We are in Outback Queensland in a place called Birdsville. The population of Birdsville is around 115 and far away from bigger towns. Imagine, Birdsville is 1602 km away from Brisbane or it’s a 1094 km drive to Alice Springs or 1186 km to Adelaide. That’s what we call a remote place.
But Birdsville itself is not as basic and remote as you may think. There is WiFi in the information centre, a bakery that serves cappuccino or milkshakes and there is a local store where you can buy Magnum ice cream. But still, Birdsville is in the Outback and a real Outback town. There are no sealed roads that lead to Birdsville. They are all gravel from all directions. We came here for two reasons. The Birdsville Rodeo and the legendary Birdsville Track.
To attend a rodeo was on our list of things to do in Australia. We did not plan it but by coincidence we are heading to Birdsville exactly the weekend when the rodeo is taking place. How cool is that.
A rodeo is a real Aussie event. Farmers, drovers and country people come from far away to join the show. And we come from far away too.
We do not know a lot about cattle, horses, droving or bull riding. Of course we have cows in Switzerland too, but that’s a different story. Joining a rodeo is something very special for us.
Saturday, 10th of May 2014 – Campdraft, Bull Ride and Saddle Bronc Ride
We arrive at the rodeo grounds after lunch. It is not very busy yet. There are just a few spectators but many participants that are waiting for their turn. The campdraft competition started in the morning at 7.30 am and is on the whole afternoon.
What’s campdraft? It’s a unique Australian sport where a rider on a horseback must cut out one beast from the mob of cattle into the camp. The rider also needs to block and turn the beast at least two to three times to prove, that the rider has the beast under control. Then the rider needs to lead the beast through a course around pegs in a certain time limit.
You may think what’s this all about? It is a sport that requires horsemanship and skills in droving. Coordination and knowledge about the animals are required too. It’s important to know which beast to cut out from the mob because it needs to be a beast that runs well but isn’t to fast for the horse.
We watch for a while before we are heading back to our camp. We’ll be back in the evening to experience the main attraction. The Bull Ride.
Back at 6:30 pm. The Bull Ride will start in an hour. Now is time for the little riders. Mutton Busting it’s called. What’s that, you may think. Kids can be heroes on the back of Muttons and very entertaining to watch for adults. We were laughing so much because it looked really funny. Unfortunately the pictures we took are all blurry.
So, then, it’s time for the real men. Bull Ride and Saddle Bronc Ride are next. The commentator is giving the signal to open the gate. The bull jumps out of the cage and wants to get rid of the rider. The bull is spinning and turning, suddenly he refuses to move for a second before he jumps and turns his body in a fury. The rider is trying to hold onto but after a few seconds he has to let go. Whenever the rider is falling to the ground we have to gasp. It looks quite scary especially when the bull is stomping the hoof right next to the riders head or back. But nothing happens. The rider knows exactly how to move away from the furious bull.
After the Bull Ride the Saddle Bronc Ride is on. The rider climbs onto a horse and when he’s ready the gate opens. The horse begins to buck. The rider’s goal is to stay on the horse for at least eight seconds without touching the horse with his free hand. It is relevant how the horse bucks and there are scores for both rider and horse. There are of course more specific rules but we do enjoy to watching without knowing the details.
The last attraction and the highlight of the evening is the Bull Ride with monster machines. Bulls with horns are even more furious and they resist so long until the rider is falling of the back.
At 10 pm it’s time for us to head back to the camp. But before we’re leaving we go for a shower to wash away all the dust.
Sunday (Mother’s Day), 11th of May 2014 – Bronco Branding
Before we say goodbye to Birdsville, we’re going back to the rodeo grounds. Today the Bronco Branding is on. Bronco Branding is a traditional method of branding cattle and has been practiced on many large stations within Australia. Nowadays labour is too expensive and other methods of branding cattle were introduced. It’s nice to see that bronco branding as a sport keeps these skills alive.
The task of the drover is to catch a beast with a rope out of the mob.
The drover leads the calf to a ramp where two helpers apply leg ropes to secure the beast to the ground. Now the calf is ready to get branded. It can take a drover less than a minute to brand a calf. There is a time limit and the one with the most branded calfs wins.
It’s interesting to see the different riding styles of the drovers, how they approach the beast and pick them out of the group. And we love to observe how easy and natural the riders move with their horses.
The Birdsville Rodeo was fantastic. It was rough, dusty but real Aussie.
Swiss Nomads Tip: If you ever have the chance to attend a rodeo, do it! It’s a great experience and you have the chance to see and learn more about the life of country people. The rodeo in Birdsville is a small event compared to other places. We loved the relaxed atmosphere.
Useful information about the Birdsville Rodeo:
Day entry fee: AUD 5 for adults, free for U18 and people with concession
Camping for free with hot showers
Parking for free
Food & drinks available