We take the advice of a couple we met at Burdekin Cane Farm and seek out the Great Western Hotel. It doesn’t look much from the outside and there is an enormous shed at the back. Stepping up to the bar we squeeze around a couple of old stockmen. You know the look, sturdy boots, well-worn denim jeans on bowed legs, a practical shirt and the obligatory aged Akubra hat. On the walls are the heads of prize bulls now forever at rest. The chatty young barmaid books us a table for next Wednesday night and insists that we go out the back and check out the ‘arena’. Yes, the shed out the back is a bull ring where young bull riders train every Wednesday and Friday night. Around the arena are the tables and on the menu is steak, of course.
Late afternoon we head into Rocky (Rockhampton to the uninitiated) and notice dark clouds building on the horizon. We stock up on the important things in life…more coffee, twine for my macrame efforts and a small stackable steamer for the van. I also manage a bit of speed shopping and buy a new pair of jeans and a jumper whilst Woody is in the loo. As we leave the shopping centre the heavens open and in the gloom of dusk we can barely see the highway and of course it is peak hour, bloody tropics!
We almost fall into the warm and dry Great Western Hotel then we realise that the rodeo arena is half open air and quite cold. It’s back to the car for warm things and that jumper that I bought only minutes ago.
There’s something different about this dining room and it’s not the plastic gingham table cloths and the gigantic beer hall feel. It’s the smell of cow manure. Was that a moo? There is a herd of bulls and steers and they’re looking at us. We can see through the open end of the arena that the rain is coming down in sheets. The place is filling and mostly with young local families, little tots in their cowboy hats and boots.
Twice weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays there is a Junior Bull Riding Practise. Once a month they have a full rodeo competition culminating in finals in November. This is a serious sport and one of the local boarding schools brings lads in by bus.
While the cattle pace around the arena we order our meals. Of course they take their steak seriously here and we order it by cut and locality. Woody chooses a magnificently seared steak from the Darling Downs and served with a potato and Parmesan gratin. Frankly I’ve never seen a better presented steak and it’s mouth wateringly delicious. In deference to the entertainers I choose a lamb shank on a bed of mash. Just the thing on a wintry Queensland night. And even though it is wintry the tables are full. Then the show starts.
The aim of this event is to encourage young lads into the sport and train them properly and in safety. They all wear protective vests and headgear. The littlest fellows are held securely and plucked from their small bulls before they can come to any harm. The older lads put on a tremendous show and can’t be far from joining the professional circuit. A couple of blokes from the audience give it a try and make a good fist of it before hitting the dirt.
What a great night’s entertainment, pub food of restaurant quality, the pub’s own Great Western lager and we learn a lot of respect for bull riders.
If you’re planning on visiting Rockhampton, check the Great Western Hotel website you may be lucky enough to catch a rodeo. Note: No photography is allowed when the young fellows are riding.