The rules of the Shaftesbury Rodeo Academy are simple: no school, no rodeo. It’s a message that teenagers who attend school at Bisley Farm, most of whom have never attended any school regularly, take seriously. Because come Friday night, these aspiring rodeo heroes want to join their friends to ride bulls for a heart-stopping eight seconds, if they last that long.
The school in rural Queensland, Australia, also teaches the boys, who are of the Wakka Wakka Aboriginal people, basic academics and farming skills, including how to care for crops and livestock. It’s a fairly common form of schooling in Australia, an alternative education for students with troubled backgrounds. For many of them, Bisley Farm is the best chance for them to improve their lives.
But rules are rules. In order to participate in the school’s weekly Friday night rodeo, students must attend class Monday through Thursday and do all their work, including helping to manage a herd of beef cattle. Perhaps not surprisingly, student attendance and performance have shot up.
“These are really tough kids,” says Kristian Wale, director of the Shaftesbury Centre, which sponsors Bisley Farm, and a member of the Rotary Club of New Farm, Brisbane. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Indigenous peoples make up 3 percent of the country’s population. But they make up 50 percent of the juvenile detention and 27 percent of the adult prison populations.
“A majority of the kids [who come to us] can’t read, even if they have been to school,” says Wale. “We teach basic education and social skills and prepare our students for jobs.”
And none of it would exist without Rotary.
George Grant wanted to do something for the Aboriginal teenagers after attending a Rotary grants seminar in 2010. He was president of the Rotary Club of Bribie Island when he met Wale at the conference. The two began to formulate an idea for a cattle operation near Cherbourg, sponsored by the Shaftesbury Centre.
“When I first took the idea to the club, it seemed too far out in left field. Some members came along easily but others were very noisy in opposition,” says Grant. “They couldn’t see how a club with fewer than 30 members could raise the money required to get something like that off the ground.”
At first, the naysayers seemed right, Grant says, particularly when the scope of the problem began being mapped out. They would have to buy cattle, trailers, fencing, and a school building. Then what would they do with the beef? If the operation was to be sustainable, they would have to figure out a way to get the beef to market.
So they started small: six head of cattle, a trailer, and some fencing. They soon started applying for money through Rotary, more than US$120,000.
Supported by fundraisers from surrounding clubs, the Bribie Island club managed to donate thousands of dollars toward the project.
Undoubtedly, though, many of potential supporters and new club members are drawn to Grant’s enthusiasm for the school his club built from the ground up. “I just love to skite (brag) about it.”