The Isa set for world-class rodeo action

It’s not just modern mining operations attracting thousands to Mount Isa in Queensland’s Outback, with the Isa set to host the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest and best rodeo, writes SARAH GOLDING.

From August 6 to 8, cowboys, locals and visitors all donning an unspoken uniform of Akubras, jeans and RMs will pack Kalkadoon Stadium at the Buchanan Park complex for the 2010 Xstrata Mount Isa Rotary Rodeo.

The event, now in its 52nd year, attracts the cream of the rodeo crop from Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Japan who compete for a $200,000 prize pool in events including saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, breakaway roping, and barrel racing. But the most popular and thrilling event would have to be bull riding. This fast and unpredictable sport is not for the faint hearted, even if you’re only watching from the grand stand.

Away from the ring, the fun continues with XXXX Angels, side show alley, Rodeo Queen Quest and the opening night Mardi Gras parade, which for the first time will feature a spectacular laser light show spectacle. Rodeo goers can also see golden guitar winners Catherine Britt and Amber Lawrence, 2008 Australian Idol runner-up Luke Dickens and other acclaimed performers in the Irish Club Country Music Festival.

This year’s rodeo will also feature the new arena act – Running Wild Equestrian Entertainment – a thrilling show of riders performing horse tricks which used to be part of rodeo historically.

Outside the stadium, the whole city catches the rodeo spirit with local business and schools adorning their windows with rodeo themed displays to be judged Mount Isa’s ‘best dressed’.

Mount Isa’s first rodeo was held in 1959 when an ambitious Rotary Club decided to put the town on the map. To learn more about the history of the rodeo take a stroll along the ‘Isa Rodeo Walk of Fame’ at Mount Isa’s own ‘Rodeo Drive’ to see the names of legendary rodeo riders and champion stock.

But it’s not just cowboys and rodeo events that make Mount Isa such a special holiday destination. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the town’s modern mining operations and experience a variety of historical attractions.

With Xstrata now operating two mines and employing approximately 4,500, the vibrant and progressive city is definitely at the forefront of Australia’s mining industry – a far cry from the network of miner’s camps that once dotted the area.

The best place to take a behind the scenes look at what goes on underground is at the city’s $12 million dollar premier tourist attraction – Outback at Isa.

Built and operated by real miners, Outback at Isa’s guided Hard Times Mine Tour takes visitors 30 metres underground to experience first-hand the daily life and workings of a mine. After donning bright orange overalls and hard hats with lamps, you can explore a rabbit warren of underground tunnels and pathways, learn about the history and evolution of mining and have a go at the ‘Air Leg Drill’.

Next door to the complex is the Riversleigh Fossil Display Centre and Laboratory where you can walk through interactive displays and see fossils and life-size replicas of some of the ancient animals which once inhabited the region.

A visit to Mount Isa’s underground hospital from the days of World War II, the Royal Flying Doctors Museum, Kalkadoon Tribal Centre and Culture-Keeping Place, and the Mount Isa School of the Air whose students live up to 500km away and come to ‘class’ over the radio, are also must dos.

Accommodation at the Isa ranges from camping to self-contained apartments and comfortable hotel and motel rooms. You’ll need to get in quick to secure your bed as accommodation books out very quickly around rodeo time.

If you go

Mount Isa is located in north-west Queensland, 900km inland from Townsville along the Overlander’s Way and is easily accessed by direct flights from Brisbane, Gold Coast, Darwin, Alice Springs, Townsville and Cairns, as well as by road and bus.

For rodeo information visit www.isarodeo.com.au or phone (07) 4743 2706.

For accommodation and holiday ideas visit http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au/destinations/outback/