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February 21, 2013

Nothing Rusty About this Outback Legend

Photo Credit: Erica Harrison / Australian Geographic
by Roderick Eime

“Put the billy on Jimmy we’re just bringin’ ‘em in Quick quick. Lock ‘em up. Whoa, steady, steady!” With the jangle of cowbell a motley flock of sheep ambles in, then a horse, a pack mule, a sprightly sheep dog and even a brace of ducks. This is Rusty Frame’s grand entrance and Act One of his much-loved R.M. Williams Outback Stockman's Show at Longreach’s famous Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame here in Central Queensland.

To some, Rusty’s well-choreographed entourage may seem a trifle jingoistic and cliché, but Rusty is the real deal and his short, playful rendition of life on the land is a derived from his own lifetime of experience – from drover and cattleman to rodeo clown. You don’t get animals to behave that way by accident.

Despite years under the harsh Australian sun and in the saddle, Rusty’s in great shape, sharp as a tack and authentic to the bone. He’s proud of the show because he knows exactly what’s distilled into it.

“There's a lot of old drovers in there, a lot of old pioneers,” says Rusty, gesturing toward the museum, his lips barely moving beneath his wide-brimmed Akubra hat, “Your Sid Kidmans and your R.M. Williams, and...lots of 'em. My grandfather, he was a drover all his life, and as a kid I’d be out there whenever I could ridin’ and drovin’.”

Look past the words and you’ll see it in his eyes, especially when he recounts his time with one of the most famous Australian outback legends ever.

“If I couldn’t get down to grandpa’s, I’d head to over to a friend’s property down near Chinchilla where I come from, a place called Rockybar,” says Rusty, a note of emotion clear in his tone, “his name was Reg, R.M. Williams. I was part of the workin’ team back then and he was a great man and taught me many things I remember to this day.”

Reginald Murray (R.M.) Williams OA CMG, passed away in 2003 at the ripe old age of 95, a lifetime’s hard work, struggle and tenacity behind him. Despite growing up amid the hardship of the early 20th century droughts and the Great Depression, his skills in horsemanship and craftwork, fuelled by a ‘never quit’ attitude, set him on a course for commercial success. The R.M. Williams brand is world-renown and synonymous for durability and dependability.

R.M. Williams touched people at all levels and walks of life. He was unscrupulously honest, forthright and commanding, yet remarkably humble and left those he met with an indelible, if simple lesson in life: never look behind, keep your eyes ahead.

Then Prime Minister, John Howard, never shy to embrace an Australian ideal, nevertheless summed RM up to a tee. “He was a shining example of the great Australian adventurer, an uncanny bush craftsman and generous sponsor of outback ethic and culture.”

Rusty remembers one of RM’s bush lessons. “Even today I still suck a gumleaf while I’m musterin’. What that does is stop me lips gettin’ sunburned. There, that’s somethin’ I learned.”

Opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1988 to coincide with bicentenary celebrations, the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre is located right in the middle of the great outback - in the town of Longreach. The centre's five painstakingly constructed and authentically themed galleries display the history behind some of Australia's greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralists and Aborigines. It has been the recipient of numerous awards and continues to draw visitors by the thousands.

Some would say this is the spiritual heart of the outback. The birthplace of Qantas is celebrated with a museum right across the road and just down the way a bit is Winton which, if you believe the legend, was the inspiration for the famous Banjo Patterson ballad, “Waltzing Matilda”. The neighbouring towns of Charleville, Blackall, Barcaldine, and Cloncurry each have their own unique historic attractions and complete the outback heritage pilgrimage.

As for Rusty, no matter where he finds himself in the world, his heart is always in the outback.

“The outback is fantastic place - I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else. Wide open spaces, friendly, friendly people – it’s God’s country,” he says with a wink, “we might be rough, but we’re loving people. There’s always a bed and a feed if you’re ‘ungry and no-one’s gonna ask for money.”

But while Rusty remembers the past fondly, he knows the world is changing.

“While there’s cattle and stock,” he says defiantly, “there’ll always be stockmen and I just want to be part of it until me toes curl up.”

Breakout

You don’t have to travel to the middle of the outback to sample some of our ‘dinkum’ bush fun and games. Right in the heart of Queensland’s Gold Coast you’ll find R.M. Williams Australian Outback Spectacular. A little bit of Hollywood excitement mixed with a lot of true-blue Aussie fun and laughs, the show is a choreographed stage performance drawing on the myths and legends of the outback, accompanied by a great meal and show.


Australian Outback Spectacular, Gold Coast
outbackspectacular.myfun.com.au

Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame, Longreach
www.outbackheritage.com.au

Queensland Heritage Trails
www.heritagetrails.qld.gov.au
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