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Australia’s biggest rodeo outfit a local affair

The Gill family have been circus, show and rodeo people since the early 1800s, and perhaps even earlier. These days Eddie and Karen Gill’s work is everything rodeo. They belong to the fifth generation of their family to pursue the calling, with the sixth and seventh generations active in the family business too. Based in the Horton Valley, Eddie and Karen operate Australia’s largest rodeo outfit, along with their extended family. 

“We’re the biggest rodeo company in Australia by a longshot,” says Eddie. “It’s not just rodeo. We breed more livestock. We produce more rodeos, we hire probably 90% of the contractors in Australia to work for us at different times.” Eddie is a tall and powerful looking man in his 50s and a good talker. Karen, by contrast, is petite, and quieter at first. For almost four decades they have worked in the family trade together, having five children and nine grandchildren along the way. 

The origins of today’s rodeos were in stock camps. “Most of entertainment was once horseback,” explains Eddie. “Whether it be racing, or whether it be just challenging each other in the bush or whatever, that’s where all this sort of stuff starts. So rodeo started in basically stock camps, fellows challenging each other who can ride the, you know, the horses they’re breaking at the end of the day.” Eddie says circuses evolved from this and, later, shows which evolved into the modern day rodeo we know today.

This interview was done in one of the Gills’ stints at their property in the Horton Valley. They travel the show and rodeo circuit for most of the time and are only at ‘home’ for less than 12 weeks a year. They had just returned from the Australian Professional Rodeo Association’s (APRA) National Finals at Chiltern and Alexandra in Victoria, where venues were packed out and the Gills enjoyed a lot of success. “We won all the bucking stocks of the year, which is the bucking bull of the year, the saddle bronc of the year, the bareback horse of the year. One of our horses was voted best horse of the finals,” says Eddie. Karen mentions that in addition people broke records with the livestock they supplied for the events. 

The Gill Brothers’ operation encompasses livestock breeding as well as production of the rodeo events. They supplied a mixed B double of livestock, including nine bulls, for the Victorian finals. Their livestock is bred at their Upper Horton base, Campfire. “The Upper Horton’s always been well known for the horsemen, the Kellys and that are all renowned people,” says Eddie. The connection with the Kellys introduced the Gills to the area 20 years ago. But the Horton is also well situated for the rodeo circuit, within reach of events held in both Victoria and Queensland. After a brief spell at home following the APRA National Finals the Gills headed off to run more events far and wide. The Gills are producing the Xtreme Broncs event and rodeo at the upcoming Barraba and Manilla Shows, before heading to the big one in the annual calendar, Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Next week, part 2 of the fascinating history of Gill Brothers Rodeo

By Jane Harris