Each member of the Wicks family is a champion whipcracker but you won’t see them doing any cowboy stunts.
Story By Kirsty McKenzie
Daniel Wicks was just six years old when he first saw whipcracking at the 1998 Tamworth Country Music Festival. As his parents Narelle and Steve Wicks recall, Daniel sat spellbound on the footpath and watched the busker for hours. The next day he used his pocket-money savings to buy a $25 red-hide whip.
At last year’s festival Daniel won the title of Junior Australian Whipcracking Champion, his seventh national title. Later in the year, he competed against world whipcracking champions to win the Australian Open Bullock Whip, and took first place in the Australian Junior Plaited Stock Whip. Not bad for a kid of 16.
His 10-year-old sister Brooke won Australian Juvenile Champion and their 14-year-old sister Katie came fourth in the junior category. Steve, who teaches engineering at TAFE in their home town of Gunnedah, NSW, is the current president of the Australian Whipcrackers and Plaiters Association and an occasional competitor and Narelle admits she too has a crack “if they need someone to make up the numbers”.
Their celebrity on the whipcracking front has earned them a collective title – the Wicks Family Whipcrackers – but Steve says they are just enjoying a family sport and keeping alive a couple of Australian traditions. “Whipcracking and plaiting were essential skills in the development of the Australian bush,” he says. “We don’t encourage any cowboy activities or anything that might potentially harm the whipcrackers or their audience. So you won’t see our kids doing circus acts, but you will see great skill.”
Whipcracking, he adds, is all about coordination, not about how much noise you make. “In fact, if you crack a whip too loudly you may not have the momentum to go into the next routine,” he says. “It should be graceful and look easy. Of course, that takes practice.”
Narelle says the family was lucky early on to attend a training day with Fiona (Wilks) Smith and later to take lessons from Andrew Thomas. Both mentors hold more state, national and international titles than they might care to count. The Wicks are also regulars at the Land of the Beardies Festival held in Glen Innes, NSW. The event attracts the cream of the state’s crackers and plaiters, so there’s always someone there to learn from.
Daniel explains there’s a core of basic cracks – straight, left, right, cattleman’s, figure of eight, volley and flick up – and once they’ve been mastered, it’s a matter of putting them together in routines, which showcase both the competitor’s dexterity and co-ordination. “After that, it’s just a matter of practising enough to avoid blisters and callouses,” he says. “If you have a good pair of whips you can make just about any sound you want. You can play Mary Had a Little Lamb or re-create the sounds of a horse going through the transitions from walk to trot, canter and gallop. Anyone who wants to have a go can probably learn. Brooke could crack a whip when she was two.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #57
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008