Casino Beef Week: Rodeo, wood chopping and Mr Beef
James May ventures to Casino and casts a queer eye over Beef Week.
Tough-looking blokes in muscle shirts and work boots drive by in utes. Fellas in kilts playing bagpipes march behind them. A woman in a giant red hat sings ‘Feeling hot hot hot’ as a gang called the ‘Casino Willy Wurlers’ wave at the crowd. There’s a superhero float with Batman and Robin and nearby is a trio of spunks wearing Indian feathers and a bison outfit. There are huge tractors, shiny petrol tankers and trucks that split your ears when they honk. Another burly SUV rolls by with a giant sticker that says ‘Plough Boy’, followed by a massive banana float looking mighty phallic.
It could be a scene from the Mardi Gras Parade but it’s Beef Week in the town of Casino. Most of the locals have gathered in the CBD to enjoy the annual procession. In its 32nd year, the theme is ‘Heroes & Villains’. The ‘Beef Week Queen’ heads the parade in a striking tiara and flowing silk gown, a gold sash draped proudly over her shoulder. The revelers do a loop up the main drag and half an hour later the woman in the giant red hat sings, ‘I’ve had the time of my life’.
Casino, located in northern NSW, is one of Australia’s largest beef centres. It’s the regional hub of a very large cattle industry and positions itself as the ‘beef capital of Australia’. Casino Beef Week, held every year in late May/early June, is one of the most popular regional festivals with around 20,000 people converging on the town. It is widely known for its unique focus on cattle and life on the land. The festival runs for ten days with about 70 events including a street parade, square dancing, wood chopping, rodeo and a Mister Beef strip show.
The wood chopping event is a bold display of pure macho strength. I wander down a side street and find the competition in full swing outside a grand old pub. The female MC bellows, “Ready, set, go!” and the boys hack away at their stumps. “C’arn Greggie,” someone shouts. A log splits in half and the MC yells, “We have a winner.”
The rodeo events kick off at the showgrounds mid-afternoon. Rain is drizzling but most of the town is still here. Guys and gals swagger about in cowboy hats and boots. Country music plays, ‘We’re the boys from the bush and the men from the scrub’.
The female riders are up first. They look sassy in chic-sparkle tops and shiny studded belts. They grit their teeth and charge through the arena. Then, it’s the cowboys’turn. The gates burst open and a steer bolts out. The rider swings a rope overhead and snares the elusive prize much to the audience’s delight.
But the ‘Saddle Buck’ event is the one to watch. The horse bucks up and down throwing the rider about to cheers from the crowd and pretty soon, the guy bites the dust. One rider gets smacked in the head as the gate flies open while another gets bucked off a horse and thrown into a fence. The horse bolts off and the MC yells, “That fella went down in a blaze of glory”. As the rider limps out of the arena, the host shares his unbridled enthusiasm: “Where else would ye wanna be on a super Saturday night?”
Back in Casino town, folks gather at the local RSL for the annual Mister Beef competition. “It’s Casino’s premiere cultural event,” booms the host with a cheeky grin. The audience is mixed – guys and girls of all ages are here to watch their favourite fella strut his stuff.
GALLERY: Check out the events at Casino Beef Week. Photos: Greg Bork
Most contestants are under 35 but then there’s Val, a Russian in his forties who had watched ‘Mr Beef’ on TV and flew all the way to Australia just to compete. Buff and tanned, Val strips to a pair of red jocks and does a performance with kettle bells and balloons.
A chump in Superman undies gets up and gyrates to ‘Sexy Back’ followed by a sweet guy in leopard print briefs. “One of these men is about to become the most famous bloke in regional Australia,” the MC says.
Finally, the winner is announced – a muscled stud who dons a pair of cattle horns. He peels his jocks down a notch and teases the audience. Then the newly crowned king of Casino Beef Week basks in the spotlight to wolf-whistles and cheers from a bunch of cougars up front.