Bull riding and sewing are not two interests you'd expect to be strung together in the same sentence, but one retired north-west bull rider is bucking the trend and making a name for himself in the retail world.
Boots Hartley, along with wife Courtney and three kids Lila Rose, Chilla and Rowell, own and operate Hartley and Co based in Cloncurry.
A brick and mortar shop front and online store, the retail boutique specialises in hand-made swags and leather goods along with fashion, saddlery and hide products.
However, the curious questions remain - why and how did a once wild bull rider swap the spurs, ropes and gloves for the sewing machine to now create quality rural products from scratch?
Born in Brisbane, Boots enthusiasm for mischief and adventure led him to meet the man who would become his idol, Gordon Young, at age 12, who brought him into line and threw him on a horse.
Receiving an exemption to leave school at 14, he wound up in Cloncurry and began working on a property.
He later found a home on the rodeo circuit and travelled Australia as a bull rider, finding work when the prize money didn't fall his way.
Courtney, however, grew up as a fifth-generation grazier in central Queensland's Dawson Valley with a love of rural living ingrained from a young age.
Her passion led her to work as a cattle station manager to a cafe owner, grain trader and rural produce store manager.
As all classic bush love stories go, the pair met at a pub in the Darling Downs region in 2013 and have been together ever since.
However, a broken wrist and family commitments in the years after saw the end of Boots bull riding career as they moved to the Sunshine Coast to work at Courtney's parents feed store.
Heeding the call of the country in 2017, the decision was made to move back to Cloncurry with Boots working as a contract musterer and yard builder, whilst Courtney worked in town at Dowling Livestock and Property.
In 2021, the family made the decision to bring Boots home to be with the kids and bought a sewing machine, found a shop front and established the business.
Hartley and Co officially opened to the public in July last year.
Courtney said the decision was spurred on to spend more time together as family.
"Because he was contracting, the kids were old enough to know that dad was never home and he was away weeks at a time," she said.
"We just said, we've got to do something, but we didn't know what.
"My boss suggested why don't you get him to make horse rugs.
"So, we bought a sewing machine and all the gear to make horse rugs, but the funny thing is, he's never made one since we opened."
What has evolved since was a business crafting, making and selling handmade and custom gear bags, swags, two-way covers and much more.
"It's just turned into this crazy, snowballing thing that we can't keep up with," Courtney said.
"We wholesale to a few shops around the north-west as well.
"We honestly can't keep up with the demand."
A self taught sewer and upholster, Boots said he had spent time in Rockhampton to receive training, but the process had occasionally been frustrating learning from scratch.
Courtney said the lack of training resources had been difficult.
"The hardest thing is there are no upholstery TAFE courses and nothing online other than watching videos or talking to people," she said.
"To do any upholstery apprenticeship you have to go and do it in store with someone and there are bugger all upholsterers left anyway.
"It's really hard and it defeats the purpose of him coming home to run the shop if he has to go away and do an apprenticeship."
Whilst Boots mans the store full-time, Courtney still continues to work at Dowling Livestock and Property.
"We're still in that phase of learning what works best," she said.
"We're getting there slowly and the community response has been really good.
"Especially with the orders for the bags, we can't keep enough bags on the shelves.
"People will come in and say - can you make this? He's pretty talented and will always give it a crack."
Moving forward Courtney said they'd like to expand and get another set of hands on deck.
"We've got two machines, so we'd like to have two people sewing and maybe get into some bigger hardware to do heavier duty stuff," she said.
"We want to get bigger, better and faster whilst keeping that good quality product.
"That's the main goal."
And although he may have stepped back from his bull riding days, the Cloncurry cowboy did come out of retirement on the odd occasion.
So much so, he recently won the 'Wild Cow Ride' event at the 2022 Quamby Rodeo.
As for the sewing? Boots said he would continue doing what he was doing no matter what anyone thought.
"That doesn't worry me," he said.
"Everyone reckons I'm going alright."
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