Ekka legend and an outstanding horseman: Don Ross

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT: Legendary horseman Don Ross.
THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT: Legendary horseman Don Ross. Contributed

G'DAY readers. Don Ross has been a tremendous positive influence throughout my life. Long before I ever met him, my earliest memories of Don are from the first time I saw the roman chariot racing and the roman riding at the Ekka.

What a marvellous spectacle it was, especially for a wide-eyed, horse-mad kid like me. I knew right then where I had to set my sights.

Even though the announcer told the crowd "don't try this at home" I hooked two ponies together the next day and gave that roman riding a try.

It all started at Brisbane Show for Don in 1958 when he was just 24. With his younger brother Jimmy and Archie Sudgen, they thrilled crowds with chariot racing. It was a real drawcard event and a regular feature of the Ekka for decades.

In those days the centre ring program was known as a Bushman's Carnival and the public was hungry for Don's brand of entertainment. In 1959, Don, Jimmy and John Bozier dazzled them with the daredevil act of roman riding.

The men who were instrumental in running the centre ring program at that time were Frank Robertson (president), Bill Edwards, Bill Kaye and Bill Kinghorn (head redcoat).

They knew that no matter what, they could rely on Don and his team to provide any and all forms of equine entertainment.

The broad range of ceremonies and displays and competitions that Don has been involved in have included The Cavalcade of Transport, The Blessing of the Plough, an integral part of the official opening ceremony, supplying buckjumpers, German wagon racing, chuck wagon racing and the list goes on.

People's Day was often a busy and diverse day for Don, only out of the ring long enough to change horses and vehicles and costumes and on many occasions Don was entrusted with the safety of state premiers, governors and governors-general.

On any given day at the Ekka, if you happened to see someone dressed in coachman's attire or typical Australian stockman's clothes or those of a redcoat or the costume of a roman charioteer, that was probably Don or one of his team of performers.

The team consisted of a long list of highly competent and dedicated horsemen who needed to be, in many cases, just as versatile as Don himself, all of whom have for most of their lives, as Don has, organised their annual calendar of events around the Ekka.

Should any of you ever have the opportunity to sit with Don and discuss his treasured involvement with the Ekka, the first thing you will notice is his reluctance to boast about himself.

In fact, he will always begin with the word "we", and by "we" he means all of the great family members, close friends and acquaintances that have been so loyal to the cause for so many years.

If you already know Don then you probably realise, as I do, that he has always been a tremendous ambassador for the RNA and Ekka advocate.

Now I want to tell you who those people are who performed with Don for so many Ekkas in various roles that included roman riding, racing chariots, picking up, coach driving, wagon racing, outriders, postilion riders, redcoats, consoles, shotgun riders, troopers, bushrangers, Cobb & Co passengers and more.

I'll start at the beginning and bring you up to the present day and do my best to remember all of them.

They are Archie Sudgen, Ronny Corvi, Jimmy Ross, John Bozier, Dexter Mclean, Alan Storie, Mervyn Ross, Don Bourke, Trevor Ross, Don Cross, Tony Turpin, Robert Brum, Dave Pitstock, Doug Heiner, Don Ross Jnr, Bob Henderson, Ron Roman, Graeme O'Keefe, Geoff Elliott, Donald Ross (that's Don 3rd), Nathan Hansen, Warren Bruntflet, Doug Conway and Bradley Ryan. Well, I got' em a little out of order and I know I missed somebody. For that I apologise but that is the extent of my memory.

In 1976 the RNA. celebrated its 100th show and the centre ring night program was an extra special event, the feature nightly act being The Robbery of Cobb & Co.

As the announcer narrated the story of Cobb & Co and its role in carrying the mail and passengers, Don drove five in hand sedately around the ring, with his trusty guard Bob Henderson carrying a real 12 gauge shotgun beside him. When narration got to the part where "bushrangers were a constant threat", six wild riding felons burst onto the track firing real .45 colt revolvers and Don let 'em go flat out.

The chase was on and Bob returned fire, shooting two of them off their galloping horses, Don Bourke and Graeme O'Keefe alternated, but Alan Storie got shot and took a fall every night.

The other four bushrangers overtook the coach and grabbed the leaders and pulled them up and proceeded to rob the coach and the passengers of their valuables, all to no avail, the announcer would declare "but the troopers were never far away".

Three in period uniform galloped out to save the day, Doug Conway, Warren Bruntflet (Brumy) and yours truly, firing our revolvers and killing two more felons (I beat Dexter to the draw every night) and arresting the other two and then escorting the coach to safety.

As we did, Merv Ross would drive in with a bay clumper mare pulling a dray to pick up the dead. We played to a packed house every night and the crowd went wild.

I can't remember when there was a larger audience.

The Queensland Police supplied the weapons and loaded them with blanks. The authentic noise of the gunfire was terrific and added to the spectacle.

I've been going to the Ekka since the mid-fifties.

I love it all: those ice cream sundaes and all that other healthy stuff, doughnuts and dagwood dogs, the pavilions, sideshow alley, the vibrant atmosphere.

But if I had to pick my very favourite, the chariot races win hands down.

I must have seen at least a hundred of 'em in my time but to this day I'll tear the soles off my boots running to get a front row seat to watch every time they race.

When Don shakes the reins at those two glorious black mares pulling the red chariot flat gallop three wide and rounds those other two with inches between them and pips 'em at the post, it's better than a State of Origin final for me.

Don Ross Jnr has been driving chariots for many years now and he is a chip off the old block.

A great driver, his son Donald has only recently started. Ever since I have pined for the day when I could watch the three Dons race. It happened just the other day at Albion Park Trots and I missed it. Never mind, maybe at the Ekka in 2015.

Don Snr will turn 80 on August 4, but when he picks up the reins and steps into a chariot he's 24 all over again.

In 2009 the RNA honoured Don Ross as a "Legend of the Brisbane Royal Show" - a fitting tribute to his almost half a century involvement, none deserved it more in my opinion.

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