I couldn’t wait to reach Cloncurry, the area of my mother’s birth. Her father was managing Chatsworth Station at the time. The birth was registered at Friesland, a mining town which later changed its name to Kuridala due to sensibilities about Germans during the war. It is still on most maps although the mining town is long abandoned. We decided not to try to visit.
After a long drive through red anthill country, livened with occasional swathes of wattle and/or Brahman-type cattle, the approach to Cloncurry is marked by an unusual rock formation. The town is not as large as could be expected, being overshadowed by Mt. Isa. It has very wide streets, two supermarkets and a reasonable selection of other stores, although very outback orientated. There is a saddlers which has a huge collection of western-style clothing and leatherwork decorated with the bling so beloved of rodeo contestants.
Somehow we’d managed to time our visit not only for a period of rainfall but also the time of the annual Stockman’s Challenge. We were snug on a hard gravel surface in a camp, well sheltered and with some interesting new neighbours who invited us to share a pizza cooked in one of the camp’s BBQ ‘ovens’ in the rain.
We made full use of the camp’s showers and also washing machine, and were vastly entertained by a mob of apostle birds and other birds plus a couple of magpies who took a liking to our bumper bar and bull bar, kept nice and shiny by the rain. The gidyea (stinking wattle) did perfume the air a bit but we soon got used to it.
The stockmen were not so fortunate. The Equestriation Centre where the Challenge was held was simply a sea of red mud. The huge horse transporters and their recent occupants soon had everything churned up to a high degree, helped by pools of water everywhere. Poor horses! Most had to stand in mud up to their hocks. Lots of hay was put down and I saw several horses trying to have a roll in the hay, still wearing their blankets. Red mud, red mud ….. everyone had red mud half way up their legs. it was also amazingly cold, with a bitter wind sweeping the yard (we did not feel it nearly as badly at our camp). Yet the show went on.
I had not attended a stockman’s challenge before and had surmised it to be similar to a rodeo. There was a rodeo one evening but it was just ‘entertainment”. The serious business was almost an equestrian competition. First crack a whip, then walk, trot, canter …. and come to a screeching halt in front of the judges, several times. Then there was the Drafting (capital D) – each stockman in turn had to separate a chosen steer from a bunch of six in a small yard, then steer (sic) it in a figure of eight and then through a set of posts. Not everyone accomplished that. One particularly obstinate steer need three horsemen to separate it from the small mob.
We did not see nearly as much as I would have liked, mainly because it was just too cold standing in the wind and, sometimes, rain. Although together with our camping neighbours we did find bit of shelter behind the bar building, where the heater outlets were good for warming cold hands! But it was a wonderful event to witness and something to always remember about Cloncurry.