What started as an idea to attract tourists to Victoria’s High Country has turned into a passion to preserve Australia’s bush heritage.
- Victoria’s High Country community celebrates 25 years of keeping bush heritage alive
- Corryong welcomes the crowds as it continues to recover from bushfires in 2019-20
- Whip-cracking is shaping up to become an increasingly popular sport
This weekend’s Man From Snowy River Bush Festival at Corryong had crowds capped at 5,000, but in its 25 years it has expanded from a one-race event that took competitors up and back a mountain to the current five-day format.
Festival board member Peter Hunt said a total of seven events now showcased the horsemanship of stockmen and women.
The festival had become not only a nod to Jack Riley, the original High Country legend, but also a way of preserving bush skills, he said.
“I’ve got an eight-year-old grandson who can plait his own whip — his father taught him — that makes me very proud.
“Whip-cracking is on display here for people who have never seen it.
“If we don’t do that, it will be lost forever.”
Whipping up love for a dying skill
Wagga Wagga-based whip-maker Anthony Rennick started in the trade when his father went to an RM Williams plaiting school and made a whip and a belt 28 years ago.
Mr Rennick is a member of the Australian Whip-crackers and Plaiters Association — one of a handful making it a full-time profession.
He has sold his whips across the globe and was at this year’s festival displaying his trade and repairing many a crack.
“There is a big interest in whip-cracking and all the young kids running around here, it’s like it’s joined to their arms.
“It’s good to see.”
Lucy Adams from Wakool won the festival’s ladies whip-cracking championships at just 14 years of age.
Runner-up Kerry Toyer of Batemans Bay said it was fun to break the sound barrier with just the flick of a wrist.
Ms Toyer started the sport more than 20 years ago when she was travelling with a bullock team displaying Australia’s pioneering and transport history.
She has watched the enthusiasm for whip-cracking grow.
Ms Toyer said the championships were getting bigger every year, but doing well was not as easy as it looked.
“It’s all about the technique; you cannot force a crack out of the whip, you’ve got to get it rolling on itself.”
Regular maintenance and dressing of the whip helped to keep it in shape, she said.
Historic skills for today
International horseman Guy McLean has been a regular at the festival since 2000.
The official Australian stock horse ambassador displays his horses, recites poetry, and is a poster boy for the nation’s bush heritage.
“When I first came here it was mainly the competitors; everyone dressed like me with a stock hat,” he said.
“Now, you see a lot of people in shorts and fancy city clothes.”
Mr McLean said horsemanship was still at the heart of the festival, but it had grown to keep the heritage and the legends of the past alive.
“It’s the real deal — the person who wins this could make a life on the land and probably run those brumbies down the mountain just like Jim [Jack Riley] did.
“To put ourselves to a test, to rise to it, and to know the horse will always have our back — there is nothing like it.”
This year’s Man From Snowy River Challenge, which tests the most gifted and skilled horse and rider teams, was won by Morgan Webb.
High Country recovery
The festival was postponed last year due to the pandemic.
It was a major blow for the community, with Corryong severely impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires and desperate for tourism dollars.
Crowd numbers were reduced to almost half this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it was still a welcome boost for the economy, with hundreds of families camping and thousands attending.
The festival board estimates the festival can generate up to $5 million for the Upper Murray community.