Banjo Paterson’s famous poem, The Man From Snowy River, which tells the tale of a daring young Australian stockman whose horsemanship exploits were legendary, was first published nearly 130 years ago.
What many of us non-Aussie folks didn’t know was that the man who inspired this epic poem was real. His name was Jack Riley, and he came from a little place called Corryong, Victoria, close to the border of New South Wales.
A hundred years after the poem was first published, the folks of Corryong held their first Man From Snowy River Bush Festival (MFSR). This event might have remained a minor local competition if not for a movie of the same name which one year later, saw major international success. Suddenly, the whole world knew about Aussie stockmen, and they wanted to see them in action.
There are many events at the Bush Festival similar to what we see here in Canada, events such as a Trainer’s Challenge, parades, singing Idol competitions, a trade show, rodeo, poetry, local musicians and the like. What makes it so unique is the pure Aussie-ness of the festival. Just to mention a few, there’s the Bushman’s Whipcrack Competition and Working Cattle Dog Championships. However, there is no doubt that The Man from Snowy River (MFSR) Challenge is the showcase event of the festival. When it comes to the test of good, all-round horsemanship, the MFSR Challenge is second to none.
I have been contemplating writing about this festival for a while now, and in a twist that surprised no one (I’m always saying everything in the West is connected), last year I met Scott Bandy in a busy branding pen in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan.
Who is Scott Bandy, you ask? Scott is the winningest competitor of all time in the MFSR Challenge. He is a household name; a five-time record-smashing champion (1996, 2000, ’11, ’13 and ’14) and Scott, his family and extended family were over here visiting even more family.
Scott is the manager of a cattle station (ranch) near Corryong, Victoria and in a typical “busman’s holiday” (a holiday in which you spend most of your time doing the same or something similar to your normal work), they all jumped in to help with the branding, proving that every Bandy is handy. Later I caught up with Scott and quizzed him about the multi-event, multi-day Challenge.
“At the beginning it was local ranches competing and it wasn’t very big, but every year it got better and better,” says Bandy. “Adding $10,000 prize money helped too. You do the competition on the same horse and the same saddle.”
What festival-goers see is outstanding horsemanship as each event ties back to Paterson’s exciting poem. For example, the rider shows off their stock skills in Snowy River Stock Handling when three head of cattle are drafted (sorted off ) and calmly moved through a course. “We do that all day at home, so it was no problem,” says Bandy.
In Harrison’s Packhorse race, riders evenly pack their competition horse, lead it through a course, then unpack and unsaddle. “When they first started,” says Bandy, “you had two blocks of salt and two bags of oats and you had to get your weights right. But now they load you up with fencing gear, dingo traps, shoeing gear — that sort of stuff.”
For Clancy’s Whip Crack, mounted riders do 30 seconds of freestyle whip cracking. Then at a high lope, competitors attempt to cut targets on a course. And yes, Aussie’s move stock with whips. “All the time,” says Bandy. “I always pack a whip.” There is also a bareback course riding competition, horseshoeing and cross-country riding, covering 20 jumps on a 2-km course.
For Paterson’s Brumby Catch, finalists — from horseback — halter a brumby (wild horse) within three minutes. “Ride close and drop the halter on it, that’s it,” understates Bandy. Competitors then must work with the horse, patting it down, etc. “I was lucky, I had a good horse (Knights Top That) — a stallion who’d stay with them and circle them because you’re not going to dally — there’s nothing to dally to.”
The Stocksaddle Buckjump was Scott’s favourite event — not surprising for a man who spent years in Canada on the rodeo trail. In their stock saddle, riders ride a bronc for eight seconds. Oh, and did I mention this? “You also have to crack the whip at least two or three times while they’re bucking,” says Bandy.
Bandy was enthusiastic about the festival as well as his homeland. “It’s a nice part of the world and the festival is a lot of fun,” he says. “You are all welcome.”
The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival goes Apr 4–7, 2019. Visit bushfestival.com.au