When you have cattle in your blood


The Harts Range Races is where townies mix with bushies, once a year, as they’ve done for 68 years: In fact today’s Picnic Day holiday has its roots in an impromptu horse race there between pastoralists Kil, Quinton and Bennett Webb on Mount Riddock station and the local copper at the time, Bob Darken.
Today the horse racing has been overshadowed by campdrafting which, says Sarah Cook from Aileron Station, is developing into a national sport with events in the outback that have hundreds of entries and run for several days.
It’s a spectacular event of skill for riders and horses. Starting in a yard they separate out a beast from a mob of weaners, call for the gate to be opened, and then “run” the cow or bullock around a figure eight course and through a gate. Time and style determine the winner.
p2262-Harts-rodeo-5Competitors are as young as six – there is no age limit at the top. Harts Range became the focal point for the sport when two years ago, a difference of opinion developed with the Alice Springs Show Society, till then a major venue for the sport, over a smoking ban. The bushies pulled campdrafting as well as the rodeo from the Alice show.
“We carted 800 head into Alice Springs,” says veteran pastoralist Dick Cadzow. “You don’t cart 800 head there and back for nothing. We’ve got 800 head here. You can only use them once. They’re allowed to run out there only once. Then they’ve got to go home and back into the paddock.”
A brand-new campdrafting arena was built at Harts Range, by the Red Centre Campdraft and Rodeo Association, and station people including the Cadzow family from nearby Mount Riddock. The distance the competition’s cattle need to be transported is now much shorter – and no-one is losing any sleep if a spectator lights up.
The commentary over the loudspeaker sounds like a Who’s Who of the mostly family-based cattle industry in The Centre: Fogarty, Cadzow, Cook, Turner, McCarthy.
Horse racing is now more of a nostalgic exercise than a deadly serious business: The first race was delayed for an hour because of entries being late and one jockey having difficulty finding stirrups. The field of four was reduced to three when one horse – having come all the way from the Borroloola region – fell over while being walked to the start. All part of the fun.
Teenager Alice Bird from Indiana Station rode two winners, including the Webb Darken Challenge in which mounted police took part to commemorate their role in the birth of the event nearly seven decades ago.
Some townies are stalwarts of the fixture. Fuel dealer Peter Mostran is a patron. The link with the police is maintained by Mark Coffey’s presidency, and former top cop in The Alice, Sean Parnell, doing his annual stint as the race caller.
About 550 vehicles had been through the gate by noon yesterday, making for a crowd of about 1500.
The hugely popular rodeo, too, is mostly Made in The Centre: Horses and bulls are from local stations, and so are the pickup men. The riders are mostly from interstate.
p2262-Harts-campdraft-6Camping is strictly al fresco, with the style of accommodation distinguishing more recent arrivals in The Centre (in tents) from the seasoned locals (in swags).
PICTURE: Tom Ford in the campdraft.
Eight “long drop” dunnies – some of them brand new – took care of some bodily functions, the rest was DIY, cooking on small campfires that dotted the flats around the picturesque rocky hills, illuminated by a full moon, the perfect setting for yarning.
Ms Cook and her husband Craig are based at Aileron Station. She was one of a dozen volunteers who helped out at the Harts Range campdraft.
She is an unabashed enthusiast of the sport: “There is so much skill involved in it. It’s what people who love the land can do to demonstrate their skills and abilities.
“If I didn’t believe in that 100 per cent I wouldn’t participate in days like this. The campdrafting sport is part of our community, and it adds to the threads and fibre in a child’s soul. I hope they will keep drawing on those threads and fibre as they grow older.
“This runs in our blood. Can we let go of the fact that we should run cows on our country? I just don’t know if we can.”
The cattle industry “has never been any better,” says Dick Cadzow whose family has owned Mount Riddock since 1986. He is the winner of the 2004 Rural Press Landcare Primary Producer Award at the NT Landcare Awards.
“When have we ever seen a good season, high prices and plenty of cattle to sell? Once in a lifetime to get the three together,” Mr Cadzow says. “It’s the first time I’ve even seen it.”
We’re looking at a weaner being chased around the pegs by a campdraft competitor. That small beast is worth $1000. “It’s only two or three years ago that you were getting only $600.”
SARAH COOK: A good season is a regional perspective. Across the border, the Longreach region is having an absolutely terrible time. They are in the grip of a drought like they have never seen before.
Is there any call for diversification?
CADZOW: Well, I don’t know what it would be in this country. What can you do?
NEWS: Tourism?
p2261-Harts-Dick-CadzowCADZOW (at left): Sure, yeah. But not everybody is set up for tourism, nor do they have the temperament for tourism. But some people will, of course. And good on them!
COOK: My personal view is, we should ensure our business is sustainable under any circumstances. That is a reason to diversify. Tourism comes to mind, but there are ways to diversify in what we do and how we do it. We need to manage cattle to suit different markets. In the north producers are having a hard time because of their reliance on the Indonesian live cattle market.
NEWS: What are the options?
COOK: Some producers have achieved organic status, some are looking at it, for example.
