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Australia: The Northern Run

Read the next story following this Australian Adventure told by Eileen Phillips and how she got to Western Australia and introduced the Gibbs family.

In my first story on this Australian Adventure, I explained how I got to Western Australia and introduced the Gibbs family. Just 4 days after arrival in Gingin on August 17, I embarked on a trip of a lifetime into the heart of Western Australia; up through the Pilbara Region with Drew & Sedly Gibbs and their children Emma, Alex and Tom.

australia-the-northern-run-11

From Left to Right: Tom, Emma, Drew (standing), Sedly, and Alex.

As members of both the Australian Campdrafters Association (ACA) and the Australian Bushman Campdraft and Rodeo Association (ABCRA), the Gibbs family breeds, trains, and competes in Campdrafting on their own bloodlines of AQHA and Australian-bred stock horses.

There are over 4,000 members of the ABCRA; and Sedly Gibbs currently is sitting 22nd in the National Ladies standings for the season. Sedly is a very accomplished competitor.

There are over 4,000 members of the ABCRA; and Sedly Gibbs currently is sitting 22nd in the National Ladies standings for the season. Sedly is a very accomplished competitor.

Our journey began in the wee hours of Monday, August 22 from Gingin, West Australia. We headed north to Meekathara and stayed the night at the Meekathara Race Club.

It was there that I met the Craig family; Gavin & Sandy, and their children Kate, Kasey, and Tom.

Front to Back: Tom, Gavin, Kasey, Kate, and Sandy Craig

Front to Back: Tom, Gavin, Kasey, Kate, and Sandy Craig

We would be spending the next 2 weeks camping, eating, laughing, and competing at Campdrafting events in Newman, Tom Price, and Pannawonica, on what is referred to as the “Northern Run”. It is a yearly tradition for both the Gibbs and Craig families.

A wild Hibiscus, found along a river on the Pilbara desert.

A wild Hibiscus, found along a river on the Pilbara desert.

Going on the Northern Run requires a lot of preparation, and isn’t for the weak-hearted. Not only were there 11 people to plan, pack and care for; but also 10 horses to bring hay, feed, supplements, tack and portable pens for. We all stayed in tents and slept in “swags”, or bed rolls; either on the ground or on cots.

No hotel rooms. No TV. No living quarters trailer with all the amenities. And the Northern Run up through the Pilbara, means red dirt. And lots of it. It permeates everything. Clothing, swags, tack, chairs, cooking area. Everything. But it is beautiful; and the wild flowers more prevalent and full this year than any other in recent history.

After caring for all the horses, we showered in the facilities at the track. The water was heated the old-fashioned way - with a large, wood-burning fire in a big, barrel stove.

After caring for all the horses, we showered in the facilities at the track. The water was heated the old-fashioned way – with a large, wood-burning fire in a big, barrel stove.

That first night in Meekathara had us sleeping out in 4⁰ Celsius (39⁰ Farenheit). We stayed in the “horse box”, or stock truck, with the wind howling through the slats.

It was after 10pm when we finally were able to bury ourselves in our swags. And before daylight the next morning, we were feeding, watering, and cleaning stalls. We packed up and were headed out on the highway by 8:30am for another day of travel to our first stop in Newman.

We arrived in Newman late in the afternoon on Wednesday, August 24. And as we would do each time we moved and set up camp for the next 2 weeks, we cared for the horses first by setting up their corrals and feeding and watering them. Then, we set up the tents and cooking area for our Newman “home”.  The Craig and Gibbs Clan cooked the first of many wonderful suppers including lamb chops, and roasted veggies. We showered in the public shower facilities on the rodeo/campdrafting grounds. We had officially settled into life on the “Northern Run”.

australia-the-northern-run-4Campdrafting competition starts early, at 6:30am. That means that every morning the horses have to have their grain and supplements at least an hour and half in advance. It was at Newman on the first day of competition, just a little over an hour before my class, that I learned I was entered to compete! I knew nothing of the event, and had not ever ridden “Shiloh”, the horse that Drew and Sedly Gibbs thought I should compete on.  And boy, what a horse! They put me on one of their best. I gave it a whirl in the Encouragement class; a class intended for beginners. This meant that I didn’t have to choose my “beast”, or steer/heifer. There was one in the “Camp”, and I just had to get it out of the gate, onto the course, and then complete the course. It was a thrill, and I nearly got my beast thru the final gate. I lost control at the end of the course; but was told that for my first time, I did well. But, I owed that level of success entirely to the horse. I also competed in the Ladies and Team divisions at Newman, Tom Price, and Pannawonica.

Eileen Phillips on Dakota Shiloh, or "Shiloh", owned and trained by Amber Neuman, and a part of the family Neuman/Gibbs breeding program. This was her very first Campdrafting competition; as well as her first time on the AQHA mare.

Eileen Phillips on Dakota Shiloh, or “Shiloh”, owned and trained by Amber Neuman, and a part of the family Neuman/Gibbs breeding program. This was her very first Campdrafting competition; as well as her first time on the AQHA mare.

