Emerald rodeo celebrates 70 years
IT'S fast, record-breaking and tucked away on the outskirts of a small mining town.
It is the Emerald Rodeo Association arena at Emerald in the Central Highlands, and when it hosts the cowboys and cowgirls, it does so with flair and fierce competition.
Dubbed "the snake pit", this arena is one that has launched riders onto the national ranking table, cemented rough riders' reputations and secured rope and tie records. And it is a fundraiser for the community of Emerald and the surrounding towns that is celebrating its 70th year.
The arena is shorter than others and the fastest standing time here for breakaway roping is just shy of the national record.
President Shane Kenny - a man who has taken home "a few" jackpots from the arena in his time - said it was the Australian Professional Rodeo Association and Central Rodeo Cowboys Association that brought in the top names.
But it's also the quality of the arena itself.
"This arena here is a snake pit," he said.
"It's short, fast and lethal. The timed events here are highly competitive.
"The arena is shorter than others and the fastest standing time here for breakaway roping is just shy of the national record."
That national record is 1.9 seconds, which was set, and held, by Wendy Caban at the Gold Coast in 2007 as part of the 2006 APRA finals.
Caban shares the record with three other competitors.
Bull riders have managed to pull in high scores of 92 and 93 - virtually unheard of for smaller country arenas outside finals, Kenny said.
The Emerald rodeo got a bucking start back in 1944 as a way to raise funds for the struggling ambulance station.
That event made 902 pounds and there's a chapter in a book detailing the proud history of the first rough riders in the Emerald town library.
According to the passage, the funds secured the service for the township and its people, and locked in the rodeo as an annual event.
The tradition of raising funds has carried on, with the association's members - most of who have held their positions for the past 10 years - handing over $25,000 to local organisations.
The Comet State School was given $15,000, and $10,000 went to other organisations.
It was another hive of rough riding at the weekend for the annual Easter Rodeo, where more than 190 competitors paid their nominations and rode out.
Those numbers were probably down a bit on what previous years had pulled, including what used to be known as the biggest event for the Central Highlands - the AgGrow Field Days Rodeo.
When the decision was made to move the field days to mid-week, the rodeo suffered along with the town, which has yet to recover the high numbers of both competitors and spectators.
But regardless, the rodeo will carry on and has taken a step toward increasing its profile by taking it to the streets.
Every year the Central Highlands town celebrates its Sunflower Festival, which incorporates the colours, sights and sounds of the parade as it makes its way through the local streets.
About two years ago, Kenny and the committee bit the bullet and got involved - and have reaped the rewards.
This year's bull fighting clown in a blow-up suit throwing flyers and candy to the kids was a success, with a mass of crowds glued to the dusty arena.
"We've concentrated on the Easter rodeo this year and joined in on the Sunflower Festival parade," Kenny said.
"It's a great event for the community, which really gets behind it, and we're a part of the community so it all works."
He said the rodeo had not been left untouched by the drought and, two years earlier, the floods, but like the Emerald community, it had bounced back.