Ron Bunyan is a man of the land who moved to Sawtell some years ago from Cookadinia in Southern NSW. Ron comes from a generation of hard workers, and at 84 years of age, Ron’s passion for the land still shines through – and he won’t let age get in his way.
Ron has travelled around Australia twice so far – across the Simpson Desert, through Kakadu and the Kimberleys, up to Cape York Peninsular and The Whitsundays and everywhere in between. He’s had some amazing adventures over the years, but some of his fondest memories are from a time of horse and carts and old fashioned, back-breaking farm work.
Ron, tell us a bit about your life on the land.
I was born in Henty NSW and left school at 15 to work as a farm hand with some of our neighbours. Farming ran in the family. Dad had a farm where we grew wheat, oats and barley, and I could never get out of school quick enough to help him out!
In those days there were hardly any tractors, so we worked the land with horse drawn headers.
When I went to work on the neighbours’ property, they put me to work with a team of 10 horses – 5 at the front and 5 at the back. Trying to keep the plough straight was tough, but I had a great time on the farm.
They also taught me a lot about breaking in horses. They had Clydesdales, or Draught Horses, as they were also known. They were beautiful horses.
You’ve got some funny tales about the horse and sulky …
Yes, we had an old horse called Waton (named after the Melbourne Cup winner), and we used to strap him to the sulky and ride the horse and sulky 7 miles to school. There were about 5 different families that would go to school in a horse and sulky, and we had a horse paddock at the old bush school where we’d park them during the day.
When we were ready to go home, we’d race down to see who could get to the horses the quickest! So we’d saddle them up with the sulky, put the harness and everything on and get out of the gate as quickly as we could. It was just a race to see who could do it the quickest! I don’t know how many times people got tipped out of the sulky running over logs!
You were also a bit of a sportsman in your time, weren’t you?
Yes, I played close to 400 games of Aussie Rules Football in my time – I was pretty good at it too! I was inducted into the local hall of fame down there in Cookadinia, and I even went on to coach the side after I stopped playing. I was a bit of a cricketer too.
And we also hear that you tried your hand at riding rodeos … how did that start?
Yes, well it all started on the farm, when we had to round up the calves so we could milk the cows. We would have to get the calves in of a night, otherwise they’d suck all the milk out of the cows overnight. So when I got home from school, me and old Waton the horse would get out there and round up the calves for the night. These calves were big ones, and I got the idea of putting a flank rope on them to get them in … it all went from there. Rodeos were a lot different back then to what they are now though, and I never really rode professionally.
You did ride a few rodeos in your time, but your last ride was a bit scary …
It was on New Year’s Day at a rodeo in Tumbarumba, and we’d had a big storm about an hour beforehand. The creek near us was flooded and rushing in.
Anyway, I drew this big horse to ride – he was about 16 or 17 hands high, and he had a bad look in his eye. As soon as the gate opened, this big fella got going … and he kept going! He picked up pace, and I was looking at the ground thinking I didn’t want to fall off, because he was so high! He went straight towards the fence, where all the people in the crowd were sitting.
Now… when the horses come towards the fence, the crowd is meant to stay there, because right at the last minute the horse will usually balk and dart the other way. So I was waiting for this horse to do that – but he never did! He just kept going, so everyone got out of the way! The horse and I went between two cars and straight into the flooded bloody creek!
Everyone was racing over to check on me and asking how I was going to get out. I said: “I’m going to do the bloody breast stroke!”
It knocked about 10 years off my life! That was enough rodeo riding for me!