Clouds of dust rise from the ground as the group of cattle move restlessly around the yard. A voice over the loudspeaker announces the name of the next team and a group of people emerges from the crowd, ropes at the ready. One, wearing spurs, mounts a horse and begins circling the yard, searching for an unmarked beast to ‘brand’ with paint.
Welcome to Birdsville’s annual Bronco Branding competition. Teams compete to be the quickest to brand the required number of cattle using the traditional method of branding in the bush.
Before the invention of the calf cradle, stockmen were required to brand calves in the open. They held the mob together while a catcher, often the head stockman, rode into the group on his horse and roped an unbranded calf, pulling it to the bronco ramp. It would then be secured to the ground, branded and ear-clipped and released into the mob within a minute.
This process was used on most large stations until the late sixties. However, it all but disappeared until the mid-80s, when fore-thinking traditionalists launched a competitive form of the practice so the skills didn’t disappear. Today, events are held throughout the country with a number of variations designed to increase competitiveness, spectator entertainment and recognition of tradition.
In Birdsville, Bronco Branding is one of the years’ biggest and most anticipated events. This year, the weekend’s program also includes a day of Campdrafting, a similarly traditional and unique competition inspired by Australian bush skills of the past. A selection of events that demonstrate the competitors’ handling of cattle, campdrafting is a test of dexterity, riding and rope work that enthralls audiences.
However, when the sun falls below the horizon and floodlights illuminate the arena, it’s the coloured gates in the yard that attract the crowd’s attention. It’s rodeo time and the announcer is looking for entrants. With a number of events held over the course of the evening, the rodeo brings more of a western tang to the weekend.
With an arm in the air, cowboys and girls ride bucking bulls and bullocks while kids ride poddies, gleaming triumphant. The crowd watches on, leaning on the fence, cheering and filming.
Later, country music blares from the speakers and floodlights illuminate the clouds of dust rising from the open space of ground where people of all ages are dancing, can of XXXX in hand. Everyone is jubilant, tired and quite a few are nursing swelling bruises – the rodeo has just finished and now it’s time to celebrate.
This year’s Bronco Branding weekend is almost here and already we’re waiting with anticipation. Beginning with an auction on the evening of Friday 11th May, the Campdraft will be held on Saturday 12th May, followed by the rodeo that evening. Bronco branding will take place on Sunday 13th May.
With a total prize pool of over $17,000, as well as trophies and ribbons, it’s sure to be a weekend of exhilarating competition and an educational look into the history of Australian agriculture.
Let us know if you would like more information about the events or if you are interested in sponsoring the weekend.
Don’t forget that voting is still open for the Best Australian Blogs Competition that we’re nominated for. Help us get Birdsville on the map!