Campdrafting classes include:

  • Junior (8- under 13)
  • Juvenile (13-under 17)
  • Associate (17-under 21)
  • Ladies (17-over)
  • Maiden (for horses new to competition)
  • Novice (level above Maiden for horses)
  • Open (for experienced horses and competitors )
  • Team (three member teams move three beasts from the camp and through the course, whilst never leaving their positions of left, middle and right)

Campdrafting has its origins in the early days of the Australian Stockman, and is believed to have begun in rural Queensland in the early part of the twentieth century. The sport in short, is a combination of cutting and reined cowhorse competition. It requires both horsemanship and a strong ability to read and handle cattle. Unlike Ranch Sorting, a campdrafter must choose his/her beast, as they are not numbered. If an animal is pushed too hard and a rider loses control of the beast by leaving the pattern, turning a pin the wrong direction, using the fence to turn a beast, or by driving the beast into the fence, the rider is disqualified. In addition, if the rider does not complete the pattern within 40 seconds, he/she receives the points earned up to the point that he/she is timed out. Therefore, it is a delicate balance between being quick, yet quiet and precise. The rider first chooses the beast from a “mob”, or herd.

Time ends upon passing through the gate, or at 40 seconds; whichever is reached or achieved first. There are points earned in the Camp for the cutout; for the first pin; for the second pin; and for the gate, for a possible total of 100; including a possible 25 points available for work in the Camp.

Time ends upon passing through the gate, or at 40 seconds; whichever is reached or achieved first. There are points earned in the Camp for the cutout; for the first pin; for the second pin; and for the gate, for a possible total of 100; including a possible 25 points available for work in the Camp.

Emma Gibbs won a pair of spurs in the Novice Class in Newman.

The rider must not lose the beast back into the mob more than twice, and should have at least two turn backs before proceeding through the Camp gate and onto the course, in order to earn the most points for Camp work. However, Campdrafting is not a Cutting competition; and to linger in the Camp too long showing off does not earn any extra points and may actually detract from the overall score; as the rider has 40 seconds to complete the course. The rider takes the beast from the Camp, through the gate and onto the course. Then the rider proceeds to the first pin on the left, turning the pin and proceeding to the second pin in a clover leaf pattern. From the second pin, the rider moves the beast to the Gate, entering it from the top.

australia-the-northern-run-5At each stop on the Northern Run, we had a laundry day  and did 11 individual’s clothes in a portable washer; which took most of a day, each time.

After a four-day stay in Newman, and many awards that came way of the Gibbs/Craig Camp; we packed up and moved on to Tom Price. We again set up, competed, camped, ate good food, laughed, and once again the Gibbs/Craig Camp made an award haul.

The Gibbs family not only entered me in the competition; but they also paid my member dues in the ABCRA so that I could compete for awards. The whole clan shared many laughs around the campfire and I experienced a part of Australian life that I will treasure the rest of my life. 

The Gibbs family purchased Eileen's ABCRA membership and she competed right alongside them during the "Northern Run". This was her run at Tom Price. Picture courtesy of OZY Photos.

The Gibbs family purchased Eileen’s ABCRA membership and she competed right alongside them during the “Northern Run”. This was her run at Tom Price. Picture courtesy of OZY Photos.

It was a surreal experience; and I was treated as part of the Gibbs family. When we picked up and moved on to the Pannawonica Campdraft  and Rodeo, we repeated the whole process. However, the Pannawonica event differed in some ways; as the rodeo was very much a part of the whole four day stay.

Right: (back to front) Alex & Emma Gibbs, Eileen Phillips, and Sedly Gibbs.

Right: (back to front) Alex & Emma Gibbs, Eileen Phillips, and Sedly Gibbs.

After the campdraft competition, everyone got to relax and let their hair down at the live concert and Tom Gibbs and Tom Craig competed in the rodeo; as well as Gavin Craig  in the Ranch Bronc Riding. Tom Gibbs won the Juvenile Steer Riding with a score of 70 points!

As demonstrated by the inked in route on the map of Western Australia, the Northern Run route made the shape of a heart; and I certainly gained not only a heap of respect for these rugged, down-to-earth people – but also left a part of my heart in the red, red dirt of the Pilbara Region.

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Born and raised on a cattle ranch on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, Eileen graduated from University of Montana - Western with a Business Degree. She is the mother of two grown children - Sydnee, and Billy Quade; and grandmother of two, Lillian and Rocky Rex. Eileen draws from personal, life experiences; as she has held many positions over the years including heavy equipment operator, member of a survey crew for Independence Mining, veterinary technician, Bud Girl for Anheuser-Busch, PR Director for the Idaho Cowboys Association, feed manager for Midland Bull Test Station in Columbus, Montana, National Event Coordinator for Montana Silversmiths, security guard for the Muskogee Creek Nation One Fire Casino, Marketing Director for the Tulsa RV Ranch, and freelance writer for various publications - including a weekly column for three years in the "Elko Daily Free Press" in Elko, Nevada. She enjoys training barrel horses and singing - and has sung the National Anthem for rodeos such as the Reno Rodeo in Reno, Nevada, the College National Finals, and the New Year's Eve Bull Bash in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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