The Australian Outback Spectacular is described accurately in its own title; it is quite simply, spectacular.
I say this as a man who lived in the Northern Territory of Australia for over two decades. I had the opportunity to travel and work throughout the majority of the Northern Territory during that time and there is no doubt that “The Territory” is the real outback of Australia. My wife of 30 years spent that time in the Territory with me and we both agreed, the show was simply sensational and a genuine reflection of the country and life style that is the Australian Outback.
I have read reviews that have rated the show poorly, stating that the life and times of the Australian Light Horse and the Cattle Stations portrayed, is highly romanticized and stylized. Well the truth is, that’s true. To portray a land that is the largest island in the world and encompasses over 7.5 million square kilometres (2.9 million Square miles), the world’s largest rock (Ayers Rock) and the world’s largest salt lake (Lake Ayer 8, 430 square kilometres), in a two hour show; has to take artistic licence. That said, they have done a magnificent job of it.
The administration of the event was one of the best examples of precision organisation I have ever had the pleasure to see in action. From the moment you arrive in the car park until your departure from the premises, every person involved in this show plays their part to perfection. On the night we attended (Saturday October 12, 2011) there were over 1, 000 people in the audience and the staff managed to make you feel like you were getting personal attention throughout the evening.
As you arrive you are presented with an authentic looking wooden walk bridge leading up to the main entrance. As we climbed the steps to the reception area we were greeted by a lady in outback costume selling souvenir programs. She was wearing an Australian style slouch hat with a R. M. Williams puggaree (hat band). R. M. Williams is one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of Australian Outback clothing and is particularly famous for their boots. If you would like to know more about R. M. Williams products or the history of their founder, just follow the link.
As we proceeded through the reception process we could hear the country music coming from inside the hall. Once our ticket was checked it was a great surprise to find that one of those hats was supplied to each and every person attending the show. The sea of bush hats in the reception saloon and later during the main show was a rousing site not seen in larger cities for a long time now. After reception you pass through a shop area offering a wide range of souvenirs
including photographs opportunities that I could not bypass. My wife and I just had to have one with the Australian Flag background and icons of the outback.
After the shop there is a saloon area with drinks for sale and a huge range of photographs on display, working dogs to meet and horses in stalls for an up close experience. The photo below is of Ransom, one of the four horses you get to see during the pre-show. While you are looking around, there is a selection of country music being sung by Glenn Jones on a flat top wagon. Glenn has been performing
for more than 20 years with 12 albums to his name. He did a mighty fine job and his singing really got the crowd into the swing of the night.
A short introduction is provided after the songs and the reason why some people have a red puggaree and others have a yellow one is explained. The organisers divided the spectators into two teams and they get the two sides into the mood for the evening by having them compete to see which one can create the loudest “Cooee”. The Cooee is an Australia bush call and is pronounced more like “Coooooeeeeee”, yelled at the top of your lungs in the outback to announce your arrival or when trying to find another person.
After all this yelling you move into the main arena to pre-arranged seating and find the first course of your meal waiting on the table for you. Almost immediately, the service staff are circulating with wine, beer, water and soft drinks, all included in the cost of the night and replenished freely throughout the two hour show. As soon as soon as everyone is seated the show begins. The arena is a fully enclosed building that appears like a huge shed from the outside. Inside there is a sand covered, rectangular arena and the audience is seated in elevated positions that provide great views of the entire show. Now one of my most regular annoyances when attending any show is having my enjoyment of the entertainment spoiled because my view is obscured by the people in front of me. None of that here, the seating is arranged wonderfully and every person has a great view.
Now imagine if you can; a mob of cattle or sheep herded into that area by horsemen accompanied by fantastic lighting, sound and visual effects. The greatest of those effects for me, was the rear wall of the structure being used as a movie projection screen. During the first rush of activity a rider races around the arena and then exits through a panel that slides back from that wall. His exit is orchestrated against the visual projection to give the impression he has raced out of the building and into surrounding outback countryside. The effect is sensational.
This effect is used continually to give enhancement to the movement within the arena.
The show continues at a high pace throughout the evening. Some of the highlights I noticed include:-
- Magnificent horses demonstrating incredible dexterity within a constrained space;
- Mobs of cattle and sheep being herded around the arena;
- Men and women demonstrating incredible horse handling skills;
- Trick riding reminiscent of old west shows that old west stories are made of;
- Historical comment and description to accompany the evening;
- An emotional tribute to the Australian Light Horse Brigades with particular reference the charge of the charge of the light brigade in 1917, October 17 to take control of water sources at Beersheba (Israel);
- A demonstration of horse breaking;
- Nurse involvement in the first world war;
- Wonderful uniforms and costumes authentic to the era;
- A demonstration of modern cattle mustering using a helicopter that appears through that end wall and thunders up and down the arena herding a bunch of cattle back and forth.
The Australian Stockman (a cowboy by another name) is also highlighted and their role now and through history examined. The competition between two stations really gets the audience involved in the night and closely resembles on the spot competitions I have seen in the Northern Territory when a Cattle Station (Australian for Ranch) has visitors from another station. On the spot competitions have always been common and I have had the pleasure of seeing Aboriginal Stockman in the Borroloola region of the Northern Territory display their skills in this way.
Perhaps the stand out highlight for me was the arrival of a mob of sheep surging into the arena with a single black and white Border Collie keeping them under control in magnificent fashion. A somewhat emotional moment that brought back memories of my own border collie of many years ago. Jenna her name was, could control sheep or cattle to perfection without ever a moments training from me. If I had wanted to train, I would not have known how so she trained me instead.
In a moment that happened over twenty years ago, a moment I have tried to forget, Jenna showed her mustering talent to extreme. I had a prized Ford Falcon Utility that caught fire. While I sat an a hill with my baby son watching the vehicle burn, I noticed that the dog had disappeared. Shortly after the noise of a mob of some 50 cattle caught my attention and there was Jenna rounding them up and bringing them to me. She seemed to know there were problems and I could almost hear her saying, “There you go dad, I’ve brought you some friends to help out”.
Your meal is a gourmet delight with a theme. A thousand steaks, cooked to perfection, were delivered in a only a few moments and everyone near us agreed, the food was something special and fitted the theme of the night to perfection.
Children were catered for too and seemed to enjoy the evening. The organisers even used some children from the audience in the spirit of competition between the stations with four of them chasing piglets from one end of the arena to the other with the crowd cheering them on.
Pictured here are Hayden (5), Linden (8) and Lilli (9) showing off their new hats prior to entering the main show. The children were lucky enough to receive tickets to the show for Christmas, a present from their grand dad. After the show they indicated they had enjoyed it very much and asked their grand dad
“Can we have the same present for Chrsitmas every year?”
I found the entire show to be breathtaking, incredibly professional at every level and orchestrated to perfection. You cannot help but admire the show’s creators, the animal trainers, the service staff and the performers.
This is one of those rare shows where the performance is
actually better than the advertisement!
If you are travelling to Australia in the future, put this on your must do list. If you live in Australia, jump in the ute and get yourself to the Gold Coast to see it. For the $90 a head we paid, this show delivered certain value. Check the finale link for great footage.
Check out the link to the Australian Outback Spectacular for tickets and look below for some more photographs.