The 12th annual Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster in Kununurra has kicked off with a bang this weekend, with thousands of visitors streaming into the townband breathing vibrancy into its tourism industry.
Celebrity TV chef Poh Ling Yeow and singer Paul Kelly are just two of the big names set to descend on the remote Kimberley town this week and have proved huge drawcards for the event.
Kununurra Visitor Centre manager Nadia Donnelly said the muster had provided a welcome boost to the region, which has suffered from dwindling visitor numbers in recent years because of the high Australian dollar and competition from Bali.
"It's been flat out," she said. "At the visitor centre on Thursday, we had over 700 people through the doors - it's a fantastic start to the season.
"We're really excited because it really feels like the muster has brought a fair few people into town."
Thirty-eight events include some of the best and wackiest attractions the region has to offer.
Yesterday, hundreds of people descended on Kununurra's Celebrity Tree Park to engage in a fast and furious digging frenzy to uncover three Argyle diamonds each buried in about 80 tonnes of sand.
Armed with child sized shovels, about 200 adults squeezed into an 18m by 8m pit and sent clods of sand flying before tourist Denys Sergieiev emerged triumphantly with a half carat diamond.
About 300 children dug into their own pits - some directed by their parents from the sidelines for up to two hours - to claim two more diamonds and a swag of prizes including gift vouchers, toys and beauty packs.
After a family-friendly Barramundi concert, featuring the self proclaimed "Queen of the Kimberley" Mary G and a host of indigenous artists including Yabu Band and John Bennett, almost 2000 people headed to the Kununurra Rodeo Ground for the Coolamie Air Bull and Bronc Rodeo last night.
Choking dust filled the air as cowboys clad in their finest chaps, giant belt buckles and Akubras tilted at a rakish angle competed to see who could stay on their bucking steeds for more than eight seconds.
Organiser Ben Rattan said riders had travelled from Broome, Halls Creek, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Darwin, Katherine and as far as NSW to compete for thousands of dollars in prize money and the glory of surviving the event.
Apart from plenty of bruised egos, injuries appeared to be at a minimum. One man was carted off grimacing after being thrown from a bull and landing heavily on his knee, while ringers rushed to free another man whose hand became caught when he fell off his bucking horse and was dragged around the pit.
Wayne Swan Jnr, 12, demonstrated bravery beyond his years by hopping on a bucking poddy calf and holding on for seven seconds, taking out the junior category in onlyhis fifth time competing.
Ms Donnelly said there were plenty more events coming up this week, including a street party this afternoon, Kimberley Gospel Festival on Thursday and Warringarri Corroboree on Tuesday.
Showcasing local Aboriginal art, music and culture, the event is expected to attract about 500 people.
"The only international artist this year is Askel Kolstad - he's a pianist and absolutely fantastic - and he'll be doing a concert at Zebra Rock on Tuesday night," Ms Donnelly said.
As well as hosting Wednesday's "Kimberley Kitchen" event on the banks of the Ord River, Poh Ling Yeow will host an exclusive long-table dinner for 40 guests at the historic Durack Homestead on Thursday night, cooking food using traditional methods.
On Thursday, Kimberley Toad Busters have called on tourists to help protect Kimberley wildlife and clean up the golf course by "busting" some toads, with prizes on offer for the biggest and heaviest critters caught.
Ms Donnelly said that would prepare the venue for the arrival of hundreds of people, including VIP guests, for the Kimberley Moon Experience, the pinnacle event of the muster featuring Kelly, Kasey Chambers and the Black Sorrows as well as local artists including Fitzroy Express.For a full list of events and attractions, visit ordvalleymuster.com.au
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