by Kim Kelly
Do what you love and all good things come, they say. I do, anyway. Early this morning, I was researching martinis. Yes, that seemingly timeless gin and vermouth concoction favoured by the glamourous. I wanted to know if such a drink was available in bars in Australia, specifically in the West, or even yet invented, during the Edwardian period in the early 1900s.
Of course, I have found something else entirely – a series of advertisements for Martini’s Buckjumping Show. For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘buckjumper’ is a particularly spirited horse that does not much like a rider on its back. Much like today’s rodeo shows, people flocked from miles around to see young, handsome cowboys get thrown to the dust by these noble and cranky creatures.
Back then, though, the shows travelled the country, far and wide, and offered a variety of entertainments. Throughout the 1910s, Martini’s Buckjumping Show, a family company, would come into town and set up their ‘hippodrome’, attracting thousands across New South Wales and Queensland, from Sydney to Brisbane and every stock yard in between.
Judging by the number of advertisements in the newspapers of the day, these shows were hugely popular. Spruiked as ‘thoroughly Australian’, they displayed dramatic contests between local and visiting riders, and invited guest appearances by well-loved characters from the massively famous Wirth’s Circus, as well as giving their audiences old favourites such as Saltbush Bill and his ‘incredible bullock whip manipulations’.
Some of the horses were clearly crowd favourites, too, with Bobs and Trouble, Midget and Bull’s Wool, regularly featured in the ads. And then there was the alluring Miss Mena Val, the cyclist and wire walker, no doubt doing her death-defying thing in spangles and tassles.
This show, with all its colour and crashing cowboys, flying dust and cycling lovelies, is suddenly alive in my imagination. Of course, I managed to keep my mind on the research task at hand just long enough to establish that you could in fact get yourself a martini of the gin and vermouth variety in those days, too – you could park your saddle at the Palace Hotel American Bar in Perth and get yourself a bit of that glamour from at least 1903. But Martini’s Buckjumping Show… This is a whole new novel waiting to unfold.
Roll up! Roll up, folks!
Shush for now, Saltbush Bill. Can you wait until I’m back from Perth?