“The bulls teach you a lesson”

rodeo kids

Medical staff stand by. Riders are tossed into the air by infuriated beasts with names like Hellraiser. Bones may be broken, brain fluid even leaked. But for those competing in the inaugural Indigenous Rodeo Championships, the threat of injury’s only part of a much bigger story.


We’re behind the bucking chutes at the Mount Isa Mines Rodeo, and as the sun sets over a rocky copper ridgeline in this industrial outpost of remote Queensland, the announcers ramp up their enthusiasm. “On the famous red dirt of Buchanan Park, we’re about to go to battle!” they cry. “Jason Craigie! From the Pitta Pitta mob! Is up next!”

I’ve been studying Craigie, a 33-year-old Indigenous man from Darwin, as he readies himself. He’s about to get on a bronc, an untamed horse annoyed to be there. I don’t blame him; the bronc, that is. The huffing beast has been fed here through a mechanical funnel of pens and gates that ends with a slender cage, opening onto a vast arena. He’s basically a bullet in a chamber.

Craigie doesn’t look happy, either. He twists his torso and breathes deeply, sucking in tension and blowing out nerves. Then he sits above the animal, tugging furiously at his rope to make sure it’s tight, looking like he’s trying to start a chainsaw. “Jason Craigie!” cries the caller. “Workin’ his hand into the snug-fittin’ bareback riggin’!”

Craigie is a fencing contractor – a man who spends his days ramming steel posts into the desert and twisting barbed wire with pliers – but he’s also been riding in rodeos since he was 13, growing up in Borroloola in the Northern Territory, about 50 kilometres inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria. “You keep a vision in your head of what it’s gonna look like and what it’s gonna feel like. Muscle memory,” he says, smiling. “If it’s a big atmosphere, it gets your nerves going, pumps you up a bit. Nothing like having 3000 eyes on you. It’s game on. The good stuff.”

Click here for the full story from Good Weekend on Saturday, September 17, 2022.

Photography by Josh Robenstone.