Big Al Wilson is returning to the Great Lakes once again in January. The intrepid rodeo clown will entertain the crowds at the East Coast Bull and Bronc Championship series in Nabiac.
How does a boy from Balmain end up becoming an Australian rodeo identity?
At the age of 18 I went to a rodeo while on holidays at Batemans Bay. For some unknown reason, I wanted to enter the bull riding event, even though I had never been around livestock before.
Anyway, I got bucked off the bull that day, but I thought it was fantastic. I made friends with some rodeo cowboys who lived on the outskirts of Sydney.
After that I would travel for two hours out to my newly-made cowboy friends’ properties to practise riding bulls.
Sometimes I would get on up to ten bulls in one afternoon, but the hard work finally paid off. In the end there were no more bulls my friends had that I couldn’t ride.
It wasn’t long until I was travelling to rodeos all around Australia. In 1984, aged 20, I became the Australian rookie bull riding champion in professional rodeo.
> What were some of the highlights of your professional career?
I won the bull riding championships at Australia’s biggest rodeo in Mt Isa in 1985 and competed at seven National Finals throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. I was one of the top five professional bull riding champions in the country at the time.
> Any hairy moments in the arena?
Plenty! Rodeo is a dangerous sport – one of the most dangerous in the world – but that adds to the thrill of it! I’ve broken a few bones in my time. Every time you climb into the chute to ride a bull, it’s an adrenaline rush.
You don’t know what the bull is going to do – which way he’ll turn. You could be seriously injured or even killed if you fall the wrong way, but you can’t let fear stand in the way of something you love to do!
> So, what made you decide to become a rodeo clown?
I moved into specialising as a rodeo specialty acts entertainer in or around 2000, after a serious accident put me out of the game.
> What makes a good rodeo clown?
A rodeo clown is an entertainer and is a character of the rodeo. He has many roles and duties to undertake and must be fully experienced with all arena activity and stock handling – both bulls and broncs.
He must be able to jump in to save a cowboy from being run over by a bull should one of the other two protection clowns have trouble.
> How many rodeos do you perform at in a year?
Big Al is booked at rodeo events in every state around Australia, including Darwin, Alice Springs and, of course, Mt Isa.
I work at over 40 events a year and have travelled overseas to events in New Zealand, USA and Thailand.
> So, what do you do when you’re not in the arena?
I’m flying from state to state most weeks of the year, but I love it more when I get to go on the road in the truck with my wife Joy and the kids. Rodeo has given me everything in life. I met Joy at a rodeo in Darwin in 1986. Joy was a champion rodeo breakaway roper in the 1980s.
I’m also a songwriter and poet. I’ve released and direct market my own album of country songs.
I am also a successful rodeo promoter. For the last seven years I’ve been staging a rodeo series known as the East Coast Bull and Bronc Championships at venues in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.
The finals for the East Coast Championship series is held at Wyong Rugby Leagues Club on the Central Coast every year in January.
I used to run my series event at Tuncurry a few years ago on the footy oval. The Nabiac Charity Rodeo is now staging an East Coast series event out at Nabiac on Sunday, January 2 and series points earned there will count towards the grand final at Wyong on Saturday, January 15.
Riders who perform well at Wyong qualify for the international event staged at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne in May each year.
We’ve got a lot of good riders chasing points, whom we expect to compete at the Great Lakes event.
> Thank you Al.
> Interview by Roger Marmion.