In Victoria's High Country, January 26 is celebrated with an Australia Day rodeo for the whole family. Photography and words: Jack Arthur.

Broken Bones, Broncos and Bulls at Bright's Australia Day Rodeo

VICE captured all the controlled chaos of Bright's Australia Day Rodeo at the foot of the Victorian Alps.

On January 26, VICE attended Invasion Day rallies in several Australian capital cities. VICE also journeyed four hours out of Melbourne to Victoria’s High Country, where the alpine town of Bright held its first rodeo in 35 years to celebrate Australia Day.

The scene was set with one bull rider and Yorta Yorta Barapa Barapa man, Jimmy Alderman, along with two other First Nations men welcoming the crowd.


Next, “Advance Australia Fair” blared over the speakers accompanied by horse riders parading the arena carrying the flags of each Australian state. Neither the Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander flags were raised.

“Me and the boys put some paint on, introduced ourselves over the PA. [It] was the only time in the whole rodeo that it was acknowledged that it was Tuangurang Country,” Alderman told VICE.

“During the anthem [we] kneeled to show discontent that our flag wasn’t flown, especially on a day like Australia Day.”

The rodeo featured three main events: riders fighting to not get flung from massive, bucking bulls (each bred for the sole purpose of hurling riders off before they can hold on with one hand for the eight-second goal), barrel racing, where riders race their horse flat out around three barrels against the clock and bucking broncos, and a high-speed horse riding acrobatics display called Equestrian Vaulting. 

The alcohol-free event brought people of all ages to the ring.

“[It’s] the wild west the way it used to be,” Russell, the event organiser from Taree International Rodeos, told VICE.

“It’s rough, it’s tough.”

As the sunset cast a dusty pink glow, the event paused when a young rider was thrown and trampled by a bull. To maintain the crowd’s interest and divert attention, the announcer organised a spontaneous dance competition for children selected at random from the crowd. Their choreography was backdropped by the young bull rider who lay outstretched on the ground, legs awkwardly split and broken, surrounded by fellow bull riders waiting for paramedics to arrive.

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A bucked bull rider with a broken leg lays outstretched in the arena waiting for an ambulance.

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The ambos arrive.

According to Russell, bull riding is one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

“It's not a matter of if you get hurt, it’s when and how bad it’s going to be,” he said.

“I’ve had 22 broken arms over the years, y’know.”

Two visiting doctors from Melbourne stepped in from the crowd and provided interim aid. Once the ambulance left the arena, the controlled chaos commenced again. Half an hour later, a shout rung out and a bull broke through the temporary pen enclosure, sending event staff scrambling to put up an orange tape safety barrier around the crowd (likely doing nothing to stop a 3/4 ton bull). Cowboys ran after the beast and spent 20 minutes in the dark trying to catch and herd the escapee back into a pen.

Once safely captive, the event continued smoothly with no further injuries. 

The next day, while driving a four-wheeler motorbike around the site packing up, Russell told VICE he was happy with how it all went.

“The weather was so much against us, if we had of had good weather, you would have never have fit em in (the crowd), there was thirty mil’ of rain the night before. The weather was against us, but holy shit it just come good at the last few hours.”

Just another national day in the country.

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A barrel racer, Summer Mallia, waiting for her event at the Bright Rodeo.

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Cowboys catching a bronco after it had bucked off its rider.

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Bright Rodeo event staff.

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Spectators Peter and Fay.

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Police arrive to check on the injured bull rider.

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Jack Arthur is a writer, photographer and videographer based in central Victoria. Follow him on Instagram here.

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