Unique bush sport draws Australia's top outback horseriders

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Rockhampton (Australia) (AFP)

Decked out in cowboy hats, brightly coloured shirts, jeans and boots, thousands of Australian countryfolk packed out a vast campground this weekend to cheer on competitors in the unique outback sport of campdrafting.

Campdrafting -- one of just three sports recognised as originating from Australia -- involves a cowboy or cowgirl riding their horse while guiding a bullock around a course in a yard, often at a fast pace.

"It's totally unique. It's the best feeling you'll ever have," Tony Ward, 61, a retired competitor who has been taking part in campdrafts for decades, told AFP at the Paradise Lagoons Campdraft in central Queensland state just outside Australia's beef capital Rockhampton.

"There is nothing better than breeding your own horse and training your own horse (and getting a high score)."

Campdrafting harks back to the early days of Australian frontier culture in the dusty outback, where drovers on horseback had to muster cattle spread across vast unfenced plains.

Eager to show off their skills and horsemanship to other ranchers, the stockmen created the bush sport of campdrafting in the late 1800s in the outback in eastern Australia, with the contests spreading across the vast continent.

Today, tens of thousands of people flock to campdrafts, with the four-day dawn-to-dusk Paradise Lagoons extravaganza one of the biggest on the calendar with up to 12,000 competitors and spectators.

Campdrafting is also an opportunity for those who live on isolated cattle stations thousands of miles away from major towns to socialise.

The recent severe drought and floods that devastated parts of Queensland has seen some campdrafting events cancelled due to losses of livestock from the natural disasters.

But organisers of those events that are still able to go ahead have rallied together, in a bid to give cattlemen and women a chance to take a break from the challenging conditions.

"I think campdrafting to me is an expression of everything that exists in the Australian bush," Josie Angus, 45, an avid competitor whose family has long been associated with campdrafting, told AFP after a day of riding.

"It's about community, it's about family, it's about celebrating I guess the unique skills that we have in working with cattle and horses."

Campdrafts also serve as major fundraisers for the bush, with this weekend's Paradise Lagoons event raising money for rural flying doctors and helicopter rescue services.