Sunday History Photo / Horse

Submitted: Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 01:06
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Australian race goers remember Phar Lap as the greatest of them all, and Garryowen is just as famous in the show ring, but when the men who battle the buckjumpers gather to discuss the best that ever was, a little strawberry roan mare's raw courage and talent places her well above all others in the hall of fame. Anyone who saw Keith Steven's famous photo of the first time Curio was ever ridden wondered how Alan Woods ever managed to get back in the saddle.

Macumba Station in the far North of South Australia holds the secret of Curio's birth. The heart of this 4000 square mile station is some 39 Klms north-east of Oodnadatta and less than 100 Klms from the fringe of the Simpson desert, Here is a land where you shiver in winter and sweat in summer; a land of low desert scrub, with mulga and gidgea predominant.
This was the environment which fashioned Curio.

It was here at Macumba in July 1945 that Reg Williams (RM) wrote the first lines in the saga of Curio, Reg was on a dual mission; 10 colored horses were to be selected for Adelaide buyers and 10 likely buckjumpers were required by the Marrabel Rodeo Committee. It was but a small consignment, and was placed on trucks to Saddleworth. Upon arrival at Saddleworth the horses were walked to Marrabel in charge of Johnny Cadell.
Still only a 3-year-old, she made her debut as a buckjumper in October of that same year. Noel Bottom, a rider of more than average ability, drew her, and was disposed of quickly and clearly. However, it is doubtful if any other than Noel remembered her. He was over for Marrabel again in 1946 and by a strange coincidence again drew Curio. Once again Curio repeated her 1945 success. The Marrabel committee sat up and took notice. She was served up again and this time Les Cowan, one of the best rough-riders South Australia had produced was to be the guinea pig. (Les used to recount with pride the fact that his 4 secs on Curio was the longest anyone had stayed with her when she was at her terrifying best.)
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Later that same day Lou Reichstein completed her hat trick when he bit the dust in the surcingle event - again very quickly. Curio had graduated. Rough-riders gave her more than a passing glance. She was a challenge that could not be ignored. Johnny Pearce, "The Iron Man" whose 14 rides in one day of team rodeo stand as a monument to his ability and endurance, was one of those in attendance that day who was deeply impressed by the new star's ability. He prevailed upon Harold Rowett to elevate Curio to the role of Feature Horse and asked to be given the first ride on her. And so it came to pass! The record book reveals that Curio again emerged triumphant after a short, sharp, decisive battle. Even the Iron Man had been 'ironed out'. Five wins in a row!
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Alan Bennett, one of the greatest all-round champions Australia has produced, fell the honour of riding in 1948. Curio continued on her merry way and Alan joined the imposing list of vanquished champions well before the half distance had been reached. Queensland champion, the diminutive Dally Holden, was a near-chute job at 2 secs in 1949 and Ray Crawford got short-shrift the following year. Queensland's white-booted Johnny Roberts fared no better in 1951 and to Johnny (Warrigal) Cadell, fell the somewhat dubious honour of being Curio's 10th successive victim.
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The stage was set for an epic battle when in 1953 Alan Woods, the man who was destined to put Feature Horses out of business, was the chosen one to do battle with Curio. Those who were privileged to see this contest will never forget it. Fortunes fluctuated with bewildering speed. The movie camera captured this drama most faithfully for it showed all phases, but a still photograph taken by Keith Stevens is particularly revealing.
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Anyone not knowing the ultimate result and viewing the photograph of Alan hovering high above Curio's back with the offside iron most peculiarly placed, would cheerfully have laid a TV set to a grass seed about him ever getting back in the saddle. But get back he did, and he rode out the storm. In doing so he set in motion one of the most heated controversies that has ever followed a feature ride. The decision was disputed but the fact remains - Curio was ridden. Call it a miracle if you like. Both deserved victory - one only could claim it even though the balance could have been upset by the weight of a cigarette paper. Both Alan and Curio had established their right to be acclaimed the best in the land in their respective spheres. This fact none could dispute.
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Many thousands poured into Marrabel for the return fight between these two in 1954. As the strains of "Old Curio" died away, the chute gates swung wide, and action erupted into the arena. Alan, conscious of the crowd's partisanship, was grimly determined. He survived and tempered Curio's early attempt at a K.O. and at five seconds, conscious that the crisis had passed, settled down in his own inimitable fashion to show how champions ride on a champion. There could be no argument about the decision this time. A stunned, incredulous crowd belatedly but warmly joined in the applause which had earlier broken out wildly from the riders' stand. Alan Woods had given a superb exhibition of rough-riding. Alan was the greatest rider Australia had produced in that quarter of a century. Alan might occasionally go under to an ordinary run-of-the-mill buckjumper, but challenge him with a feature horse or one served up as unrideable, and you were hell bent for trouble. He stopped the best horses in the land with a regularity that became monotonous.

