Alice to host 2018 National Bronco Branding titles

GOOD BRANDING: There was plenty of action at the 2016 Undoolya Station bronco branding.
GOOD BRANDING: There was plenty of action at the 2016 Undoolya Station bronco branding. Contributed

A CENTURY-old stockman's tradition-turned-sport is coming home to Alice Springs for the 2018 Australian Bronco Branding Championships.

It is the first time the title will be held in the Outback town since the bushman's skill was reborn as a sport there at the very first competition back in May 1984.

The much anticipated announcement was made amid the dust and action of the 2017 National Bronco Branding Championships, held 26 August at William Creek, South Australia.

Meanwhile, Alice Springs is busy preparing for its own annual bronco branding event, at Rocky Hill Yards Undoolya Station, on Saturday 23 September.

Expectations were building this week ahead of the big day, after the tradition was successfully reintroduced to the Centre in 2016.

The event used to feature at the Alice Springs Show at Blatherskite Park, but disappeared from the scene for several years until its re-emergence at Undoolya Station in 2016.

Alice Springs-born chairman of the Undoolya Station Bronco Branding, Shane 'Pockets' Muldoon, has been organising the gathering of horsemen and women as part of a suite of efforts to raise awareness of men's health in the bush through his organisation Broken Spur Inc.

"The first bronco-branding event was created in 1984 by Ted Hayes and R.M. Williams," says Mr Muldoon.

"It was held at Blatherskite I think, but since then it's grown to be a sport in South Australia and Queensland.

"In 2016, Robbie Schmidt and Benny Hayes asked me if we might bring it back to Alice Springs, and I thought it was a good fit.

"That first one was a successful event."

Bronco branding was the traditional way cattle were marked for ownership in the bush.

Stockmen would muster a mob into an open area while the head stockman or an experienced ringer would ride into the group and rope a "cleanskin" for branding.

Branding is no longer compulsory and the practice diminished after the introduction of tagging under the National Livestock Identification System.

Oodnadatta held its first bronco branding event in August 1984, with Queensland following suit in 1991 with an event at Stonehenge.

Since that time, events have been held everywhere from Winton to Mt Isa and south to William Creek and Oodnadatta.

Contract musterer at Alice Springs, Robbie Schmidt, who is helping coordinate this year's Undoolya event with Mr Muldoon, competed in the doubles event at the 2017 Australian Championships at William Creek in August.

"We ended up fourth, but had gone into the finals with a 20-second lead," says Mr Schmidt.

"Then things didn't go as they might have, nerves got to us. Ended up Eddie Nunn from Macumba station won it."

There are a range of events at a bronco branding meet, including singles, doubles, novice events, ladies and kids, says Mr Muldoon.

In a singles event, there is a roper (or catcher) on horseback, and a three-man team on the ground: a rear leg man, front leg man and brander. In doubles, there are two horse-mounted catchers, then the same number of on-ground helpers.

"What you do," explains Mr Muldoon, "is a roper goes in to a herd of cattle, ropes one of the clean-skin calves, and brings it over to the branding gate.

"Then the leg men secure it to the fence, and lay the calf down.

"The brander then goes and gets the brand (these days it's a paint brush) and paints a mark on its rump."

According to Mr Muldoon, the mark must be "quite neat: it can't be smudged." The calf is then released before the next beast is brought to the branding gate.

Points are scored on time, as well as cleanliness of securing the rear and front legs, and the laying the calf over, and strict rules apply.

Mr Muldoon said he was expecting 250 to 300 competitors and their families at this year's event at Undoolya Station, as well as a strong contingent of local fans of the sport.

Rocky Hill yards is about 25km from Alice Springs along the Ross Highway then follow the signs.

Nominations open around 7.30-8am, with the event expected to begin by 8.30am and finish by 5pm.

There will be a meal available afterwards and an auction fundraiser after that, with any money raised going toward supporting local men's health initiatives, such as the popular Men's Shed in Alice Springs.

Entry is $15 adults, school children free, and bbq meals $15 adults, children $5.

Topics:  alice springs

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