A runaway of sorts has dealt a crushing blow to the Corryong community’s annual Man from Snowy River Bush Festival, one of the largest events on the southern NSW events calendar.
And the Man from Snowy River himself is very disappointed.
Originally planned to kick off tomorrow, the festival is another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced, firstly, a postponement to September, but this week news came through that it was to be cancelled altogether until 2021.
Inspired by Banjo Paterson’s famous poem, The Man from Snowy River, the event attracts thousands of mountain riders, poets, artists and visitors each April for a celebration of Australian bush skills.
The organising committee had hoped the festival, in its 25th year, would lift the spirits and economy of a community still in recovery from the devastating bushfires that tore through the region in January.
Festival committee secretary Cameron Jackson said the impact of the cancellation has been profound, not just on the town but on all who had prepared for the festival.
“When you have up to 8000 people coming into town for between two and 10 days during the festival – you have some stores doing four months of trade in that period – the impact on the Corryong community will be massive,” he said.
It’s a punch in the guts for the 110 competitors who were geared up to compete in the Man From Snowy River Challenge – Mr Jackson describes it as the best display of overall horsemanship in the world – which acts as the pinnacle event in a seasonal calendar of challenges.
During a gruelling four days, men, women and young riders compete in six preliminary events that challenge the most skilled professional horse-and-rider teams. The top 10 scoring riders move forward to earn their place in the final events: Paterson’s Brumby Catch and the Kosciusko Stock Saddle Buckjump.
“To win the Man from Snowy River Challenge you need what I would say is five of the best horses in Australia, and be one of the top 10 horsemen in the country,” said Mr Jackson.
He said preparation for that is a full time job.
“Preparing for that is a daily thing. You’re on your horse seven days of the week; you’re doing cattlework, putting it over obstables, getting it fit. I know there’s a whole lot of things to deal with in this world right now, but for us as competitors it’s gut wrenching.”
Mr Jackson also manages Riley’s Ride, an annual four-day 120km horseback ride held to commemorate the life of legendary Upper Murray stockman Jack Riley, locally regarded as the inspiration for Paterson’s famous ballad.
“It’s an enormous thing to organise that ride,” he said. “A lot of where we ride, from Tom Groggin Station to Corryong all got burnt [during the bushfires] so we’ve been spending three full days a week clearing the track.”
The cross-country course that was destroyed by fires required rebuilding, and work had to be done on the reenactment paddock.
Mr Jackson claims they’d got to a point where the organisers said, “Yeah we’ve done it, we can run the festival.” Then COVID-19 hit.
“It affected me personally, I don’t mind saying that. All the work and anxiety, all those pressures that go with it – you’ve got a responsibility to get this event up and running, but [the cancellation] is something that’s out of our control. We’ve just got to look forward to next year.”
Kieran Davidson, from Young, was last year’s winner of the Man from Snowy River Challenge. His wife, Christy, has won the women’s challenge four times.
He told About Regional that he and Christy were all set to go for competition in this year’s event, and that the cancellation was disappointing for all the competitors who had put a lot of time and preparation into this milestone event.
“More importantly, it is a massive shame for the Corryong region after what they have encountered with the bushfire and now coronavirus.”
Mr Davidson spent much of January in Corryong assisting with the firefighting efforts and helping the small community get back up on its feet.
“The festival provides a massive financial gain for that area,” he said. “They run a great show down there with a great community behind them.
“Let’s hope everyone gets behind next year’s festival and supports it as best they can.”