When Mark Tronson turned up at Warwick Rodeo in 1984 with a pair of sunglasses worn over the top of his normal glasses, he didn’t make a great impression on the rodeo people.
Although these people celebrated being different to the general population, Mark’s difference was a bit ‘over the top’ for them.
He knew nothing about their sport, his clothing was suitable for the city, not behind the bucking chutes at a rodeo, he made comments they didn’t understand, he wore shoes, not boots, he had a stammer and spoke cultured English which was foreign to them, he wasn’t fit, in fact he was overweight and they knew immediately he was an ‘outsider.’
Mark was in Warwick at my invitation to speak to the board of directors of the (then) Australian Rough Rider’s Association of which I was CEO.
The Association (formed in 1944) was the body which affiliated professional rodeo events throughout Australia and has since changed its name to Australian Professional Rodeo Association.
Mark spoke about having chaplains within various sports, including rodeo, following the expansion of chaplains among the professional sports in America which was also then a growing trend in Australia.
It didn’t go over well.
Members of the board thought Mark was trying to buy himself a job, not realising he had no interest in being their chaplain, others could see no need to have Christians around their sport for fear it may inhibit their activities and still others, including two American rodeo chaplains visiting Australia at the time, thought Mark was a charlatan.
At about the same time, some rodeo competitors who were Christians had started bible studies around the circuit and these men were becoming well-known as well as being thought of as controversial.
Many believed Christianity didn’t belong among the cowboys.
The Americans, some of whom had been World Champions (Americans see themselves as the most important people in the world) and therefore worth listening to, had an impact on some of the Australians and some lives were being won for Jesus.
Some of those people went on to become pastors in their own right; others became solid followers of Jesus who influenced not only the rodeo circuit but their families, friends and their local churches.
The board wanted nothing to do with Mark Tronson.
It took a number of years but eventually, there was an official chaplain on the rodeo circuit.
I became part of Mark’s Sports and Leisure Ministry and he had me speak at quite a number of meetings in churches, halls and other meetings and even presented me with a 10-year and 15-year plaques.
I lost contact with Mark after he moved from Moruya, I know it wasn’t a great time in his life but as Mark and Delma always did, he turned to something new and again, made a great success of the new enterprise, the Young Writers along with Timeout on the Tweed.
It happened one Sunday morning when one of our Elders spoke about knowing Mark and his work – they’d been at Bible College together - so I asked where the Tronson’s were and what they were doing.
The next day, a phone call to Mark and before I knew it, I was thrust into the Young Writer program even though I was well past being a ‘young’ writer.
What a privilege it has been to be involved, not only with the Young Writers program but with Mark again.
I have never known anyone with the drive and determination to establish Christ’s kingdom as Mark Tronson has, even with all the obstacles he’s faced throughout the years.
Due to his stammer and appearance, some people didn’t take him seriously - to their detriment – he proved himself over and over again to any and all the ‘naysayers’ and continued the Lord’s work no matter what.
I will miss his friendship, his inspiration and his energy. I will miss him greatly.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 7 grandchildren.