16 August 2023

Rodeo love enough to keep top protection athlete in the game

| Sarah Martin
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Watch out! Joel Fabiani gets chased down by a bull at the Laura rodeo.

Watch out! Joel Fabiani gets chased down by a bull at the Laura rodeo.

PASSION for the sport and respect for the rodeo committee keeps Joel Fabiani putting his body on the line to help riders and stock stay safe at the Weipa Rodeo – years after his planned retirement.

With just days to go until the 18th annual event, Joel is lining up for his 15th straight year as a protection athlete – colloquially known as a rodeo clown – in what is arguably a more dangerous position than the bullriders.

“I’ve retired for the last four years, but every year I seem to come back,” he said.

“It’s the adrenaline. You’re out there potentially saving people’s lives, protecting people and I just enjoy what I do.

“It’s also the rodeo committee and the people up in Weipa … I’ll always keep doing it while my body allows it because they’ve looked after me for so many years.”

The 33-year-old used to follow the rodeo circuit as a protection athlete, looking after bullriders in more than 25 rodeos a year, but has now dropped back to just half a dozen of his favourite events, including Laura and Weipa.

“I need two knee replacements, shoulder reconstructions, I’ve got broken bones and bits and pieces and every bit of my body is pulled together with a bit of tape,” the contract musterer admitted.

“But you have to throw your body on the line every time. You only have a split second to make that decision and if you hesitate that rider gets hurt.”

He said nerves were definitely part of the gig, but he didn’t get scared.

“There’s always nerves, but if you’re scared that’s when it’s time – you shouldn’t be in there anymore,” Joel said.

“That’s when you can’t do what you need to do and you can’t protect yourself or the riders.”

He said the appreciation showed by the rodeo committee and the riders and their friends and family was all the thanks he needed for the brutal role.

“At the end of the night there’s parents or riders or someone’s partner coming over and shaking your hand and saying thank you very much … people you don’t even know showing their appreciation for what you’ve done for the night – that’s a big thing for us rodeo clowns,” Joel said.


ALTHOUGH Joel hasn’t backed down from 800kg bulls, he admitted his tough exterior had caused problems when he split with the mother of his two children.

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and the hardest part was everyone looked up to me; I was a big tough figure, and I felt like I couldn’t turn to anyone,” he said of what he calls the lowest point in his life.

He said that this year’s Weipa Rodeo partner charity, Talk About It Tuesday, which was started by two Cape York mothers who lost their sons to suicide and shines a light on mental health and suicide prevention, was a brilliant cause.

“I didn’t think I was going to come back from it, but I’m back doing what I’m doing, I own my own business and I’m happy every day,” Joel said.

“My motto is ‘it is what it is’, keep smiling and keep moving on and no matter how tough the situation is, just keep on keeping on.”

The Weipa Rodeo runs on Friday at the showgrounds adjacent to Andoom Oval, with gates opening at 3pm on Friday and 2pm on Saturday.

Tickets are available for sale at the gate.

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