The Isa’s Rollicking Rodeo
If it’s your first rodeo, here is Rodeo 101: eight seconds is what it takes to be deemed worthy. WORDS: Michelle Hespe PHOTOS: Ant Ong
Hanging in there
Eight seconds is how long a cowboy or cowgirl needs to stay atop of a horse or bull to even warrant a mention on the scoreboard. And if you want any kind of real mention, you need to do that time with one hand on the rope and one hand in the air. If you think that sounds easy, it is most certainly not. On any credible list of the world’s most dangerous sports, bull riding is rated as the second (and often the first) most dangerous sport. A rider might’ve been in the sport for ten years or more and still not make it past the one or two second mark, and you need a lot more than eight seconds up there to get anywhere worth talking about.Watching the thrills, spills and people regularly catapulted from their beasts at the Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo (the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere) in Outback Queensland, you’ll no doubt wonder how any of the contestants have any ribs left – as they’re often crushed beneath 800 kilos of bull fat and muscle. Ambulances are never far from the gates. In fact, there goes another one now, the stretchers have been pulled out, and the body is whisked up and away. He sits up and waves as his temporary bed slides into the back of the truck. The crowd goes mad.
I’m standing in ‘The Isa’s’ (as the locals call her) Buchanen Park arena’s stadium, once again thinking about grabbing a drink and some food for lunch. However every time I attempt to tear my eyes away from the gates and rows of cowboys in their mirrored sunnies and perky Stetsons perched above the chutes, another horse or bull is let loose, and its game on. The music pumps, the crowd goes wild and the animals do their best to make the riders look as useless as a ragdoll whose only hope is to simply hold on.
Scoring a front row seat at this rodeo to watch bucking beasts is a bucket list adventure for many, and looking around, it’s obvious that the spectacle attracts all sorts of people. There’s loads of local country and Outback folk, and to the trained eye, it’s also easy to spot city slickers and tourists lured by this event. Those precious few seconds when an adrenaline-pumped rider actually manages to stay on top and do his thing well, is what keeps everyone hanging in here, cheering, peering through binoculars and having a rollicking good time.
I do finally step back from the action and pop up to the corporate area’s lunch and chill-out room, where I find an impressive spread of hot food in bain maries on offer – roasted chicken and meat, veggies, fresh salads and bread are all there for the taking if you buy yourself a pass. There’s also the added bonus of air conditioning in this part of the stadium. If you think that’s not needed in the middle of winter, think again, as the temperature out this way is in the mid thirties at this time of year. Add a lot of red dust and direct sunlight (trees are scarce) and you get the picture – it’s the desert here people.
After lunch is cleared away, a range of deserts and cheese platters are liberally spread across tables with tea and coffee offerings. There’s a bar that’s busy around the clock, serving up soft drinks, cider, wine and beer, and I’m told that this year is the first time the rodeo has dropped money exchange and opted for wristbands that you top up with money before approaching the bar and simple swipe for a beverage. Despite some people turning their thumbs down to the idea at first, it reduces queues and the need to constantly top up change.
Throughout the non-stop rodeo action – bull riding, saddle bronco, bareback bronc, rope and tie, steer wresting, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping – there’s also a ton of other stuff to enjoy, including a sprawling fairground that looks like it’s straight out of the 80s. There’s endless food and drink stands, live bands with a huge area set aside for dancing, and aisles of stores selling everything from cowhide rugs, to cowboy and cowgirl boots (of course) country-style clothing other classic Mount Isa souvenirs.
Fred and his boxing troupe
When evening falls, and the bull and horse action continues with full gusto on the arena, however if you’re after another type of adrenalin-inducing entertainment, there’s the legendary Fred Brophy Boxing Troupe. No one should go to a Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo without checking out Fred’s boxing tent shenanigans.
Fred’s been running his boxing troupe around the country for more than three decades. His dad was a sideshow operator, and his mum a trapeze artist, so it’s no surprise that one, he has charisma, and two, that he ended up with this impressive act that attracts massive crowds wherever he goes.
Fred’s act relies on a troupe of fit, professional boxers, and guys from the crowd jump into the ring to fight the pros. Not surprisingly, Fred’s guys usually win and the (often wobbly) punters are fixed up and sprayed with water in a corner. One thing’s for sure, there’s always a lot of laughs, loud music, beer and Bundy drinking to be done, and the heckling from the sidelines is a show in itself.