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Haider steps out of Iraq and into the rodeo ring

Haider Alhasnawi in full flight at one of the Noonamah Tavern Rodeos
Haider Alhasnawi in full flight at one of the Noonamah Tavern Rodeos Spokz Photography

Like most bull riders the adrenalin rush when he climbs on to a beast before the chute opens gives Katherine's Haider Alhasnawi butterflies in his stomach.

But it's a different kind of nerves to the ones produced by the sound of gunfire ringing out or missiles being launched in the town where Haider grew up in Iraq.

"Riding a bull and growing up in Iraq have something in common I suppose,” Haider said.

"Either way, a bull can kill you just the same as a missile or whatever is getting fired around you can kill you too.

"But the different thing about it is that when I am doing rodeo I am happy and gettin' on. You know I am still nervous but I am still happy in what I am going to do.

"I am expecting to ride a bull, you are not expecting a missile to come out of the blue.

"The butterflies in the stomach are the same, but I am probably a bit more scared riding a bull.

Haider Alhasnawi getting ready to ride the Noonamah Rodeo
Haider Alhasnawi getting ready to ride the Noonamah Rodeo Spokz Photography

"That's because when the sirens used to go off you were always just as worried about the people with you as well. With bull riding it's just me,” the 17-year-old said.

"Where I grew up, as soon as you heard gunfire or a missile siren we would just run as fast as we could back home and go into the safe room, which was the laundry.”

"I suppose it (growing up in Iraq) does help a lot with the bull riding though. You can get as nervous as anything but then you realise that you have been through a bit, you know seeing dead people and things like that, then you realise it's just a bull.”

Until he was 10 years old, Haider grew up in the southern Iraq town of Nasiriyah, not far from the main Australian Defence Force base at Tallil air base.

As the war in Iraq progressed, insurgents constantly launched random missile attacks from inside Nasiriyah in the hope of doing damage inside the Tallil compound.

Haider Alhasnawi (left) accepting a Junior Bull Rider award at the Noonamah Tavern Rodeo Series last year.
Haider Alhasnawi (left) accepting a Junior Bull Rider award at the Noonamah Tavern Rodeo Series last year. Spokz Photography

Ironically, In between Haider's town and the Tallil air base, lay a place regarded by many in the world as the birthplace of religion.

In the area surrounding the Ziggurat of Ur, also lay the remains of the home of the Abraham, considered in many cultures to be the father of religion.

The area is also home to what is believed to be culturally significant artefacts such as the oldest standing archway in the world.

It is a world away from the rodeo rings of the Northern Territory and Australia where Haider now loves to travel to ride bulls every chance he gets.

Haider's father Michael, who had his own business in Iraq fixing generators first came to Australia before Haider was born, about 20 years ago as a refugee after making the decision he wanted to relocate his family.

He ended up running a taxi company in Gove and became an Australian resident and the rest of the family - mum Aida, and Haider's two older and one younger brother - to Australia in 2009 at the height of the war.

"Dad kept coming home for visits every chance he got, that's how I was born,” Haider said with a laugh.

"Mum initially wasn't keen to leave her family so she stayed when dad left.

"But dad always wanted to move the family over to Australia and it's great, everything is good now.”

When Haider arrived in Australia he and his brothers and mum joined his father in Gove.

"I didn't speak a word of English when I arrived, not one word.”

In just seven short years Haider has well and truly overcome the language barrier, he has developed a broad Australian accent coupled with a quintessential country vernacular.

After spending a year and a half in Gove the family moved to Katherine where Haider attended Katherine High School.

Today he is working for the McBean family contract fencing on properties around the Katherine region.

"I love working with the crew fencing, the McBean family have been fantastic.”

While his association with the McBean family has fuelled his fire to be a rodeo rider, Haider said he "sort of fell into the sport” just a couple of years ago.

"I went to a Noonamah rodeo with a mate who was riding and I decided to have a go and I just loved it, even though I was no good,” Haider said.

While his mate didn't ride in the next few rodeos, the then 15-year-old Haider was hooked.

"I caught the bus up to Adelaide River by myself the week after to have a go in the junior rodeo.

"I really had no idea what I was doing, but I paid my nominations and luckily I met my good mate Darcy (McBean) and he showed me what to do.

"And ever since then Darcy and Bindy (Craig McBean) have been great to me, just helping me out and teaching me all about it. If it wasn't for them I probably would have just stopped.”

Haider practices regularly with Darcy and Craig at their property in Katherine.

He had since tasted success in junior rodeos and at the Noonamah series in the Junior Bull division.

Last year he finished second in the standings for the Junior Bull in the Northern Cowboy Association season, which earned him a trip to Dalby for the national finals.

"Riding in Dalby was very big for me. To get invited was unreal.”

Haider finished fourth in the first round in Dalby but "got bucked off in the second'.

In May Haider turns 18 and before then he plans to make the most of his junior rider status to learn as much as he can.

"At Christmas me and Darcy are going to Victoria for the Christmas rodeos and next week we are off to Cloncurry and then Mount Isa.”

In the longer term Haider said he hopes to keep improving enough to ride in the PBR and then maybe, "if I keep learning” head over to America to ride.

"I just love everything about it, the adrenalin rush, it's just an awesome feeling to ride a bull.”

Topics:  iraq iraq war northern territory pbr


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