 2014 (https://northqueenslandhistory.blogspot.com/2014/05/goats-were-once-common-everyday-sight.html).
- “‘Goat Capital’ Gets Real Boost.” The Queensland Times, 13th July 2012.
- Moya Sharp. “Billy Goat Racing: An Excellent Sport.” Outback Family History, 17th April 2016 (https://www.outbackfamilyhistoryblog.com/2016/04/17/billy-goat-racing-excellent-sport/).
- Alison Walsh. “Goat Racing Back on Track.” The Courier Mail, 14th September 2013 (https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/qweekend-goat-racing-back-on-track/news-story/fa1d9cb97efe2285765464155d8376f4).