NEWS: What are China’s expectations?
COOK: I’m quite sure that China has a strong demand for clean, pure, unadulterated, organic, grass-fed beef.
NEWS: That’s what we’ve got, isn’t it?
COOK: That’s right. We have a low dependency on drenches, chemicals, medicines and vaccinations to manage our cattle. We’re well positioned to achieve organic status.
NEWS: Climate change and cattle. They fart and do all kinds of things to the environment. What’s brewing there, on the regulatory scene?
CADZOW: I won’t get into an argument about it.
NEWS: Do you expect restrictions?
CADZOW: They don’t work. They might make you reduce your stock numbers. Then you get a bumper season and you get burned out. You can’t buy a mob of cattle and take the top of [the grass], lower the fire hazard, because that would be against the law.
NEWS: What do you think about the carbon sink experiment at Henbury Station of the former Federal Labor government?
CADZOW: It was a pastoral lease. The NT Government would never change that. So it couldn’t work. They couldn’t get a change to a special purpose lease. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. It’s only scrub. You’d have one fire and it would no longer be there. Dead. It’s another 50 years before it’s going to grow back. Nothing seemed right from day one. Some farmers around Australia are getting paid. If you’re in forest country where you’ve got trees. But what could you do here? Looks great now, but if you get a fire through …
NEWS: Is the NT Government doing a good job regulating the pastoral industry?
CADZOW: They’ve not allowed stations to be cut up too small, [which would mean] people have to overstock to make a living. And that’s a good thing. And they don’t give you any trouble.
NEWS: You’ve done lots of work improving the pasture.
CADZOW: We’ve been here since 1963 and we’ve had one bad year, and that was last year. We were in Tennant Creek for 25 years but they’ve got higher rainfall, 15 inch average.
NEWS: So the quality of the country has not diminished?
CADZOW: Have a look! With the buffel grass, if you get three inches in the summertime you get feed that high. [He indicates 30 centimeters with his hands.]
NEWS: Where do you shop? Do you go online?
CADZOW: No. 100 per cent Alice Springs. Don’t buy anything out of town at all. Too awkward to use the internet.p2262-Harts-Sarah-3
COOK (at right): As long as you are remote and have WiFi you’re going to shop online. It doesn’t matter how great the services are in town. Young people, Jackaroos, Jillaroos, bore men, usually a young cohort, they are very comfortable with online shopping.
NEWS: The kids have access to the internet and the School of the Air is using it.
CADZOW: They see their teacher every day now. Fabulous. They’ve got it made, in comparison [with when he and his wife brought up their two children, when communication was audio only, via the Flying Doctor Service, and only one pupil at a time could communicate with the teacher].
COOK: We have got the School of the Air tools but we also have a curriculum that’s very advanced, which depends on the tools, but they are not reliable enough. There are many days where our child cannot access the internet reliably enough to download a lesson or a whiteboard view. It’s like a school room in town where some of the students are blindfolded. It’s the same with an unreliable internet. Yet the curriculum depends on the internet for visibility and interaction. The internet needs to be made reliable.
NEWS: NBN is not going to get here in a hurry.
COOK: The best we can ask is for the Federal Government to improve this. The satellite is overcrowded. We need more satellites. And when we put them up we need to allocate part of that service to the children in the bush who participate in online lessons.
p2262-Harts-campdraft-2NEWS: What do you think your grandchildren will do when they grow up?
PICTURE: Claudia Hunter in the campdraft.
CADZOW: You wouldn’t know today, would you. There are many opportunities. They can go and do all sorts of things. They don’t just all have to be ringers.
NEWS: Are they likely to stay on the land?
CADZOW: Well, Steve has three daughters and our grandson has helicopters in town. Flying Chinese around this week. My daughter has one son. Maybe one of the girls will marry a good sort of a ringer. The three girls are very capable. They’re all horse mad, the three of them. Not James so much, he’s interested in helicopters.
NEWS: Would you change your lifestyle?
CADZOW: It suits me as it is. I mean, I’m 85. Don’t have much to worry about.
NEWS: You don’t look a day over 60.
CADZOW: You’re not allowed to. You’ve got to work around here.
NEWS: What are your thoughts about race relationships in the bush?
COOK: So much of this land was opened up, was worked and has progressed through the guidance, support and participation of Aboriginal people. That relationship broke down 40 years ago, and that ruined everything, family and community relationships and structures.
NEWS: 40 year ago was the beginning of landrights.
COOK: Absolutely. They were asking for equity and I am asking why not. The world hadn’t caught up. White people just weren’t there yet. I’m not saying people have to give over land or change obligations but it would be great if pastoralists and landholders could find a way to offer a way forward in trying to re-develop these skill bases that helped us to open up this country. It starts with training programs but it must go deeper than that. We must get relationships going. [Why don’t we say to them] I just want to say thank you, for being on the back of a horse droving cattle, for months on end. When white people who were lost and in dire need of food and water, you showed them where watering places were. We want to thank you for that.
NEWS: That could be the recognition in the constitution.

