The little town of Merrijig, near Mount Buller in the high country of Victoria, celebrated its biggest rodeo ever on the Labour Day weekend in March. 

Photos Shaye Hughes

The rodeo has been on the professional rodeo calendar for 42 years, and this year, on a perfect autumn evening, some 375 competitors entered the arena in front of a crowd estimated at 3000–4000 – not bad for a town that is little more than a pub.

“We had competitors from all over Australia,” says Sharyn Simpkin, the assistant secretary and treasurer of the event, which raises money for local groups such as the scouts and football club. “There were a lot from Queensland – particularly around Mount Isa and Hughenden – as well as South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. 

“We get probably one of the highest participation rates for rodeo in Victoria because it’s part of the Tri Series weekend.” In a major test of skill and stamina, competitors in the Tri Series compete on Friday night in Kyabram, Saturday night at Merrijig and Sunday at Chiltern. 

The eight committee members and other volunteers had a full day, starting with junior entries at 8.30am and finishing with the final bull ride at 10.30pm. “This was our third year running a full junior rodeo,” Sharyn says. “The competitors range from 5–6 year olds to 17, and we have a junior bull ride, steer ride and team roping, where they work with an adult and have a go at heeling.”

South Australian Tom Willoughby won the bareback and the Tri Series open cowboy, and Elley Hulls won the open cowgirl. Queenslander Tom Webster won the saddle bronc, and the open bull ride was won by William Jr Dougan. Charters Towers rider Liam Davison knocked off the rope and tie in an astonishing 3.85 seconds and Tate Van Wel took out the steer wrestling in 3.5 seconds. Tylen Gibb, of Tamworth, won the barrel race.

Local Mansfield photographer Shaye Hughes, who specialises in producing images of stock and wildlife, was there to capture all the action for OUTBACK. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019