5 minutes with a singing cowboy

CIM caught up with a larger than life ambassador for the Northern Territory on a recent trip to the Top End. Tom Curtain and his wife Annabel run the Katherine Outback Experience, which is part musical act (he’s won two Golden Guitars) and part cattle station experience. Tom’s all singing, all horse riding extravaganza is also available to events across the country.

What was the seed for the Katherine Outback Experience? I had been professionally training horses for over 10 years for cattle stations throughout the Northern Territory until the Live Beef Export trade crashed in 2011. Overnight the budgets on the cattle stations were cut and the flow-on effect meant they couldn’t afford to pay for horses to be trained. In order to make ends meet and cover the mortgage repayments on my property, I had to think outside the box.

I began singing at a local caravan park in Katherine three nights a week and would often share stories of life in the stock camp or working with a young horse. An elderly couple, intrigued by the inner workings of life on the land, asked if they could visit my property and watch me train my horses and dogs.

It was here the idea for Katherine Outback Experience was conceived. I started with three shows a week. Sometimes I would perform for one or two people, if anyone turned up all. Overtime word has spread and now we are sometimes doing up to 12 shows a week to sold out audiences.

Tom and his wife Annabel can bring a mobile version of their experience to almost anywhere.

When did you realise you could sing while standing on a horse? A couple of years ago a guest came to the show and simply dared me for a carton of beer to stand-up on the back of the horse and sing a song. I was running low on beer so thought I would give it a crack. We somehow managed to pull off the stunt unscathed and the fella said that I had to keep the new act in the show to demonstrate how much trust you can have with your horse. Sometimes it all goes to plan and sometimes I fall off but that is part of the beauty of the show.

What do you try to deliver for events beyond pure entertainment? Central to our values is delivering a truly authentic experience. Although a large part of our service is entertainment by means of the outback horse and dogs show, it is also educational, engaging and interactive.

With respect to the horses, we demonstrate how we use our body language to build trust and relate this to how we interact with humans to encourage positive responses.  We also showcase how we identify the different personality traits in the working dogs and work on their strengths to build confidence and encourage them to work as a team. We relate this to lessons for the workplace, particularly with respect to how every dog is different and has different triggers, just like staff and colleagues and how we need to be aware of this in order to get the best from the team.

Tom performing for the NT stand at AIME earlier this year.

What can we expect from a pop-up KOE experience? If an event can’t come to us, we can bring a slice of the outback to the event with the horses, working dogs and music. In all aspects of what we do, we ensure the show remains authentic. The mobile show is very hands-on. We get the audience involved in helping us ‘train’ the working dogs and showcase what horses are telling us through their body language. We also share our story and a bit about life in the outback.

We have performed aspects of the show nationwide at some amazing locations including Mindil Beach Casino Resort in Darwin which is a great contrast against the tropical Top End setting, as well as Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre for AIME 2019. Our audiences have ranged from intimate incentive events of just six guests up to large-scale functions of 1500 guests. We are also very flexible in our approach to the pop-up show working within an organiser’s time and space constraints.

What makes the NT such a special destination? The NT is one of the most amazing and diverse places on earth. I believe it is the land of opportunity – it is still somewhat untapped but has so much to offer. There are incredible landscapes, wide open spaces and wildlife right on our doorstep, together with a diverse culture and the phenomenal dry season climate. The Territory has this ability to get under your skin, it’s very easy to fall in love with the outdoors and get back to nature. It’s a quirky place with so many hidden gems.