- Mt Isa rodeo is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere: the town is the Rodeo Capital of Australia
- The event attracts 30,000 people to the region and boosts the local economy
- In the past eight years, the rodeos have raised A$1.3m for charities and community groups
Photography by Dan Karas
It was Peter Gogsch CA’s sense of adventure that prompted him to respond to a job ad that said: Accountant, location: Australia. It was 2002, and he was completing his final year at the University of Cork in Ireland.
“Being the adventurous character that I am, it sounded like a great idea,” he says.
The location was in fact Longreach, a small town in central west Queensland — approximately 700 kilometres from the coast and a 12-hour drive from Brisbane — with a population of just over 3,000.
The change in landscape from his hometown Killarney, in Ireland’s south, really registered while onboard a plane travelling the final leg of his trip, from Brisbane to Longreach.
“I recall in particular at one point as we were coming in to land, looking out the window at this great big expanse, thinking ‘my God, what have I done?’ The vast landscape was barren and not a green shoot in sight.”
While Gogsch hadn’t ever planned to move to the Australian outback to start his career, he’s never looked back and still works for chartered accountancy practice O’Regan & Partners, where he started out.
But he did encounter culture shocks adjusting to life in an outback town.
“You don’t necessarily have all the creature comforts that you have in the city. However, this makes you enjoy and appreciate these things so much more when you do get the chance to get away on a break.”
The flies and insects took a lot of getting used to, he admits. As did the weather.
“In one word: hot. It’s a little ironic but, growing up, I was never one for the heat. In Ireland a hot day was anything above 20 degrees Celsius and an absolute scorcher was over 25 degrees.”
Although it was spring when Gogsch arrived in Longreach, temperatures were already in the high thirties. They average around 40 degrees in summer.
He completed his chartered accountancy designation in Longreach. After four years he moved 650 kilometres — further inland and further north — to manage the firm’s Mt Isa office.
Comparatively, Mt Isa was a metropolis. Home to 25,000 people, its largest industry is mining and it is the region’s administrative, commercial and industrial centre.
Gogsch enjoys the lifestyle that goes with living outside of a major city, which includes a short drive to work, allowing a good work/life balance, maximising his time with his partner and their daughter.
He’s passionate about being part of the community and giving back to the community. He does this in part as a director of the Mt Isa Irish Association and Irish Club, set up in the 1950s to promote Irish history and culture to the Irish community of Mt Isa.
But Gogsch’s key community work is through his role as treasurer of the Mt Isa Rotary Rodeo, the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere. However, he didn’t take on the role because of any prior experience with rodeos.
“The sport is completely unknown in Ireland,” he says.
The Mt Isa event is so big the town is known as “Rodeo Capital of Australia”. Mt Isa even has a street called Rodeo Drive where the names of rodeo legends are engraved on the footpath. Rodeo action includes bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and even a Rodeo Queen contest.
Rodeos have provoked opposition from animal rights and animal welfare advocates, who argue that various competitions constitute animal cruelty. But Gogsch says animal welfare is something all involved take very seriously.
“We work very closely with our stock contractors, professional association and individuals involved to ensure the highest standards are upheld and maintained.
“There is also extensive regulation which ensures the welfare of the animals is maintained throughout events.”
I recall in particular at one point as we were coming in to land, looking out the window at this great big expanse, thinking ‘my God, what have I done?
Local economy boost
Planning for the rodeo occurs year round due to its size and scale — a three-day event that attracts crowds of about 30,000.
“It’s a huge tourist attraction and a huge boost to the local economy. Needless to say, it is our largest community service project, which raises significant funds for various community and sporting groups in town, and supports the work of the town’s two Rotary clubs.”
The rodeo enlists about 600 volunteers. Gogsch says bringing together and coordinating that many people with the range of activities is one of the biggest challenges faced every year. “Fortunately we have a great committee which works tirelessly to facilitate and coordinate all aspects.”
The toughest thing about rodeo weekend is the hours, he says. “We are usually on site from 7am through until after 1am when everything finishes up. Even though it takes a fair bit out of you, it is also really rewarding and gives a great sense of achievement once all is done for another year.”
During Gogsch’s eight years as treasurer the rodeos have raised A$1.3m for charities and community-based not-for-profit groups. So it’s all for a good cause — is there any chance he’ll jump in the saddle himself one day and try his hand at bull riding? “Not a chance. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to get up on a bull, but also a lot of skill. I may have some of these attributes, but certainly not all.”
This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Acuity magazine.