Gay Cowboys: Kicking Back in the Northern Rivers
NSW couple Mikche and Dan invites SX on their rural property for a glimpse of their life on the land. By James May.
Mikche and Dan are two queer boys from the Northern Rivers in northern New South Wales. They live on a 155 acre property and mostly raise Brahman-cross cattle. They have 37 head of breeder cows, a Brahman bull, four horses and an eight month old foal. The boys also have a stack of chooks and three dogs: Smokey, Dusty and Storm.
Their home is perched on a hill with 360 degree views. The pastures climb toward the horizon, flanked by lush forests. The sky goes on forever and the neighbours are nowhere in sight. “We get incredible sunsets,” Mikche says. “The spring storms are visible from a huge distance. It’s amazing to watch the clouds roll in.”
“The Northern Rivers celebrates farming culture,” adds Dan. “Perhaps we’ll make it easier for young queers to come out in the country – easier for queers to live where they were raised.”
Many queer couples who leave the city choose to settle in coastal areas and a pastoral life is often overlooked. The work that goes into the maintenance of a farm can be too much for some, while others don’t find a rural life appealing.
Dan was raised in North Queensland and has the country life firmly in his roots. His family has farmed horses and cattle for generations and he spent a lot of time on cattle stations as a kid. “My parents threw in their regular jobs to become farmers,” he says. “I did camp drafting, rodeo and bull riding in my teens.”
He met Mikche three years ago in the town of Innisfail in North Queensland. Mikche had lived in Melbourne before he went travelling around Australia. He was a vegetarian and never imagined himself with someone like Dan. “I’d been vegetarian for a long time but I met a beef cattle farmer who took me home and cooked me a steak,” he laughs. Mikche stayed and worked on Dan’s property before they moved to the Northern Rivers, with the dream of farming beef cattle together.
The boys say they’ve never experienced homophobia living in the country or dealing with cattle farmers. “They treat us like they would anyone else,” says Mikche. “We have a business relationship and a friendship.” The boys say the Northern Rivers is very queer-friendly and that other farmers are helpful and willing to share their knowledge.
Although it can be demanding, they say that working on the land is not a chore. “It’s very satisfying,” Mikche says. “I love hearing the rooster crow in the morning. I love the incredible views, the space, getting my hands dirty. We’re always doing a project: fixing fences, building sheds, gardening. Working with cattle is the best.”
Mikche is also a full-time nursing student and Dan works for an employment agency in Lismore. They would both like to spend more time working on the property and Dan is training to be a natural hoof trimmer for horses.
“Unfortunately farming as an occupation is not valued enough in Australia to do it full time,” he says. “Farmers have to work in whatever capacity they can to sustain what they love, which is farming. Producing food should be more highly valued.”
Some locals do think of them as ‘gay cowboys’ and Dan and Mikche don’t mind this. It’s a culture that Dan’s very familiar with, having lived on the land most of his life. Although he says ‘cowboys’ in reality are quite different from those portrayed in fiction.
“Cowboy culture mostly revolves around events and competitions. Rodeos and Australian horse sports like camp drafting are huge.” Camp drafting is one of the most dangerous horse sports in the world, Dan explains. “It’s heaps of fun, a great spectator sport.”
The boys have four horses – from different generations of the same family: Shadow, Dancer, Molly and Flash. Dan says you inherit a love of horses and he can’t imagine living away from them.
“Horses are incredibly honest. They can pick it if you’re being false and they won’t respond the way you need them to.”
“A beautiful relationship develops and you fall in love with every one of them,” he says.
Dan is currently teaching Mikche to ride at the property.
“It’s exhilarating,” Mikche says. “You feel super-human, charging across a paddock with a huge beast between your legs.”
While horses and Akubras reinforce the cowboy image, for Dan and Mikche, it’s just a way of life.
“The cowboy life may be represented by wearing hats and other get-up,” Dan says.
“But we relate more to the spirit of things. It’s been in my blood for a long time.”
“The ‘cowboy’ may be a style for city people,” adds Mikche. “But when you’re working on the land, you need those hats to protectyou from the sun, and jeans and boots to move cattle through scrub.”
“When we come home we hang up our Akubras and head off to a Tropical Fruits party like everyone else.”
According to Dan, the cowboy culture has been romanticised by the media and can be viewed with a touch of fetishism, especially among gay men.
“The cowboy was a gay fetish way before Brokeback Mountain,” he says. “The cowboy ideal appeals because of the sense of spaceand the relationship with the land and animals. It’s a romantic dream, meeting a cowboy and living on the land.”
Mikche raises a smile. “I left the city and went travelling, met a cowboy and became one.”