Party time: Tie required (above), tie not required (below).


Coming first in a two horse race.


Rodeo was a hit.

NOTE from LIZ BIRD, Treasurer, Harts Range Amateur Race Club (HRARC)
The Harts Range Amateur Race Club has been holding horse races for 68 years, along with Sunday family sports events and the Saturday night dance. These have not changed in this time. The cow tail toss and the lizard Race were always part of this weekend also.
About 13 years ago rodeo events were introduced to keep the weekend alive as fewer properties were using horses. The second dance and talent quest on the Sunday night were also introduced to keep the weekend fairly packed.
Two years ago the Red Centre Campdraft and Rodeo Association approached the HRARC about holding a campdraft on the HR grounds and this year the Harts Range Campdraft was part of a triple crown, which increased the nominations. One would imagine that this will be the case for future years also.
The HRARC does not see that the campdraft has overshadowed the races but more been an add on for the weekend’s events. If anything the rodeo has overshadowed the races, for the last 13 years, but the campdraft has brought more ‘horsey’ people to our weekend, so we hope that the races will grow with more interest from the Barkly region where horses are used more and where the majority of campdrafters are from.


  1. Hi Erwin, ironic to see your article on the races up so soon after I had just returned.
    I was going to say a few words on the event, but you covered it so well.
    I’ll post some pics to the Facebook site to go with this. I would like to add to your story with some observations of my second weekend out there.
    I mentioned to a mate that if anybody asks you what living in the NT really means to me, all I would have to say is go out to the next event and you will see.
    I looked at the clouds of dust as the triple cattle trucks come rolling in, and realise how tough this country life is, and yet there are a group of people out there, just on the outskirts of town, who work for sunup till sundown, and are the continuing lineage to the people who opened up this country.
    Watching the fence building comp, I was struck by the sight an Aboriginal ringer, in the the Akubra, RM Williams shirt, jeans, boots and spurs. A big strong lad, in his element, and you could imagine the pride his descendants (who also rode horses, worked cattle and lived in the country they were born to) would have in him.
    And there were so many, just like that. The kids too, with all the western clothing, hanging out the back and cracking their whips with ease and style, and you can see the future of the skilled Aboriginal ringer and station worker is in good hands.
    Up in the stands we were entertained by a group of hirsute lads singing what first sounded like Irish backpackers chanting at the soccer. Unfortunately just a group of likely lads from Melbourne, with one obviously brave enough to ride a bull, ending with a moon salute to the crowd near his mates.
    I gave the dance a miss after my messy performance last year, but you’ve gotta take your hat off to Local DJ Darren Rumble, who is at all the the great events. He never fails to get the crowd on the dance floor.
    One of the biggest impressions was remembering I was not on a movie set. One of the riders in the ring could have easily been a young Tom Cruise.
    In fact most of these station workers, ringers, cowboys, station owners just looked … well how do you describe it? The way the looked, dressed, talked, walked. I seem to have forgotten how much respect I have for these salt of the earth people. Text book Dinki Di Aussies.
    How proud must these parents be when their 13 or 14 year old gets on a brumby and has to crack a whip while holding on for an eternity of eight seconds?
    In a world where we are faced with schools banning cartwheels in the playground, these young boys are climbing on over half a tone of pure muscle, and then the get on a big cheeky bull!
    Boys become men out here, fast.
    Finally the wives and girlfriends of these guys. You can have your Kardashians, supermodels or Bondi beach babes, these ladies were simply stunning in their raw and natural, beauty. Obviously not as stunning as my wife, it seems I was standing in an RB Sellars catalogue.
    New jeans with press stud jewellery, pristine shirts, teeth so white they dazzled, and skin like China dolls.
    I can’t remember so much beauty in close proximity in a long time. And they were so friendly.
    All in all, what a great weekend. Thanks to the folly ambos, bush firies, the coffee man, the country coppers and the Harts Range Race committee, thanks for allowing my son to experience some of his own heriatige, and the people who make our country what it is.

  2. Had great memories activated reading your article.
    1973 was my first race meeting and the five horses were stuffed racing each other all weekend.
    The band flown from Adelaide up – couldn’t believe where they had ended up.
    Still remember the bindis. Was a great time.


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