Courage shown in and out of bull ring
"THIS is a seat for the mates we've lost," said Bullarama event organiser Jack Lumby as he stood alone in the bull riding arena under spotlights on Saturday night.
"I'm so bloody tired of burying my mates," he added, pointing to an empty chair as thousands watched.
But despite the serious message there wasn't one blue face that night at the Reef Gateway Hotel.
Everyone was there for the thrilling entertainment in honour of a worthy cause.
Not only was this the first Bullarama organised by mental health campaigners A Mile in Their Shoes, raising funds for depression and suicide awareness and prevention, it was also the first Bullarama held in the Whitsundays in about four years.
Around 2000 people packed the Reef Gateway Hotel grounds to watch 36 cowboys take on the bucking bulls.
The best match up of the night was the very last ride in the open section when Bowen cowboy Ben Gooding rode a black beast named runner up Bucking Bull of the Year 2014. The bull proved too much for Gooding who lasted mere seconds.
Master of Ceremonies Tony Ward was stoked a Bullarama was back in town and suggested the Whitsundays should host more in the near future.
"I've been doing this my whole life and there's no place to hold a Bullarama than 'ol Airlie Beach," he said.
One of the many special moments on the night was when Laura Manning won a gorgeous saddle in a raffle draw - signed by all of the riders, including her brother Daniel who rode his first bull that night.
Mr Lumby said the Bullarama would certainly return and be bigger, better and with more available seating next time.
"As an organiser I would like to apologise to those who couldn't get a good viewing (and) I humbly thank all the people who attended our weekend to prevent suicide in our towns," he said.
"We were overwhelmed by the generosity, spirit, happiness and (community) involvement of Saturday night. I also admire the courage shown by the cowboys involved as I recognise that same courage is shown by people in their daily battle against depression and suicide."