Visit the gallery!
16 Edgar Street,
PO Box 856,
Port Hedland WA 6721
(08) 9173 1064
Mon - Fri: 9am to 4.30pm
Sat: 9am to 2pm
Sun: 9am to 2pm
Rising Dust: Photographs from the Robe River Rodeo
19 April 2013 to 19 June 2013
In 2012 local photographers took part in FORM and BHP Billiton’s P.H.otography Workshop program. Under the guidance of mentor photographers John Elliott, Bewley Shaylor and videographer Michael Fletcher, the group travelled to Pannawonica to capture the iconic 18th Robe River Rodeo.
The collection of photographs is a celebration of the cowboys and cowgirls, bucking broncs and giant buckles, near misses and heart-stopping crashes, red dust and raw emotions that draw thousands of people to this event each year.
Showing alongside Rising Dust is Pastel Beauty In A Harsh Landscape by David Freedman, a pastel artist who has experienced life in Hedland through fly-in, fly-out work as a surgeon at the Hedland Health Campus. David has produced a series of delicate and considered artworks depicting local landscapes.
The community is invited to opening night Friday, April 19 from 6pm to 8pm at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery.
PANNAWONICA RODEO by John Elliott
Everyone loves a party and the people of Pannawonica sure know how to party. The town’s population of about 1,000 doubles in size in September each year when people and competitors converge on the small mining town for the annual rodeo. The Rodeo is held on the first weekend in September and 2012 saw the rodeo celebrate its 17th anniversary. The town eagerly looks forward to the event and competitors flock to the rodeo to test their skills against the bucking stock. People in the nearby towns of Karratha and Port Hedland treat the Pannawonica Rodeo like the Melbourne Cup – a great time to party.
The drive into the town from the main north south highway surprises me. I was expecting flat and featureless country but am delighted to drive through fascinating ridge and mesa country that makes me want to go back to school and concentrate on the geography lessons so that I can have some understanding of how this peculiar country was formed. The natural beauty of the area is overwhelming but a site along the road jolts me back to the present. The Shoe Tree looks like some sort of culturally significant monument; a beautiful gum tree on the side of the road adorned with hundreds of work boots hanging from the branches. After checking with the locals I find two explanations – when you leave Pannawonica you throw your work boots up into the tree so that they will be there on your return or you throw them into the tree because you will never need them again. Either way the Shoe Tree causes lots of people to stop and accounts for millions of photos being taken every year.
For most of the year Pannawonica is small, closed mining town run by Rio Tinto the rodeo’s main sponsor but on rodeo weekend everyone is welcome. By showtime Friday night the rodeo grounds are completely surrounded by thousands of campers who have turned up from all over the state. Flash camper vans, caravans, mobile homes, tents and authentic swags dot the landscape. The event continues to grow in popularity over the years and more visitors turn up every year. The rodeo runs for three days and the Sunny Cowgirls provide musical entertainment on two nights. Their rocky brand of country music with lyrics about the life people out here win the locals over instantly. Camping on site means visitors can party and not have the worry about driving home under the influence.
There is an increased police presence in town for the weekend. We know because we towed some of the visiting police who were stuck in the sand of a dry creek beds. We promised not to tell the local police.
Our party of twenty-five enthusiastic photographers from Karratha, Port Hedland and Newman were in town to use our photo skills to document the weekend’s activities. While none of us actually got on a bucking bull many got close to the action. I had the embarrassment of being chased by a bull, well actually a not very big calf. Although I don’t move as quickly as I did in the past I managed to escape to the safety on the other side of the arena fence. There are lots of photos to remind me of my misadventure.
Most of our photographers are excellent landscape photographers. The weekend at the rodeo gave them the opportunity to become more comfortable with photographing people. By the end of the weekend they came away with great photographers and lots of new friends.
The locals and visitors didn’t seem to mind the visiting paparazzi and I’m proud to say that our team has produced a world-class collection of photographs of the Pannawonica Rodeo.
Our congratulations and thanks to Don Inall, President of the Robe River Rodeo and his committee members for running a great event and their hospitality over the weekend. Don said the biggest problem they had, “We ran out of beer in the end!”
John Elliott is a photographer, writer and editor who has held solo exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery. His work is connected with Australian culture, the bush and Australian music. He has compiled Australia’s most extensive country music photo library and had produced over 14 books including the best selling On The Road With Slim Dusty and Where Country Is.