Talented rodeo snapper hangs up his camera after 30 years
THE YEAR was 1960 when young Rockhampton man Dave Ethell purchased his first 35mm camera from Dolph Symons Pharmacy on East Street.
Thousands of rodeo photos later, Mr Ethell, now 80, decided it was time to put the camera down and enjoy the rest of his life with his wife Jenny in their caravan.
He was born in Rockhampton and spent much of his early years in Central and Outback Queensland working on cattle stations before heading out to work in the mines.
He started working at Utah Mine, Blackwater, in 1968 and then transferred to Peak Downs Mine, Moranbah, where he stayed for a number of years before retiring from the mines in the mid-80s.
After retiring from the mines, he went to Mackay to do a few jobs, travelled around Australia for five years and then looked after a cattle property about 50km south-east of Moranbah before settling down in 2010.
Even though shift work at the mines kept him busy, Mr Ethell always found time to go to rodeo events and take photos, which was his true passion in life.
His first rodeo was at Bluff in 1960.
Mr Ethell said he was as active as time allowed in the 60s and more so in the 70s.
"I started taking photos at rodeos in 1960 and did what I could while working on cattle stations, you couldn't always get away," he said.
"Holiday time and days off were spent going to rodeos.
"In 1972 I upgraded to a more suitable system."
A medical episode in 1980 resulted in Mr Ethell giving up his passion for rodeo photography.
"I was president of the Moranbah Rodeo Association at the time, it was a new club that was gaining a lot of interest," he said.
"I was working shift work at the mine with a wife and two children, as well as the rodeo. I just pushed myself too far and ended up in hospital.
"I was at the rodeo, passed out and woke up in the hospital - they told me it was from exhaustion. After that I lost interest in rodeo for 30 years."
It wasn't until he retired at age 70 that his passion for rodeo photography reignited.
In 2010, he followed the Australian Professional Rodeo Association as an affiliated photographer until October 2019 at the Warwick APRA National Finals Rodeo - his final event.
"When you have been working all your life and you finally stop, what do you do?" he questioned, looking back on when he made the decision to pick up the camera for one last stint.
"I thought, 'I know what I am going to do, go back and take photos'. I had more time."
"It was great to go back and catch up with old mates I hadn't seen for many years."
But he said all good things must come to end.
"When I turned 80, I thought how long are you supposed to go? You have to quit sometime," he said.
"I get temptations, but I no longer do the photos for the rodeo circuits.
"We have been relaxing, visiting friends and doing a bit of touring. We have become grey nomads who wonder the country."
He described his years photographing at rodeo events as some of his best memories.
"It's all a highlight really," he said.
"In the 60s and 70s it was a different style of riding and a different style of stock. I started with a 35mm that you had to be in the arena with a 50mm lens chasing them around.
"When you are young and active, being in the arena was exciting.
"Nowadays, it's all outside the arena which is much better. You can get a lot of good positions to get good shoots. There is no need to be in the arena with these big lenses and modern cameras - boy they're good."
He said taking a photo was much more than merely "sitting there and pressing a button", it was about "capturing a moment".
"When taking a photo, it all depends on what you want," he said.
"I try and get the animal when it's centre stage and I let it go one to three times just to get the exact moment I want," he said.
"To get the shot you want you have to try and picture it, pick it and press that button at that time.
"You have to make it a challenge, if it's not a challenge don't do it. It's no use sitting there taking photos and letting the camera do the work."
Mr Ethell received a number of achievements over the years, celebrating his work as a rodeo photographer.
In both 2015 and 2018, he was named the APRA Media Person of the Year.
"The first time was a complete shock, I couldn't believe it when they told me," he said.
"You don't do it looking for awards, you do it because you love rodeo. It's recognition of the effort you put in."
He also had his photos published in Peter Poole's book Rodeo in Australia, which was published in 1977.
Mr Ethell, who is currently in Glendale visiting friends in his caravan, said he and his wife had no concrete plans for the future.
"We are staying with some friends and have some family to visit," he said.
"We might want to do something someday, but for now we just going to poke around.
"We are going to stick around Queensland, but we might travel around Australia again, you never know what we are going to do."