THERE was movement on the river banks, for the word had passed around
That the Carandotta mob was on its way.
And in amidst the wild bush horses galloped Swagman, Snap the Chain and Thunder Cloud,
Barkly Brute, Spinifex and Blondie - each worth a thousand pound.
So George Ah One and his family manoeuvred the mob to the fray,
For the tried and noted riders from the rodeos near and far
Had mustered at Spear Creek overnight,
As rodeo men love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
Had Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson seen the Carandotta horses stampede up the Leichhardt River he surely would have written of George Ah One.
A horse breaker and drover, his reputation was legendary throughout the outback, from Escott in the Gulf to Wave Hill at the top of the Tanami and Victoria River Downs and south to Barkley, Ardmore and Headingly Stations.
And in 1959 when word quickly passed around the bush telegraph that Mount Isa was planning to stage a rodeo, a search had begun for the roughest and meanest horses in the west.
Ted Maule of Headingly Station quickly said he had the best; a boast that he proudly wore on his shirt sleeves.
But boasting about his rankest horses was one thing, he then had to deliver and there was only one man whom Ted believed could handle the brumbies from free range running to rodeo buckers – George Ah One.
It was left entirely to George and his young family how they would catch, yard, spell and then walk the horses from Headingly Station’s outpost Carandotta to Spear Creek, a total distance of 215kms.
George’s son Frank said, “Several watering troughs got emptied to get the horses to go over to the other water and the bush yards.”
Once on the track, George lead the mob with two of his older children leaving his wife, Kathleen and the younger ones to ride the sides and back.
After each day’s walk, it was Kathleen’s job to ‘light the billy’ and get the tucker ready – corned beef, potatoes and onions with a freshly made damper.
The menu rarely altered other than for a spread of ‘cocky’s joy’ on the damper with a strong cuppa sweet black tea at daybreak.
And while the little ‘uns slept, the older ones would keep ‘nightwatch’ over the horses.
From Carandotta the horses would be walked through the scrub north east of the Dajarra Road through the southern reaches of Bushy Park to the Leichhardt River catchment.
From there George drove the mob along the river to Spear Creek on the northern side of Mount Isa.
It took nearly two weeks for the horses to reach their destination as George would only let the horses walk on average 20kms per day.
Over the salt bush plains, through spinifex country and around the rocky hills the Ah One family kept the mob reigned in an orderly fashion.
Then one year on the southern outskirts of the town, George made a calculated decision that made the town sit up and take note of the drover and his charges.
With stock whips cracking, manes flowing and nostrils snorting as sand swirled into whirly-whirlies from the pounding hooves, the 200 odd mob of wild horses thundered over the dry river bed quicker and louder than when the river would come up in a good wet season.
From the Twenty-third Avenue crossing to Alma Street crossing, George and his family’s horsemanship skills and dexterity in manoeuvring the mob was showcased for everyone to watch in awe.
His momentous decision to show off his droving flair and to let the brumbies have their heads up the Leichhardt gave George Ah One instant celebrity status to rival any John Wayne movie showing at the Star Picture Theatre.
It was always a sight to behold - providing you did not blink an eye – for the speed was everything.
And each year following when the stampede sent river sand into the air, the miners and residents knew the Carandotta horses were on their way to another Mount Isa Rodeo.
But once on the northern reaches of town, the Ah One Family brought the mob of horses to a slow cantor and then they walked the remaining distance to a property close to Spear Creek.
“I remember, The Old Man (George) dipped the horses on Spreadborough’s property before walking them over Spear Creek and into the backyards of the rodeo”, Frank recalled.
When asked if he rode on the first couple of walks, Frank laughed and said, “Yeah! But I was in ol’ George’s ball bags at that time!”
At 12-years-old, he too joined his droving family and moved the Carandotta horses to the rodeo grounds by then named, Kalkadoon Park.
“Jim Hovi would be waiting for us in the backyards and I remember Nat McNamara, Donny Cummins, Barry Harkins and Rex Whitehead would help us yard the horses,” he said.
So impressed was Ted Maule with the organisation of that first rodeo in 1959, the Mount Isa Centennial Rodeo, that he continued to allow the Rotary Club of Mount Isa to use his brumbies for future rodeos.
And five years later in 1963, he donated a 50 sq mile (129.5 sq kms) paddock at Carandotta Station to the rodeo committee ensuring that the Headingly brumbies would shine at Mount Isa Rodeo. Today, George’s son Frank proudly recalls his father saying, “The basis of a good rodeo is the stock”.
So when you hear hooves stampeding up the Leichhardt River and you smell sand dust in your nostrils as the Bedourie winds blow through town, know that rodeo time is nigh for the spirit of George Ah One, The Carandotta Drover, is sitting on high.
Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton www.kimmareeburton.com. Photographs courtesy of The Slim Dusty Movie 1983 and the North West Star newspaper. Information sought from Frank Ah One and the Cloncurry Advocate, Mt Isa Mail and the North West Star newspapers.