Spring and Rodeo came again to Marrabel in 1955, but Curio at the age of 13 became a mother for the first time. The rodeo did not seem quite the same at Marrabel that year. There was something missing. In1956 Curio and her six-months-old chestnut colt foal, Son of Curio began what was to prove a new era - Curio and family versus the rough-riders. Once again Curio moved up into Chute 1. Once again the crowd waited hushed and expectant with eyes riveted, as Billy Austin screwed down rather nervously, the stirring strains of 'Curio' froze 8000 spectators into a state of hushed expectancy as with eyes riveted on Chute 1 they watched Billy Austin, clamp down on the celebrated strawberry roan outlaw. The gates swung wide and Curio with disarming nonchalance loped on to the arena. The crowd's sighs of disappointment were strangled at birth for suddenly it happened. There was again that well-remembered shoulder drop, twist and 'suck back' and Billy was with the birds.
1956 Billey Austin, NO PHOTO 2.1 Seconds
Curio was back.

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This is a very long story and I can’t add it all here so now we skip to 1964…….

More than 16,000 came to Marrabel in 1964 for what was to be Curio's last appearance as a buckjumper. It was not to be! She was again ridden for the full 10 seconds, this time by Dick White, who was at the time South Australia's outstanding rough-rider. He did the job almost casually!

Curio was but a shadow of what she had been The spirit was still willing but the flesh was now weak. Gone was that grinding, pounding spread of forefeet, with simultaneous lift of hindquarters, high in the air, and hoofs, even higher. The end of an era had come. From now on her sons were on their own

Curio passed away in 1970

During the 25 years of her association with Marrabel she worked, in all, less than 5 minutes. Her leisure hours were many for neither she nor her 4 sons, Son of Curio, Curio's Special, Curiosity, and Curio's Farewell, were ever asked to work anywhere else but at Marrabel. In between rodeo's she watched (within sight of shute 1)the seasons come and go, deservedly she lived life to the full. And so now her remains are buried within the rodeo grounds at Marrabel, her home forever, and her resting place is marked for all to see by a bronze plaque.

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Reply By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 01:47

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 01:47
I visited Macumba in Jan' 2004, I just had to see where Curio came from, I gave the Station a call from the Pink Roadhouse just to check if it was ok to visit, the Roadhouse gave me a Mailbag and an Antenna to take out for them.
Was good to get some history about the Station and had lunch with the Family.

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Reply By: Member - John & Sally W (NSW) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 05:02

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 05:02
Thanks again Doug.
What would Sunday morning be without checking in to Exploroz and reading your terrific Sunday photo history.
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Reply By: Member - Christopher P (NSW) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 05:45

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 05:45
Once again Doug, a excellent history lesson. With excelent research. Thank you.
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Reply By: Member - John Q (QLD) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 07:33

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 07:33
Well done Doug, another interesting read & thanks for your effort for your "Sunday History" pieces.

just crusin & smelling the flowers

1. At Halls Creek (Is he really lost?)
2. East of Cameron Cnr

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Reply By: Stu & "Bob" - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:07

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:07
Thanks Doug,

I do enjoy reading your Sunday History.

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Reply By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:34

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:34
I was a bit tired last night, had a big day with Cattle, Horses, and reptiles, I did forget to add this link below and to say I did see Curio in 1952 when my Parents took me to the Rodeo , so I have always known about her and been a fan , In the link there 2 songs for you to check out and a pic of my Bug Deflector,


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Reply By: Member Brian (Gold Coast) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:54

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 08:54
Thanks Doug..... another great read!!!!



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Follow Up By: Member - David C2 (VIC) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 11:04

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 11:04
Thanks Doug, Very well written,I look forward to my Sunday fix of Aussie history. It is a good reminder that not all our great pioneering stories are about people. We sometimes forget that our animal friends give so much and ask so little in return.

Happy Travels Dave
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Follow Up By: Troppo Tom (Virginia, N.T.) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 22:06

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 22:06
Yes very well written Doug!
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Reply By: Member - Patrick (QLD) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 10:58

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 10:58
Thanks Doug.

Sunday just would be the same without your history pages. They are always a good read and very informative.


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Reply By: Member - bungarra (WA) - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 11:36

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 11:36
Hi Doug

A great read as always............your Sunday page has become something I look forward to always


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Reply By: Marion - Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 20:20

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 20:20
Hi Doug, thanks so very much for a great read every Sunday, I look forward to reading dome history of our wonderful country every week, Keep up the good work. Cheers Marion
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