Like the Islamic pre-dawn Fajr call to prayer, the beckonings of the campdraft announcer ring out across the sleeping township that is the Brunette Downs race weekend camp. I’m snug under three blankets and canvas in my swag on a chilly morning and I can see the coming day as just a golden smear low on the eastern horizon as I peer out at the coming day.

The announcer gives his call around 6.15am: “We have a 7am start in the campdraft this morning and I want those rostered onto the backyard duties down here on time. Competitors, please come down directly.”

Soon the air is brisk with the early “Barkly Breeze” that can blow across the vast grasslands of the NT’s Barkly tablelands at 30 knots for months on end of the dry season — and take your hat with it.

The soft hoof-fall of cantering stock horses ridden out to the campdraft arena punctuate my half-waked dreams. Soon I’m up out of my swag for coffee. I miss the start of events for the day but by 8am I’m perched on the fence with the Barkly breeze and sun at my back.

Campdraft has been described as a sport that is the ultimate test of rider, horse and beast and the skills on show by the first two this past Sunday were indeed exceptional. The stock added their own variables, with many seemingly reluctant to be turned into the wind as required to round the first peg.

As the Campdrafting Wikipedia page notes:

… a rider on horseback must “cut out” one beast from the mob of cattle in the yard or the “camp” and block and turn the beast at least two or three times to prove to the judge that they have the beast under control; then take it out of the yard and through a course around pegs involving right and left hand turns in a figure eight, before guiding it through two pegs known as “the gate”.

The outside course must be completed in less than 40 seconds.

Up to a total of 100 points are scored by horse and rider:

“Cut out” is worth a total of 26 points; horse work up to a further 70 points; and 4 points for the course. Most disqualifications (signalled by a crack of the judge’s stockwhip) occur when a competitor loses his beast more than twice on the camp; losing control of the beast in the arena or running a beast onto the arena fence.

And campdrafting isn’t a sport — and it truly qualifies as a sport — that takes it’s rules and regulations lightly. The Australian Campdraft Association’s Competition Rules and Guidelines run to sixty closely-defined pages.

No shortage of competitors — including local station managers whose word and deed may not normally be subject to challenge — fell to the crack of the judges whip and the strict exercise of the rules.

Here are a few more shots from the day.

And here are the winners from the weekend.

Firstly the Maiden campdraft (the term “Maiden” refers to, according to Rule 8.1 of the ACA Rules & Guidelines ‘A maiden horse ceases to be a maiden if it has won an event in any class or contest except Junior, Juvenile, Associate, Futurity and Encouragement drafts or Team events.‘), Dean Turner took first place, Jack Ford second and Aaron Lands third. Judge was Rodney McKinnon at left and President of the ABC Amateur Race Club, Anthony Cox of Anthony Lagoon, is at far right.

The Ladies campdraft was won by a very happy Alison Haines, with Narda Groves second and Jan Darcy and Kylie Barnett each taking a share of third place. Judge was Dean Wood and Anthony Cox of Anthony Lagoon presented the prizes.

The Novice category (a Novice horse is a horse which has won first prize in a Maiden, Novice, Ladies or a restricted Campdraft and remains a Novice until the horse has won a further three Novice drafts) was taken out by Sam Abdy with William Brown in second and Patrick Burke and Wayne Brown sharing third place. The judge was Dean Wood and Anthony Cox as usual provided a big smile for the winners.

The final event of the day was taken out by Katherine local (and now campdraft gypsy with his partner Kylie Barnett and their string of wonderful horses) Ben Tapp. Second place went to Jock Mackay and Jack Ford took third place. Judge was Rodney McKinnon.

I’ve got a bit more to come from the Brunette Downs meeting — some great pics of the races and the Friday night Rodeo — but they will have to wait for another day.

Here is the last shot of the day as the cattle are let out of the cutting pen yards to be tracked back to the open plains of the Barkly.