Challenge celebrates horses and horsemen in history

A sense of excitement pervades Murrurundi as the countdown for the King of the Ranges Stockman's Challenge on February 22-25. For the first 10 years of the competition it was held on the first weekend in May heralding Scone's Horse Week but the dates were changed for the 2017 event.
The Stockman's Challenge has been the talk of the region's horsemen and women for some time, with many frantically completing last minute preparations to get to Murrurundi on time.
The Challenge is a seven event competition, comprising vet, skill and gear check, stock handling (dog allowed) pack horse, horse shoeing, bareback obstacle, whip crack and cross country.
The top 10 scores from these events require the rider to compete in a brumby catch and stock saddle buckjump event.
The overall winner takes home a hefty $7000 and saddle. Second prize is $2000 and third prize is $1000.
The highest scoring woman and junior (15 to 17 years) will also share in the spoils.
A maiden campdraft is held on the Sunday.
Bush poetry and stalls complete the scene.
The King of the Ranges is designed to provide the ultimate test of Australian horsemanship, Australian bush skills, and raw courage.
Based on the Victorian Stockman's championship at Corryong Bush Festival and the Queensland competition and endurance ride at Beaudesert, the King of the Ranges event celebrates local talent.
More than 100 risers complete a five-day trek from Glen Rock station to Murrurundi for the start of the Stockman's Challenge.
The inspiration for the challenge was Arch "Bung" McInnes, whose pictures grace the King of the Ranges promotional material.

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DROVER'S

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Bung was well known throughout the Hunter Valley and North West NSW as "The King of the Ranges" for his remarkable ability to track and catch wild brumbies and cattle in tough country around Glen Rock station. At the outbreak of World War One, Bung was quick to join the 1st Battalion Light Horse. He was among many Upper Hunter horsemen who gave the Light Horse a formidable reputation.Bung was seriously wounded at the Battle of Beersheba and was subsequently decorated.

He returned to the Upper Hunter to continue his life as a daredevil buckjumper and legendary stockman. In years gone by it was nothing out of the ordinary to see a mob of cattle being driven along the back roads anywhere in the bush, however, these days it has become somewhat of a rarity. On Tuesday on the backroads behind Blandford the time honoured tradition was revisited as more than 200 head of cattle for the King of the Ranges Stockman's Challenge were driven to Murrurundi.

Mob of cattle

On hand to witness the event was Viv Walsh, one of a dying breed of drovers, who for almost 30 years would bring cattle down from western Queensland to the Upper Hunter. At over 80 years of age, Viv still looks as comfortable in the saddle as anyone could, and he jumped at the chance to get amongst it as the mob were being brought into town. According to Viv's long-time friend Keith Sylvester, the old drover was one of a kind.

Drovers

"Viv and one or two other drovers would bring anything up to 1200 head at a time all the way from Roma in western Queensland taking anywhere between 12 and 16 weeks depending on the weather and how the mob behaved," Keith said. "All up, I reckon he moved about 90,000 head of cattle for us for over 29 years, and in that time we hardly ever lost a beast."

1200 head

Viv knew everyone along the way and if one of the cattle got sick or injured, he would leave it with someone who he would do a favour for in return. "And in all those years we never heard a cross word from him", Keith said. The Sylvester family hold Viv in the highest regard both for his skill as a drover, as well as for being one of life's true gentlemen. During the almost 30 years Viv was droving cattle from Queensland he rarely had more than a week or two off.

No cross words

"Viv would bring a mob down and stay here for a week or so, then load the horses onto a truck and go back to Queensland and do it all again, they just don't make blokes like him anymore", Keith said. That is a glowing testimony coming from one of the Hunter's most respected and well-known cattlemen. Keith himself was presented with a special award for providing cattle for the Singleton Rodeo for 50 consecutive years, some would say that puts him in the same category as Viv, one of those blokes they don't make any more.

Most respected cattleman

When asked if he wanted to have a go at a few of the events in the Ring of the Ranges Challenge, Viv said he would leave it up to the younger blokes. "I was born in the 1920's. I'm way too old for that caper," he joked. But don't be fooled by his claims of being too old, he brought his last mob down from Queensland in 1993, when he was 70, and had a mob of his own cattle on the road in 1996.

Last mob in 1993

On the subject of the King of the Ranges Challenge, Viv said, "I reckon it will be a good weekend. "The weather looks fine and think everyone will have a good time. It's good to see the old traditions being kept alive".

Good time