Having finished this blog I’ve realised it reads more like a travel brochure than a discussion on equestrian pursuits, either way, I hope you enjoy it.
Some time ago a friend asked me to judge their local agricultural show in Kununurra. Now there are many people in Australia who don’t know where Kununurra is as it’s a long, long way away from major population centres.
So one freezing cold Melbourne morning in early July I rugged up and went to the airport ready for my first journey into far North West Australia or the Kimberley as it’s known.
There’s nothing quite like a four-hour flight over Australia to make you realise just now huge is it! Watching the landscape change from farming land to desert …, three hours of desert, was amazing. We touched down in Broome to change flights to the news that it was 28 degrees (82F). Those of us who’d been enduring a cold, wet and windy Melbourne winter came pretty close to simply laying on the warm tarmac in the sun and being happy at this announcement!
Now I’m not really a heat lover, high twenties is about enough for me. I most certainly don’t ‘do’ humidity either so I was a little nervous about the proposed temperatures of 32 degrees (90F) in Kununurra. Remember this is also the middle of winter up there! I touched down in Kununurra a few hours later and to my delight there was no humidity at all – I could cope with this. My luggage was delivered to a shed on a trolley – just like how it used to be at my old home town of Launceston, I felt at home already!
My first impression was that everything is ‘big’. The sky seems bigger, the cars are big, to get around anywhere outside of town you really need a big 4WD vehicle, the fuel prices (they were staggering and I’ll never complain again!), the crops, the trees, the machinery etc etc. This is part of our country where properties aren’t measured in acres or hectares, they’re measured in square kilometres. The vastness of the land and the space around you is something I’d not experienced before.
My second impression was how incredibly beautiful it was. The colours, the shapes, the light, the wildlife. On that point for a moment…..WAY too much wildlife from the knee down. Snakes, frogs, toads, crocodiles. One friend remarked to me ‘for God’s sake Fi, come home before something bites you!’. I helped move some jump poles the day before the show. Picked up a couple of poles and underneath were lots and lots of cane toads. Someone wanders past and casually (!!) mentions ‘oh there are normally King Brown snakes under those’ Fi faints. Never have been good with reptiles, particularly those who could kill me!
The local show goes for two days and is exactly like the agricultural shows I remember when I was a kid. A pavilion full of local art, craft, photography and cooking with many locals entering to just support the show and some fabulous talent there too! Farm machinery, car dealerships, cows, chooks, horses. It was great! Many of the station families and workers travel in for the show bringing all manner of livestock with them. When I say travel in, they may travel 500km to compete.
This is harsh land, much harsher than the rest of Australia. Horse life expectancies are somewhat shorter to those living in milder areas of our country. Summers are very hard with temperatures in the high 40s (118F) not uncommon. There really are a few months of the year where you’re just not able to ride.
The horse showing was something else. In any one class I could be presented with high quality show horses presented as such to station horses lean and fit from their work presented in stock saddles to the local families’ horses able to turn their hooves to anything. My initial thought was ‘how am I ever going to judge this fairly’! It turned out to be surprisingly easy and the comaradarie amongst the competitors was refreshing to be around! Being from a small community many knew each other and there were genuine congratulations when someone won a ribbon.
The spread of ribbons was also very even across the different groups. The station folk were often up in the placings in rider classes as they rode with the softest, following hands I think I’ve ever seen. They let their horses travel forward without tension, something not always seen in the show ring. I must admit to developing a bit of a soft spot for the station horses during the show. They were hard and fit and SO athletic but also calm and willing and most of all just looked like they were having a great time in their work. There was a lovely buckskin mare who was for sale… I put my fingers in my ears, sang ‘lalalala’ and considered the frightening cost of transporting her to Melbourne!
The final class before games on the Saturday was the fancy dress. If I could have given everyone first place I would have. I haven’t seen so many people be so into fancy dress for a long time! Here’s my winner – I just loved it!
The last events offered were games, bending, apple bobbing, and the final event was a barrel race with a difference – horses vs motor bikes! I thought I had poll position in my little tent on the grounds to watch the games and settled myself in for some fun. After the first bending heat I revised my options on the grounds these people were really, really serious about their games. Flat. Out. I decided I should move further afield.
Kununurra is known for growing melons. Watermeltons, rockmelons, you name it. A feature event at the show is the ‘Melon Race’. This involved people scooping out a watermelon or two to use as ‘shoes’, picking up a smaller melon and walking as best you can across black plastic covered in detergent to deposit your smaller melon into a bin.
Hilarious. There was good prize money for the adults competition too! I almost entered and then figured with my coordination skills it would end badly for me and left it to the ‘experts’.
As soon as the serious business of showing was over people were very kind to me and keen to show me their local area. I was taken on a river cruise on a boat through the Upper Ord then to a beautiful spot on the Lower Ord for a Barbeque. Another person who worked as an Aboriginal Child Support Worker took me through Aboriginal communities and some other local areas. The Communities were very confronting but I’m so glad I went and saw and had a chance to talk to Jo about the issues facing both indigenous and white communities in this amazing part of the world. Of course I was also incredibly well looked after by my lovely friends as hosts.
I grew up in a smaller community but have lived in larger cities for the last 17 years or so. Going to Kununurra reminded me of home, a place with a strong sense of community, a place where everyone knows everyone (for better or worse!), and, best of all, a place where showing was FUN and people enjoyed themselves! I can’t believe I’ve not gone to this beautiful part of the world before and I can’t wait to head North again and explore further afield. I’m taking a better camera next time!