Bush jockey with story from the heart
HE'S been a bronc rider, a state champion boxer and an accomplished jockey, but ask Bradley Appo what's most important and he says, quite simply, "being a decent bloke".
At 48, this softly spoken Darling Downs-based rider admits he's come a long way from the "mongrel kid" he was in his teens.
Taken from his parents as an eight-year-old, Bradley - along with his siblings - struggled through a series of foster homes before being reunited with his extended family when he was 13.
It was then as a troubled youngster that he discovered horses.
On the back roads of Eidsvold, he and his older brother Lyall taught themselves to ride on a pony called Stirling owned by their cousin, Edward Laws.
From there he rode buck jumpers inspired by his uncle Oscar Chapman, who was well known on the Central Queensland rodeo scene in the 1970s.
But it was the offer of a job with a Taroom cattleman called John Pointon that would prove a turning point for this promising young horseman.
"John taught me how to muster cattle, how to break in horses, how to drive a car," Bradley explained.
"I was a real mongrel kid, angry with everything after being in care.
"John made me see there were still decent blokes out there. He taught me how to be a man, to respect people and respect myself."
In between times working on the property, he rode track work for Pointon and raced his horses at bush meetings throughout the state.
"Kevin Bowtell was one of John's mates and Australian bronc riding champion in the 1980s, and he kept telling me to be a jockey, not a rough rider," Bradley said.
"So I rode for John. We had a track in a ploughed paddock with an 800m straight and I loved the adrenalin rush."
Yet by 19 he was keen to join his brother, who was working as a professional jockey in Toowoomba.
City tracks meant changing his riding style: "I went from riding flat out at bush meets to timing my runs".
To stay fit and keep his weight in check, he took up boxing."I could fight a bit. I was fast and had good balance, though I had to work on my style," he laughed.
He tipped the scales at 51kg when he won a Queensland boxing title.
He good-humouredly admits it was "hard to get a fight after that".
So he gave the boxing away to marry Vicki, whom he credits with changing his life for all the right reasons.
She was there when he was injured in a horror race fall at Clifford Park a decade ago, which left him temporarily paralysed.
Despite being warned he might not walk again, a determined Bradley spent months recovering and two years later was back in the saddle.
He's been riding track work and at race meetings across Queensland and northern New South Wales ever since.
When asked about the pinnacle of his racing career, he is reflective.
"I lost a good mate, David Wilkes, in a race fall, and a week later his wife asked me to wear his gear and ride for him.
"The horse he'd been meant to ride wasn't that good, but that day it won by seven lengths."
Today this capable horseman, who is also a qualified slaughterman (he did a stint at Oakey abattoir when his in-laws were concerned about life as a career jockey) rides track work most mornings and races regularly.
Now, however, he has a distinctly different day job.
"I am a child protection adviser for Goolburri Aboriginal Health, covering the Darling Downs," Bradley explained.
It's a role that takes him hauntingly close to his past, but one that his childhood experiences ensure he can handle.
"I am dealing with these troubled kids, and they're always telling me, 'You don't know what it's like to be a kid in care'.
"So I show them a photo of me at 10. I've been where they've been, so I know how tough it is.
"Now I'd like to think I am making a difference."
In life, he has a simple philosophy: make the most of every opportunity and don't use the word "can't".
It's a mantra he uses with his own kids, Blake, 17, and Chloe, 14.
"Everyone has their tough times. That's the way it is," Bradley said.
"But there is always someone out there having a tougher time than you."