I received a message on Facebook from Kim who was up in Darwin explaining that there was a rodeo festival over the upcoming weekend in Mataranka.
I’ve never been to a rodeo (or to Mataranka). Plus, I’d have the chance to catch up with her. Cookie was desperate to get a job and start it off right away. Unfortunately for her, time meant nothing to me.
We stopped for breakfast in Larrimah, home to the Pink Panther Pub. It was quite fitting that I had Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme on my phone and played it as we rolled up to the pink building. In the back they had a snake room which housed three snakes although there were about fifteen enclosures.
We drove on to Mataranka, a small town consisting of just 250 locals. It has an overpriced supermarket that doesn’t stock fresh meat, a general store at the petrol station, a library next to the museum and a post office which was just a post office.
The original name of the town, Bitter Springs, was given due to the bitter tasting water in the springs. 30 million litres of water push through from the Roper River (discovered and named by John Roper in 1845) every day. These crystal clear springs are at a consistent temperature of 32 degrees.
Dr John Gilhurt, a veterinary (and locally hated man) failed to make Mataranka the capital of the north and a sustainable agricultural centre for raising horses and cattle.
He had the name officially changed in 1926 (as he was from New Zealand, it is thought that the name is of Maori origin although no one knows its meaning). When he finally left the town, the locals joined in chorus, ‘For he’s a jolly good failure’ (can’t please everyone).
We established camp at the Matarnaka Cabin and Caravan Park, just a kilometre from the springs. Mataranka is also the gateway to the Elsy National Park which has the Mataranka thermal pool (also crystal clear), Stevie’s Hole (not so crystal clear and a 1.2 K walk from the thermal pool) and the Mataranka Falls.
All attractions listed are free so I hit the water immediately while Cookie played with her phone. I hiked on to Stevie’s Hole, encountering a lovely retired couple, John and Jeanette. We walked together to the hole where I discovered that there was a strong current and nobody swimming.
Here I encountered my first, ‘No Swimming. Crocodiles may be present’ sign, reminding me that I wasn’t in Melbourne any more. I was also disappointed to discover that the 10 K track down to the Roper River was closed due to the amount of debris piled up from recent floods.
Back at the camp I chatted with everyone that came into the communal kitchen, all retirees towing caravans. Most caravans had satellites hooked up but thankfully we had camped as far back from them as possible (and they were considerably quieter than the hard-to-understand Scottish woman’s TV at Devil’s Marbles).
I started early the next day with breakfast and a swim at Bitter Springs. I floated through the pristine warm waters looking up at the huge orb spiders that had spun webs that covered every patch of air above the water.
The water carried me to a bridge where I had to get out (it was impassable) and walked back a hundred metres to the main swimming area.
I then headed out to the Mataranka Falls, a 7-K drive out of Mataranka where I walked a 4.1 km track – one way. I set off barefoot when I encountered a swarm of bees that made me stop. I realised that I, wearing a red T-shirt and Animal (for those unfamiliar with Animal he has a purple head of hair… er, fur?), were right in the middle of about a hundred bees.
There were no pollinating flowers around and we were the only brightly coloured things in a bush full of green leaves and red-brown dirt. I reversed slowly to reassess the situation.
I had only one option – to go around the swarm to the right, the only possible place to walk. I took the track slowly, staying as far to the right as I could, hoping the bees wouldn’t notice, come check me out and then realise with a vengeful sting that I or Animal weren’t, in fact, a pollinating flower.
Animal and I made it through and trekked onwards, alongside the Roper River. The river itself was as wide as Melbourne’s Hoddle St and the water an aqua green. Here too, there was no swimming due to the possibilities of crocodiles.
These dinosaurs have barely changed for the 200 million years they’ve been around. And I’ve seen the documentaries on National Geographic and the BBC to know that this is one creature that has no mercy, no matter how calm David Attenborough’s narration is.
I met a young Aussie couple, Mim and Dave, along the track and together we found a small rock pool to cool ourselves from the hot sun. We chilled in the pool, exchanging Kingston biscuits for mandarins.
After about an hour I headed back the 4.1 K’s. The bees were gone and besides stubbing my foot and cursing loud and long enough to make any crocodile know that right then would not be a good time to fuck with me, I made it back to the car.
Driving along the road I spotted a Black-headed Golden Tree snake by the road. I stopped and noticed it was dead as ants had already reached it.
For dinner I whipped up a massive spaghetti bolognas with roast beef strips. After dinner and a shower I counted 92 (92!) bites of some sort of insect that had decided that the area around my right knee and above my right ass cheek was the juiciest. My suspicions lied with bed bugs as it wasn’t mosquito bites.
Saturday was rodeo day. After cooling off with a swim at Bitter Ssprings, I hiked the 3 K’s to the event. It was the first rodeo to be held in Mataranka and it showed. The bulls had arrived a half-hour late, the kids event was held between three kids in the under 9s section and three girls in the under 18s section. And the time between events dragged on due to technical difficulties i.e: lack of co-operation by the animals.
Just as the sun set the bulls were brought out to show. The three brown ones were pretty big. A white bull was big enough to feed a whole village but the black one, looking exactly like the one in the Looney Tunes cartoons, was big enough to feed a small country.
And he looked pissed off, like a bear that had been woken up early from hibernation.
The event started with the bucking broncos. Two horsemen on horses were ready to go in once the bronco bucked his rider. I wasn’t sure how they got the horses to buck like that. They certainly weren’t wild horses. Once the rider was bucked off, the two horsemen rode their steed up to the still bucking bronco and sandwiched it. One rider would then release the rope that was squeezing the bronco’s private area.
So that’s how they did it.
And that’s when I realised that I was partaking in an event that was completely – and wholly – abusive towards animals. I hate it when animals are used for our entertainment. Circus’, Seaworld, horse and dog racing, bull fighting and now rodeos.
I wonder how the riders would like it if someone strapped there balls in a knot and had an 80 kilo sonofabitch on their back. I wasn’t happy with what was happening and naturally, I was all for the animal, hoping it would stomp its buck.
Then the bull riders came out.
I ain’t ever seen a more pissed off animal than a bull with his scrotum strapped. The time the riders need to stay on is eight seconds. Most of them were flung off in two. Then the big angry black bull was released. ‘Sleeping Disorder’ was his name and when he threw his cowboy off he also went for him. Almost got him, too. And you can believe me I was rooting for the bull.
The rodeo clowns tried to distract the massive horned beast to trot out to the holding pen but he wasn’t having it. He wanted his 15 seconds of fame and he was going to get it. He charged at the fence, barging right into it – where all the kids were and boy did they run off screaming.
I was standing by the fence when the toro eyed me. I backed off, respecting it’s anger at having its balls strapped. One unlucky girl, crouching next to me, was trying to get a close-up picture. Toro looked at me, then looked at her and then at me again. It was as if he was saying to me, ‘Check this out,’ and he charged at her giving her the fright of her life as she fell back and zipped up the hill to be comforted by her boyfriend.
Who was laughing along with the rest of the crowd.
It all ended at 20:00 and although there was karaoke until midnight, I’d had enough and wasn’t in the mood. I left with a bad taste in my mouth (may have been the 4X beer) and hiked back to the camp. Noises from the bush had me on alert. The night was almost day as the moon was out in full in a clear sky as I hit the sack at about 22:32.