Featured / Community / Social / 25th October 2022
Blow-in's first rodeo
this ain't (one's) first rodeo idiom/phrase. used to indicate that someone is not naive or inexperienced.
This is the story of my very first rodeo.
Wait, really? asked my colleagues. A country kid who’s never been to a rodeo? But that’s got to be one of the key country kid credentials! Next to banging your boots on the verandah to shake out the spiders, and saying ‘yeah, that’s the go’ in response to pretty much anything, certified country kids are supposed to know what it's like to inhale that sweet mix of dust, blood and manure, stirred up by the hooves of a homicidal bull.
I am a country kid, I promise. I refer you, briefly, to my country kid résumé: playing hide and seek in two foot tall canola, building elaborate cubbies in the scrub, attaching old prams to the backs of bikes with my siblings and dragging each other around at speeds that showed little-to-no regard for human life. Scrappy, happy country kids.
IMAGE: Spot the country kid – Emma and sibling in the thick of a canola crop circa 1998
But then there’s country kids.
For example, my cousins who grew up on a cattle station in far north Queensland. They were homeschooled. Tough as nails. Once, when they came to visit, one of them walked barefoot across catheads to open a gate without even flinching. They breed them different on livestock farms, they just do.
So, while I’m a country kid of a certain ilk – doth she protest too much? – I’m also a big time rodeo rookie.
Enter: Jess Richards. Local baker, photographer and all round good dude, Jess had read my blatant cries for friendship in the pages of my first blog and kindly reached out with an invite.
‘Hey … ever been to a rodeo?’
And that is how, a few weeks later, I found myself roaring down the highway in Jess’ Colorado 7 on route to the 2022 Tooraweenah Show. Afternoon itinerary? The Inland Rail Rodeo.
Okay. So it’s becoming a bit of a theme in these blogs that I keep underestimating rural dress-codes. Turns out what I thought was a fairly sensible getup – flannel shirt, jeans, a cap – didn’t quite cut it among fringed chaps and big-brimmed cowboy hats.
Also, no-one told me that the back pockets of my jeans should be bejewelled! As I soon learned, rhinestoned denim is a THING at rodeos. The bling, the boots, the huge belts – it was like a Clint Eastwood movie (I think. I’ve never actually seen a Clint Eastwood movie. Are they important?)
‘Are those spurs?’ I asked as we wandered amongst the crowd. I couldn’t believe the number of people unironically wearing spurs.
‘This is going to be fun.’
At one point in the afternoon I called chaps, ‘cool pants!’ – I’ve yet to live this down. I also did a lot of city-girl gasping during the 8-11 year-old steer ride (in my defence and, in case you missed it, that was EIGHT TO ELEVEN year-olds on the backs of bucking teenage bovines).
Thankfully, medics were on standby and only one kid got violently stomped (she was fine!) Eventually I managed to put aside my vague horror and dismount my OH&S high-horse for long enough to really quite enjoy myself.
Badass cowboys and cowgirls with their ‘cool pants’ and impressive core strength, clinging for dear life to slobbering steers and bulls as they bucked and convulsed around the yards.
It was all quite thrilling and also a bit theatrical. All that dust being kicked up as nearby speakers blasted country-pop – very Step Up 2: The Stockyards.
Like many sports, bull-riding is a display of strength, skill, grit. It’s hot-blooded and hyper-masculine, and also speaks to this whole ‘man-dominates-beast’ thing that humankind have been trying to prove for millennia (it’s okay guys, we won! We’re top of the food chain, okay?) Taken out the context of tradition and culture – it’s all pretty macho and intense.
But it’s also so showy!
Bull and rider enter stage right, perform in glittery chaps for a gleeful crowd as ‘clowns’ (protection athletes) dance at the edges, interfering in a way that is so perfectly timed they make it look choreographed, easy. There’s a craft to bull-riding – stick your chest out, hold your free hand up, intuit and react: hold on. Teams behind the pens scramble about like stage crew, tying ropes, mounting riders, thrusting open the chute. As the sun goes down, the floodlights flick on. Showtime.
Maybe it was the feel-good country classics or the new friends (plural!) I’d made (thanks Jess) but, as dusk fell across the yards, I found myself getting caught up in it all. Families gathered together, sharing hot chips and gravy, reclined in campchairs brought from home. Kids running around in Akubras that were as wide-brimmed as they were tall. The Warrumbungle ranges backdropping the whole thing.
The final headline event, the Open Bull Ride, began right as the sky was smearing a deep orange-pink and the crowd was coming alive. I cheered and clapped along with the rest of them, clutching a tinny of Great Northern and soaking up that cattle yard stench. If not for the bling-less bum of my jeans, you might even have assumed that this wasn’t, in fact, my first rodeo.
One could argue that Tooraweenah Show doesn’t exactly deliver the full rodeo experience. As the name implies, it’s a show, with an ice cream van and a shed for judging scones, and some arvo barrel racing on the side. So I started small. A rodeo dress-rehearsal, if you’ll allow me to keep flogging the theatre analogy. But consider me lassoed.
Back at work on Monday, when asked how my weekend was, I yanked down my collar with a mixture of pride and pain.
This was, I’d been informed, an important rite of passage.
At the time of writing, it’s been a few weeks since the Tooraweenah Show, and the sunburn has faded to a shitty neck tan. But I’ve been Googling studded cowgirl jeans and Jess has sent me a link to the ‘Tamworth Iron Cowboy’ coming up in November.
Ready for round two.
IMAGE: The Open Bull Ride in action at 2022 Tooroweenah Show Inland Rail Rodeo