Sunday, February 25, 2007

A day at the Gold Buckle

Now let me assure you, this would be a much better adventure story if I had remembered the camera - I promise, next time I go off to the bush for a real country experience, I shall.

As mentioned previously , my family has a long history with Campdrafting (and indeed, the Monto Gold Buckle has had my family's involvement since its inception) - and with the combined wants of seeing my immediate family (especially as it is last chance before my father goes in for re-kneeing next week); my daughter seeing lots of horses in one place and total immersion in a foreign culture that is my own, we decided we would do a day trip on Saturday.

It was originally intended that my beloved come along for a bit of a dip into my background - but due to many many drips from the sky in the last month, he has had to make use of blue sky opportunities and didn't make the long trip South this weekend, so it was just us girls.

We got on the road quite early and had quite a good trip across. If I ever get the opportunity to take a trip slowly, though, the Gin Gin-Mt Perry Road is one I wish to do - with a camera or a canvas - absolutely gorgeous, especially after a little rain. But as with the trip, I will have to rush the description - and I promise to take you along it one day.

When we arrived at Mum & Dad's, we got some sad news*, so we talked that through, refreshed (after a 3 hour drive - country roads = more than 1 hour allowed for 100km!) and headed downtown first.

Its funny when you come from a region but not really the local town - there are many faces you know from your youth but also many you have no idea about - and vica versa. I went into the local outfitters, where I have known the staff and owners since childhood - but yesterday it was only after I made the purchase I actually found someone I was not a stranger to.

You may think it strange to go to a small country town to get shoes, but my daughter had outgrown all her footwear last week (does that ever happen to you?) AND there are not many places you can get the value that you can there. Heilbronns even fill mail order from as far afield as WA!! (Got a plug in!)

We then went to the showgrounds - Welcome to Hat Town. My daughter was so excited - she kept recognizing people from a distance and I had to explain to her that that is the problem - you recognise the hats, but the people beneath are generally not who you expect - its best to try and take note of the shirt instead!!

The apparel is hat, shirt (and it doesn't matter whether you go plain, stripe, check or lair - so long as you wear it with a certain flair), jeans, boots and, if your status calls for it - a buckle. Before we get to the buckle, a note about the jeans - there are some fairly stylish pairs walking around, but the key to a good pair of jeans is the ability to be comfortable for the whole day AND the ability to hitch enough to get on a horse. Oh, and you have to earn your buckle - just make sure your pride doesn't get so big that it injures you!!

So many of the competitors travel with full teams and do a circuit these days - when my father was a boy, his own dad was accused of being "professional" (a very heinous crime in those days) as he took his string of 4 horses to the local campdrafts as he wandered Western Queensland looking for a property to buy. Today, there are strings of up to 14 horses and fullly equipped caravans so that the showgrounds was also a small town - and yes, as my daughter said, there was a pervasive odour of horse manure!!!

The first round I saw was Ben Hall, the renowned Northern Territory rider, and there were many from far afield as well as locals. A "local" (by virtue of marrying one of ours) pipped Ben in the final of the Open. I also got to see that girl (who I have known since I was a toddler) win the Ladies Draft (and another girl who I remember being born came second - all with different last names from my youth) - a very contentious event these days, as no longer are the Maiden, Novice and Open Drafts male only affairs.

The cattle put up a very good challenge. There is a "camp" of about 8 steers, where the rider has to "cut out" one (marks out of 26) and then the gates are opened and the aim is to take the beast clockwise around the first "peg" (a branch or sapling out and to the right in the arena - 1 point); anti-clockwise around the second (2 points) and through the "gate" (1 point) before the "bell" (1 minute from when you leave the camp). The judge will crack the whip for a variety of misdemeanours - turning tail in the camp, losing control of the beast, splitting a peg - but if you are not cracked off, will award "horsemanship" marks out of 60 - usually fairly stiffly. I still remember in my youth actually seeing a round of 94 - and it was a very exceptional round!

At the showgrounds in front of the pavillion is a sandpit under a few shady trees, so my time was alternated between watching many children playing and the drafting. My daughter was in her element - many younger cousins and their neighbours to corral into playing wild horses with her!!

The evening's entertainment was just getting under way when we polished off our dinners - several pigs were cooked on a spit, and served with buttered bread, corn, jacket potatoes, carrots, peas, apple sauce and gravy. I am not sure how that much set Mum back (she bought the meals), but I went and got 5 coffees and a slice of carrot cake after for $6 - and that slice of cake was enough for all of us!!!

I left at 8pm and did not see another car on the roads for the next 150km - despite part of that being on a hightway and through 2 towns - and got home in reasonable time for a phone call to my honey and zonk in bed by 11.

* Sad news: My sister's beloved Cosmo had died during the night. Cosmo (named for Kramer in Seinfeld) was their "firstborn" and a more adorable Great Dane could never be found. He was a puppy when my daughter was a baby and both were bundles of enthusiasm. The fact that he irreversibly catastrophised my sister's knee 6 years ago and has been forgiven for that breach of etiquette (and inability to negotiate changes in direction) is proof that this dog was very, very special and will be sorely missed and always have a place in many hearts. We all loved you, Cossie.