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Drought, 'fires and famine' force national campdrafting competition cancellation

Amelia Bernasconi, Thursday January 16, 2020 - 17:22 EDT
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The ABCRA National Finals Campdraft was last cancelled in 2007, due to an outbreak of equine influenza. - ABC

The ongoing drought has forced Australia's largest campdrafting organisation to cancel its national finals competition for the first time in more than a decade.

The Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association (ABCRA) has been running since 1946, and now boasts more than 4,000 members.

The association was scheduled to host the National Finals Campdraft next week in Tamworth in north-west New South Wales.

The sport sees a competitor on horseback scored on how well they work cattle around a set course, and has been a weekend staple for many riders and families who use horses to work livestock on their properties.

The competitions also often support local charities.

But with high destocking rates across New South Wales due to , the inability to source cattle forced the cancellation of events across the state during 2019.

Now, the national end-of-year competition has succumbed to a similar fate.

"It certainly has been a tough decision for the board, knowing the disappointment that this will cause to our membership," ABCRA executive officer Craig Young said.

"However, the bigger picture is that we're experiencing some of the worst conditions in history — fires, famine, pestilence — everything that can hit us at the moment is being thrust upon us."

About 220 competitors were expected to compete at the finals.

"Normally we would use somewhere in the vicinity of 850-900 head of cattle to run this particular event," Mr Young said.

"In the event that we have extreme heat conditions again this year, worse than last year, it would certainly put livestock, our competitors and particularly our volunteers and workers under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress."

Mixed reaction from competitors

Mr Young conceded it would have "been better to make the decision some weeks earlier than at this late stage", coming less than two weeks out from the event, and said he had received mixed feedback from ABCRA members in the wake of the decision.

"Understandably competitors have been very disappointed, some quite disgruntled or aggrieved," he said.

"But we're moving towards our 75th year next year so we're planning on something bigger and better for all our members for next year.

Venting their opinions on social media, some people said they were let down by the board, another asked for a postponement instead.

Others said it was the right move.

"[It's] sad but a respectful decision considering everything that people are dealing with at the moment," Sharon McCoy wrote.

"It's a miracle that drafts even ran, and people need to be grateful for that," Rozinda Clare said.

"This drought is extreme, cattle are valuable and water is scarce.

"If national finals is your goal as a campdrafter, I suggest you stop and think about why this sport is so special and unique. And spare a thought for those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make certain events happen."

More cancellations feared

The last time the national event was cancelled was in 2007 after an , which began in NSW and spread rapidly along the east coast, infecting more than 76,000 horses across 10,000 properties.

Mr Young said it was the first time he could recall no campdraft events running in the month of January — traditionally a busy time as the season restarts.

"In all the years we've been operating, this is the first year January has been a nil event [for campdrafts and rodeos] outside the national finals," he said.

There are now fears of more cancellations in 2020 if the drought doesn't break.

"We're looking forward to this weather breaking and turning around for everybody," Mr Young said.

Quiet winners

Without all the fanfare, the winners from the 2019 season will be those riders and horses that ended the point scoring year on top of the standings.

"We are very disappointed that we're not running our National finals at all levels and we are really looking forward to a bigger and better year next year," Mr Young said.

"The board have been discussing and we are looking at plans to shift our date to a better time of the year."

The rodeo and ranch-sorting components of the National Finals will still go ahead later this month.


© ABC 2020

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