Words and photographs by Dorothy Henderson
Horses stand calmly by the gate into the metal fenced yard, watching the single horse and rider inside as they deftly single a black calf out from a bunch of Angus weaners which drifts from one end of the yard to another. People milling around comment on the quality of the cattle, and that fact that they are so quiet and well handled.
The rider shouts “gate” and the calf scoots out of the small arena into a larger one, with the horse and rider literally in hot pursuit. The aim is to pilot the calf around a marked course in the arena: the reality is that the rider is “cracked off” by a snap from the judge’s whip and walks briskly to the back of the arena to help nudge the calf back to its paddock mates, standing in a yard waiting to go home.
There are older men and women on horses, and strapping youngsters on beasts that are definitely not so weedy…the cracks have gathered to the fray at the annual MBA Easter Campdraft, held in the south-east of Western Australia at the equestrian grounds in the small town of Munglinup.
During a weekend synonymous with hot cross buns, chocolate eggs and new beginnings, children at the Munglinup ‘draft” describe how the Easter Bunny still managed to find them, even though they were in a horse truck miles from their normal bed. With large rigs scattered around the ground, and magnificent equine athletes resting between runs in temporary yards made from electric tape and pickets, the scene could be at any camp draft in Australia. And like all community events in the regional areas of this wide brown land, there are many people on the ground working their hardest to make sure that it happens. The ambulance officers who are an integral part of any sporting event; the catering team in the kitchen; the people in the yards ensuring the cattle are quietly moved from A to B; the truckies and transport companies moving the stock, the club members tallying scores and ticking the paperwork boxes; the announcer making the crowd laugh and the competitors wince, the sponsors who provide the prizes, and the property owners who lent their cattle---all these people make the draft a reality. No mean feat in a tiny community which is about seven hours by car from Perth and further for many who made the trek with horses to compete.
For most of the year, the Munglinup Equestrian Centre is quiet. Once the home of the Munglinup Pony Club, in recess now due to falling numbers, it is the home ground of the camp draft association running the Easter event, a crew of locals with a passion for horses and the commitment to make the annual event happen despite the fact they are often grappling with seeding or pre-seeding commitments, calving and work of many kinds. And for this one weekend, it is a bustling place. The smell of hamburgers and bacon drifts from the kitchen; country music adds to the atmosphere and the sound of the stock whip gives the atmosphere a slightly Man from Snowy River tinge, even though the location is about as far from mountain ranges as you could get.
It is easy to underestimate the importance of such events to rural communities. As locals gather on the earth-bank grandstand, they chat about the rain that fell on Saturday, greatly appreciated but not enough, and the horses they see before them. The discuss bloodlines, the cattle, their cropping plans for the year ahead, and the children play with one another while the adults drink tea and gnaw on burgers. They talk about the year past, and the year ahead. They catch up with people they might not have seen since last Easter, and talk about how much they look forward to seeing them again next year. Even if it rains.