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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gold, Topsy and the second ten shilling note [Part 2]

[continued from Part 1]  The connection is this....

Gold miners flocked to all goldfields in Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century, and a goodly portion came from China. Calliope was no exception. A number of families or single Chinese men came to the goldfields, and their descendants stayed after the gold ran out. What an alien land it must have seemed to them!

In Calliope, they intermarried over generations and became totally integrated into the local community, with little more than the names to indicate their Chinese heritage. Occasionally the genes showed through; Michelle Archay, for example, was a beautiful girl whose charm was enhanced by the slightly higher cheekbones and perfect skin she inherited from her Chinese forebears on her father’s side.

Some of them did extremely well. Michelle’s father, Les Archay, inherited his father’s cattle property in the Calliope ranges west of the township, and he raised beef cattle. His men butchered them on the property and they were trucked immediately to his butcher’s shop in Calliope. Thus there were no middlemen in the operation, and even in a little place like Calliope, it was a very profitable business because of that.

If we raised a few pigs, fed mainly on surplus milk, Les would buy them off us and do the butchering in town. The husband of my father’s sister, Aunty Mag, worked as a butcher for him, and my sister Jan prepared handwritten accounts for him for several years. She had (and still has) the neatest writing I’ve ever seen, though her husband Ken would come a close second in that department. Apart from being accurate mathematically, her accounts were a work of art! And Aunty Mag made the best sponge cakes in the world.

Les Archay was a pillar of Calliope society. It was he who the radio station 4RO Rockhampton interviewed when the 1959 Calliope Rodeo was being publicised, and now we are getting closer to the nitty gritty of my ten shilling note story, if you’re wondering. I remember vividly hearing the announcement coming over the radio in our lounge room, and though I paraphrase, it went very much like this:

Chairman of the Calliope Rodeo Committee, Mr Les Archay, told our regional staff reporter that the Rodeo this year would be like no other. Wild brumbies from the rugged Calliope Ranges have been rounded up and will be trucked to the Rodeo grounds above Gunston’s Creek. For the first time, buckjumping will be a feature of the Rodeo, together with bullock riding and the other regular rodeo events.

Riding wild horses, if you aren’t an aficionado of the sport, is as much like bullock riding as bungee jumping is like riding a ferris wheel. Bullocks are reasonably predictable in their behaviour once let out of the chute and tend to stay on their four legs, and merely try to trample or gore you if they can unseat you.

Wild horses on the other hand can go quite mad, and can smash a mounted rider up against a railing fence on a high yard, can roll with him on their back and crush him, and will happily trample or kick him to death in a second. Yes, I know, riding a bullock is no picnic; but at least, after the actual riding bit is over they are easily distracted. 

You are a shilling or two short of a quid up top if you ride bullocks, but you are completely off your tree if you want to chance your life at buckjumping.

And I have to say something else. If you think that feral horses will go meekly into a cattle truck and be shipped twenty miles to a rodeo ground to be ridden by brave but reckless young men with an IQ equal to their riding boot size, then forgive me for saying that you also know nothing about wild brumbies – horses that Les Archay had assured the 4RO reporter had rarely if ever seen men.

But the publicity was a wonder. Cars, utes and trucks from within 200 miles of Calliope lined up at the entrance to the rodeo grounds to pay the entrance fee and see the spectacle, traffic stretching right across the causeway of Gunston’s Creek until admitted to the rodeo grounds.

Right on the time when people were parking their vehicles came another announcement on 4RO.

Chairman of the Calliope Rodeo Committee, Mr Les Archay, has advised that the brumbies held for the buckjumping at the Calliope Rodeo broke through the holding pen on the Calliope Ranges property just before loading for the rodeo, and escaped to nearly impenetrable hills. He gave his assurance that the programme of bullock riding, campdrafting, flag races, relays and car sports would still provide excellent entertainment for the crowd.

All of this was perfectly true, except for a few minor points. There were wild brumbies on his property up the Boyne Valley. No doubt about that. But he looked the reporter straight in the eye and lied through his teeth about one or two of those details. 

For one thing, he never had any intention of having them rounded up for the Calliope Rodeo of 1959. Nor did the holding pen that he described to 4RO as destroyed by rampaging brumbies ever exist. Nor would he ever have attempted to get them on to one of his cattle trucks if there ever was a secure holding pen. He would almost certainly have witnessed the wrecking of that vehicle by stir-crazy horses - if anyone could have got them loaded on the truck in the first place. That alone would have been some kind of strange miracle.

In short, it was a spectacularly successful publicity stunt built on a slight Archay exaggeration; one that lived in the annals of Calliope history for decades, and now, I hope, is immortalised here.

But what has this to do with Topsy and the second ten bob note? You’re so impatient! I was coming to that right this second. Now that the distraction of the buckjumping is out of the way, I can tell you that a squad of four fearless Pony Clubbers entered themselves and their ponies in competition against the race horses in the Open Relay Race - with the biggest audience ever seen for the event in the history of Calliope.


  1. What a clever man! I like the sound of Les Archay and I love the bit about IQs as big as their boot size :) Bring on the next exciting installment.
    PS and I'm glad they didn't catch the wild brumbies and be rough with them.

  2. :) Agreed about the brumbies. One other thing a horse might do that a bullock wouldn't is to come out of the chute, buck a little and then stand motionless, which isn't much of a spectacle and gets no points for the rider, so riders would wear spurs to inflame the horse and get it going. That was likely to make the horse do absolutely anything to unseat the rider, often more than likely to injure the horse as well. So I'm with you on that one. (There are different buckjumping rules now it's a professional occupation from those in outback 50s Australia, when there were really no rules at all. You just stayed on as long as you could. Neither of them are my type of fun.


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