After witnessing the madness of the Mount Isa Rodeo, GEMMA PRICE went to Rockhampton and discovered a love of all things country.
I have a lot of respect for cowboys. Any man that will sit bareback on a tonne of wild bull with no head or body protection, and nothing to cling to except a rope strap and a prayer, deserves some kind of attention. I’m thinking psychiatric attention.
They only have to hang on for eight seconds to get a qualified round, but when you’re sitting atop a whirling dervish of hooves and horns, eight seconds is a very long time. Thankfully there were no fatalities, but as the Mount Isa Rodeo went on, the backstage stands slowly filled with the walking (or hobbling wounded). Broken wrists, shattered legs, bruised buttocks and concussion… all fairly run of the mill injuries that go with the territory. My personal guide to the events (the guy I pestered to explain the rules to me) was a bull rider himself, but had to sit out this time around because a year ago a bull had sliced open his neck from ear to collarbone and he couldn’t risk ‘popping it open again’.
Okay then. So who are these madmen happy to shell out $180 dollars a-piece (and risk life and limb) for this testosterone-fuelled hobby? Curiosity took me to Rockhampton, the beef capital of Australia, where the marketing slogan is ‘Eat more beef, you bastards!’. I have one of the stickers proudly displayed on my fridge, much to the annoyance of my vegetarian flatmate in Sydney.
Country life starts early, and after boarding the bus at 6am and driving two hours out to the station in the sticks, I was given a good breakfast and told to choose some farm clothes for my stay – mainly for protection from the sun which was already unforgiving at 9am.
POWER BETWEEN MY LEGS
I had ridden a bit when I was younger so the morning horse ride wasn’t too nerve wracking, and I was amazed how sure-footed our mounts were as they picked their way through close-knit trees and down steep rocky outcrops completely hidden by scrub. ‘I used to go through here at full gallop chasing after cattle,’ proclaimed our ruddy-faced guide, clearly a longstanding member of the vaguely insane cowboy club.
Lunch was another hearty affair (plenty of salad with the meat, thankfully), and then it was time for my motorbike lesson. Sounds innocent enough, but any of my friends will tell you that me and mechanics donÃ•t mix. I haven’t driven a car for six years, and the prospect of having 150CC of power between my legs didn’t bode well. But, after a quick lesson and a few circuits around the practice field without licking the floor once, I was granted my ‘Myella licence’ to take the bikes around the station any time I wanted. Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I swaggered up towards the house, but my good mood was soon replaced by unease. As I approached the building, I could see the feet of an animal protruding from a bag hanging from the fence. I know they do things a little differently in the outback, but coming face to face with ‘country ways’ as they say, was still a little difficult.
As I inched nearer for a closer look, wondering whether I could and should say something, another guest at the station rocked up and swung the bag from its hook. ‘Want to help me feed him?’ she asked. ‘Huh?! Feed him to what?’ ‘It’s nearly time. Come on.’
She set off up towards the house. She didn’t look like a maniac – I suppose they never do – but I followed her cautiously to the outdoor kitchen, where she carefully put the bag on the floor. After a few moments the legs slowly untangled themselves and out poked a tentative nose, followed by the paws and body of a joey. ‘He was orphaned by a crash down on the road, so he has to be bottle-fed four times a day,’ the girl explained. Aha. No blood-soaked callous cattle station chore, then. And possibly the cutest thing in the world.
Someone had the bright idea of watching the sun set, so as newly initiated petrol heads, we revved up the bikes and floored it to the top field to watch the shimmering sun sink over the property.
READY TO SQUIRT
Once darkness had fallen everyone realised how knackered they were, so we hit the hay pretty early. Probably a good move as work started again at six the next morning when my toil of choice was milking the cows. We’d separated the calves from the herd the previous evening, so by then they were udderly good and ready to squirt.(Sorry, sorry.) Ted, possibly the most sarcastic farmhand in Australia, gave me a quick demo and then I was set to go.
At first it was pretty easy, but after a while my hands started to ache and the jets of creamy goodness got more and more feeble. What can I say? Ted’s talents with hard erect nipples far exceeded my own, so I let him work his magic while I checked the chook pen for eggs. Stupidly I agreed to help Ted with his farm chore that afternoon – the pump that supplied water from the dam wasn’t working properly, and basically we had to go and fix it. It sounded easy enough, and Ted said all I had to do was wade out and grab the pump hose tied to a float in the middle.
Although the dam water was completely opaque, Ted assured me that it was only a couple of feet deep and there was no need to take my clothes off. So I rolled up my joggers and stepped barefoot into the thick gloopy mud on the bank, gurning like a trooper as the mud squished and squelched between my toes.
As I waded out, the water got deeper and deeper, and I was soon swimming fully clothed in seven metres of dark poo-coloured water while everyone sat bone dry on the bank, laughing. Never, ever volunteer for things. I should’ve learned that at school. After another good night’s sleep – it’s amazing how tiring it is actually doing things – we saddled up for some cattle mustering. It goes without saying that we were pretty rubbish, but I suppose it’s only to be expected, and we did manage to round up the herd and get them through the gate. It took about an hour – not so much a jillaroo as a ditheroo – so I don’t think there’ll be many stations clamouring to snap me up anytime soon.
And then that was it: cowgirl adventure over and back to civilisation. Admittedly, I was kind of glad to get my feet back on solid ground – John Wayne’s pained bandy gait wasn’t really working for me – but I was quite sad to see the farmhouse dwindle into the distance through the shuttle bus window. Cowgirl training to be continued? Very possibly…