My pre-covid plans for today, was to be hosting the Casino Beef Week Women’s Luncheon.
When I first heard about Beef Week 10 years ago, I thought it sounded hilarious. A celebration of ‘beef’ seemed almost as crazy as a giant monument of a prawn. But anyone who knows me well enough, knows that there is something pretty reminiscent about a festival like Beef Week for a shearer’s daughter, like me.
This photo (thanks Matty Be!) triggered a memory of being at the Heathcote Rodeo when I was 18. It’s a memory that I had forgotten about for years. For good reason.
I loved the rodeo. The smell of freshly oiled leather combined with the sweetness of carnival style jam donuts. It felt as comfortable as home.
A friend of mine was from a rodeo family. They were regulars to the rodeo scene, semi professional entrants in all the traditionally gendered events. The girls did the Barrel Racing, the boys did the Steer Wrestling (known as ‘Bulldogging’) and the Dad entered the Breakaway Roping (a lasso style event). There was something very cool about a bunch of Cowgirls and Cowboys, rolling up with their suite of stealthy horses, each one demanding the level of respect expected from an army sergeant from anyone who dared to ride them.
I loved horses and could ride well. Being of legal drinking age, let’s assume here, that I would have had a couple by now. A ‘few’ even. It was late afternoon and the sun was shining bright. The whole town was out for this annual event. The air was as dry as the Sahara and filled my nostrils with a soup of straw and feed at every breath.
I dug my left foot into the stirrup and heaved myself up, throwing my right leg over the back of the majestic beast that I’d chosen to climb. Comfortably I sat, wishing that I could be a part of the real show.
There is something surreal about being on top of an animal of such stature. I felt like royalty. I rode confidently up to the back of the show grounds, making sure I was away from the crowds and the action that was happening in the ring. It was like a scene from a movie. All we needed was some gun slingers and a saloon and we’d be in the wild west.
Caravans, motor homes and horse-floats lined the grass area. The distinct smell of freshly dropped horse shit, iced with armies of flies.
I plunged my body gently forward, like I was hanging onto a rocket about to take launch, and gave a gentle, but purposeful kick. Off we bolted. Towards the series of 44 gallon drums spaced out like pieces on a chess board, I raced. Tipping the horse on her side at each turn, galloping on to the next one like a motorbike race on legs. I could feel an audience starting to watch, so I gave the best amateur show that I could.
When I decided that I’d had enough, I pulled on the leather reins that were starting to blister my fingers from my grip. You don’t have to know much about horses, to know that in most circumstances, pulling on the reins is what stops a horse. In most circumstances. But not always. And not with this horse.
Instead of coming to the complete stop-sign stillness that I had expected, this horse slowed and slowed. It slowed some more, and then like a billy cart changing direction halfway up a hill, it started to move backwards. BACKWARDS.
The harder I pulled, the faster it went.
Surprised and confused about what was happening, I pulled harder. The harder I pulled, the faster it went.
The rodeo crowd caught on to my terror and yelled out with their attempts to rescue me. “RIDE WESTERN!!” They yelled. I had no idea what that meant.
I continued cruising along on my mare, going faster and faster in reverse. Past the popular outdoor show-ground bar, where my brother and his swarm of local mates raised their Bundy Rum cans in delight. ’Yewwww-eyyyyyyyyyewwwww!!!’ They shouted, like their AFL team had just kicked the winning goal.
I remember seeing my Dad’s face poking through the swarms of cowboy hats and flannelette shirts. He seemed a strange combination of proud and entertained. There was certainly no concern on his face. From the back of the crowd I could see him raising his right arm as high as he could, toasting me with his VB stubby. A parental solute to my looming shame. He grinned and yelled at the top of his voice, flooding out the hoards of laughter…… “RIDE WESTERN!!!”.
Dad taught me a lot of things about country life growing up. Not one of them was anything about ‘riding western’.
So with still no explanation I continued on, pulling harder and harder at the reins, desperate to end this community display of local hero-turned-victim.
On I went, past the mini motor bike rides, where parents and children looked on, grateful for the additional entertainment as they waited in line with their tokens. Past the tomato sauce smothered Dagwood dog stand, where their makers smiled and wiped the deep-fried oil and sweat combinations from their filthy brows. As I entered what seemed to be the all-leather market place, I felt a sense of warmth and comfort, as the endless rows of Akubras, belt buckles, leather chaps and flank straps seemed to envelop me, covering me up from the crowds like an echidna that had just returned to its tussock covered burrow.
I’m still not sure how I managed to stop that mare. Maybe I blanked out from complete embarrassment, or maybe I gave up and let go of the reins, removing any indication of desired direction for the horse to follow, but eventually it stopped and I dismounted.
I then had the harrowing task of walking the horse back to the top of the show grounds. Back through the path of hell from which I had just come. Like a Saber Arch at a Military wedding, the crowd seemed to part like the sea, cheering as I made my way back through the clearing.
THE WHOLE CROWD CHEERED!