Monday, January 31, 2011


The clowns are an important part of the rodeo. Here they rescue a youngster from a calf.

If you have never been to a rodeo then you are missing out on an exciting event which captures the spirit of the bush and the Australian legend. Rodeos are held all over Australia, including at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, but nothing beats experiencing the flavour of the country by seeing a rodeo in an Australian country town. On New Year’s Day I travelled to Tumbarumba, at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, to watch the 66th annual Tumbarumba Rodeo. It was well worth the trip.

The junior steer riding event.

Rope and tie event.

There were competitions featuring animals very early in history. Early pottery show the leaping of the bull in ancient Crete, the Roman gladiatorial events featured combats against animals and chariot races, and the Spanish bull fighting and running of the bulls. However the rodeo seems to have its origins with the Spanish and Mexican cattle herders. The name itself is taken from the Spanish word “rodeo” meaning ‘round up’, as in rounding up or penning cattle. The term came to refer also to the skills shown by the Spanish cowboys in working with these cattle. The term was first used in English in 1834 and referred to a cattle round up. Today the term is mostly used to refer to the sport which has arisen around these skills.

Bare-back bronco riding.

The catcher is an experienced rider who helps the competitor safely from the bucking animal.

Although such events did take place in Australia it wasn’t until the 1880s that events were organized and run regularly. The National Agricultural Society of Victoria ran one of the earliest such events in 1888 when they made rough ridding part of their annual Agricultural Show. Bushman’s Carnivals began in Northern New South Wales in the 1920s and grew to follow a similar format to the American rodeos. During World War 11 American soldiers held informal rodeo events such as those held in Ispwich, Queensland. By 1944 the Bushmen’s Carnivals were becoming so popular that the Australian Bushman’s Carnival Association was formed to try to regulate and organize these carnivals. Although the Association folded in 1947, a North Bushmen’s Carnival Association started in 1946 in Maitland, NSW continued and flourished. Also in 1944 the Australian Professional Rodeo Association was formed as the organizing body for rodeo competitions. These two associations are now the Australian Bushmen’s campdraft and Rodeo Association. In 1992 the National Rodeo Council of Australia was formed to help promote and organize the sport.

Steer wrestling or bulldogging.

Bull riding is a tough sport.

Events at a rodeo may include campdrafting, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer and bull riding, barrel races, rope and tie, steer wrestling, team roping, and breakaway roping, as well as junior calf riding. While women used to participate fully in rodeos when Bonnie McCarrol died in the Pendleton Round-Up in 1929 and Marie Gibson in a horse wreck in 1933, limits were placed on the events they could enter. Today barrel racing, breakaway roping and the team roping are the most popular events for women's participation.

Barrel racing.

Breakaway roping.

Mention must be made of Tumbarumba. During the droughts of five years ago I happened to travel around the state and into Victoria, the greenest and most picturesque place during that time was Tumbarumba. It is nestled in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains about 500 kms south west of Sydney. Hume and Hovell passed through here in 1824 and those that are keen enough can retrace the steps of the explorers on the Hume and Hovell walking track. It has a history of gold, timber, agriculture and involvement in the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Now it is also becoming known for its ‘cool climate’ wines. Its old buildings, fresh water streams and mountain air are certainly making it a popular tourist attraction.

Bare-back riding.


Bronco riding.