History column

Camped at the park: Kalkadoon Park  and the 'First Rodeo' circa August 1959. Photo: Supplied.
Camped at the park: Kalkadoon Park and the 'First Rodeo' circa August 1959. Photo: Supplied.
A tonne of fun: A rider slides down the Lions Slipper Dip. Photo: Supplied

A tonne of fun: A rider slides down the Lions Slipper Dip. Photo: Supplied

Annie Oakley had nothing on the little girl with her hair brushed into pigtails, wearing a little red and white checked cowgirl outfit with an holster and not one but two guns as she stood her ground from the big men.

She was Daddy’s girl and if her Daddy said she had to wash the glasses then wash the glasses she did.

History in the pages: The official programme from the rodeo of 1959. Photo: Supplied

History in the pages: The official programme from the rodeo of 1959. Photo: Supplied

The beer glasses had to be washed (without being broken) in three cut down 44 gallon drums.

First the beer residue had to be rinsed out of the glasses, then a second wash without detergent (that would make the next beer flat!) and finally a third rinse before the glasses would be placed on a tray for the big men – the cowboys.

“Be careful with that glass”, he would say, “don’t hit the drum - you’ll cut your fingers.”

Fresh blood in the water did not go well with beer.

It was an important job for a little girl; the big cowboys were thirsty after trying to sit on the horses and bulls and she knew it was her job to keep giving them clean beer glasses for another beer.

This was her first rodeo – the 1959 Mount Isa Centenary Rodeo.

A couple of years later, her Daddy suggested a hot chip stall at the rodeo which was thought by one and all as a great idea, so long as he took charge of peeling the spuds.

And once again she did as she was told and peeled her way through those ‘too heavy’ hessian sacks of spuds into the triple concrete tubs in the family’s wash house.

One potato, two potatoes, and more and more and more …… there was no end to the potato sacks or the potatoes inside.

Once peeled they were stored in 44 gallon drums of water and transported to the Spear Creek rodeo grounds ready to be cut into chips and cooked for the cowboys.

She knew her hard work was worth it when the cowboys and the station ringers would say … they’re the best bloody chips around.

Then her big, big brother and his friends at the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) asked some of the local beauties to enter their Rodeo Queen Quest.

With this new development, out went the Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit and she started wearing cardboard crowns around the house for she too dreamed of being a rodeo queen when she was bigger.

By the time another big brother joined the newly formed Lions Club which built the 80 foot slippery slide she had lost interest in being a queen as the fun of sliding … all the way to the bottom … was a much more instantaneous thrill.

To squeals of delight and anticipation, the bag would be placed on the high lip of the slippery dip, as she sat on the bag and ‘whee!’, before she knew it, she and the hessian bag would be slip sliding all the way down, up and over the dips to the sand bank at the bottom.

From there it was only up, growing up, which included having photos of her favourite cowboys on her bedroom walls.

Mind you it helped that a regular group of cowboys with names like McCarthy, Kong, Raine, and Gough to name a few would turn up a month before the local rodeo and work for her Daddy, so she got to know and have girlish crushes on several of them.

She had a good sideline going before her Daddy found out – she took and sold photos, of the cowboys, to her friends so they too could have a photo of their favourite rough rider on their walls.

And just like her friends, each year she tried to emulate the fashion of the real cowgirls from the year before.

Then rodeo fashion took a major right turn with flower power and the hip bohemian cowgirl sauntered onto the scene with white lace-up boots, mini imitation leather skirts, long fringed vests, and straw cowboy hats.

But that style soon went west with the dust, when she became hooked on Glen Campbell, when he topped the charts with Rhinestone Cowboy.

This was her excuse to lift her fashion sense to include rhinestones in her clothing and polish off her Thomas Cooke boots; such was the fashionable life of a cowgirl in the making.

The rodeo crown was not to be and then with apologies all round, it was.

From a humble beginning washing beer glasses, she went on to introduce professional sponsorship into Mount Isa Rodeo.

Life was never dull around rodeo time, the atmosphere was electric in the streets for two weeks before rodeo when you saw Mexican cowboys and Eskimo ones too, striding it out with rodeo royalty – riders whose names everyone knew, riders who came to town and put on the show of the year – rodeo.

As the years have progressed, the little Annie Oakley to be, never was.

She soon learned that to be a true cowgirl she had to learn to ride a horse, preferably one that she could barrel race, but that was out of the equation for the front bit, the back kicked and the middle was too far off the ground for her.

But come August each year, horseless, she would became Debra Winger’s protégé dancing up a boot scooting shuffle with a John Travolta impersonator and dancing in the streets, as a true blue Aussie cowgirl in the Hollywood style of Urban Cowboy.

Had it not been for Queensland celebrating its centenary in 1959, Mount Isa may never have had a rodeo, one that has given so many memories to thousands of people; an event that has raised in excess of $1 million for charity and for that little Annie Oakley of the day – a lifetime dislike of beer.

Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton 


Photographs supplied by Ron Pertov, Mt Isa Mail

Information sourced from MIMAG, Mt Isa Mail and The North West Star.