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Going the distance on Chainsaw

Updated: Jul 9

By Brent Langley

To some young bucks he might be an older bloke getting in the way behind the chutes at one of the local Rodeo’s.

But go back more than 30 years and a young Dave Johnston had just pulled off one of the most remarkable rides in Australian rodeo history, a 90 point ride on the previously unridden bull Chainsaw.

A ride that would put Davey Johnston into Rodeo folklore. Even Country singer Reg Poole would sing about that ride in a song he covered about the famous bull.

“You get these young boys (behind the chutes) who haven’t got a clue who he is and think what’s this idiot doing here sort of thing.”

“And I can’t stand that. He doesn’t see it but I do.” Said wife of 33 years Trish Johnston.

Trish speaks passionately about her husband and perhaps even defensively because she has seen first hand the sacrifices he has made about a sport he has passionate about.

Including a twist of fate that would almost cost Dave Johnston his life.

In 1991, four years after that incredible ride on Chainsaw, a 34 year old Johnston was tossing up the possibility of retirement but fresh off a win at Mt Isa he thought he would toss his hat in the ring again this time at a Rodeo at Sale in Gippsland, Victoria.

He drew a bull called Vibrator. And that last ride would change his life forever.

Dave Johnston would spend that night clinging to life and the next two years trying to walk and talk again.

“The bull ripped me down and threw his head back at the time. His horn went into my mouth, knocked teeth out and up through the pallet (palatine bone).”

Dave said of the incident.

The tip of the horn almost came back out through his forehead,

“They didn’t expect him to live.” Said wife Trish.

“I was sitting in there (Sale hospital) with him and he had a big blood clot in his nose and his face was swollen.

“They (doctors) said if the blood clot loosens it will bleed out.

“That’s why they didn’t move him that night because they thought he was going to die that night but then they air lifted him to Melbourne the next morning.” Said Trish.

Dave was in a coma for over a month following life saving operations and in time showed signs of improvement.

What would then follow would be two years of rehabilitation. Learning to walk and talk again. And getting to know his young family again. Not only did Dave have a young wife but also a five month old daughter, Tayla.

“He went back to being a baby. He didn’t know me. He thought his mum and dad were still alive and he used to talk about his little dog (from his childhood).

“He didn’t know us (family) at all but grew into it.” Said Trish.

Dave still struggles with short term memory loss but the back part of his brain remains in tac. Enough to remember that famous win at Tamworth back in 1987 where he would ride the unrideable, Australia’s greatest bucking bull Chainsaw.

“He was a good bull, been getting around for a little awhile, a lot of people had tried to ride him and no one had made a successful ride on him at a rodeo.

“I use to watch him (Chainsaw) all the time because no one had rode him and (I) tried to work him out and then I found out I’d ride him at Tamworth which was pretty big rodeo, always pays good, gets a good crowd.” Dave said.

But what could Dave Johnston do different that so many others had failed?

“I sort of figured on a plan on what he’d do and hope he’d do it and lucky he did.

“I got him started and I thought this isn’t too tough, he’s not too bad and he sort of settled into a pattern which made it easier.

“Everything I did worked it was just lucky. More luck than good management.” Johnston recounts humbly.

But Chainsaw was like no other. Completely unpredictable where you didn’t know if he was going to spin or lunge forward out of the chute to kicking all four legs off to one side where he would almost go into a barrel role.

Here is the actual footage of Dave Johnston riding Chainsaw in 1987 at Tamworth rodeo in front of 12,000 spectators... what a ride, he makes it look easy!

And an athleticism way before his time. Perhaps like looking at some of the very best bulls of the PBR today.

“He could get up high. Flick his feet up higher than his backbone. Like a cat and still land on his feet.” Johnston said.

Nobody will dispute how good Chainsaw was with an unmatched 8 time Bucking Bull Of The Year Awards.

Chainsaw was bought by George Hempenstall out of the Homebush saleyards as a young calf in the early 1980’s. Chainsaw also acquired his famous ear tag number 327 from Hempenstall after he simply got the number from his letterbox.

Chainsaw got his name as a young bull when at George Hempenstall’s property there were old timber yards. One day the young bull went a bit wild and tore the yards down hence his name Chainsaw.

They won’t dispute the showmanship of the bull and the way he ran around the arena fence after throwing a luckless rider to the ground, most say that was they he celebrated almost like a victory lap.

But what does differ with people and the one’s that knew him best was his temperament. Some say he had a nasty streak and then some say he was gentle.

Dave Johnston has his own view.

“He wasn’t a bad bull but he wouldn’t run around you like if you were in front of him and he was going that way he would go over the top of you.

“He wasn’t nasty. Like some bulls will go hunting for you. He wasn’t like that.

“Some of them (riders) would fear him. But that was only because of their ability.” Johnston said.

Johnston is now 63 years of age and still carries some of the trauma from the horrific injuries he sustained almost 30 years ago including poor vision which makes him carry a walking cane wherever he goes.

But what remains is his witty sense of humour and positive attitude toward life. He loves talking to people and spending time with his grandchildren.

So, if you’re a young rider coming through and you see Davey Johnston around the yards or behind the chutes don’t hesitate to have a chat.

You might learn something and legends like that aren’t around forever.

A documentary, Chainsaw: Bull Born Bad, celebrating Australia's legendary rodeo bucking bull. The documentary was made in 1991 ...



On Boxing Day 1996, the great Chainsaw was humanely put to sleep with an injection by local Yass vet Peter Gibb.

He passed away peacefully in his paddock on the outskirts of Yass after it appeared his tired old legs couldn’t carry him anymore.

He was 15 years old. His passing was acknowledged during a rodeo at Port Macquarie when about 180 cowboys removed their hats and held a minutes silence such was the respect and admiration for this great bull.

Chainsaw won 8 bucking bull of the year awards from 1987 - 1994. Chainsaw was bought by George Hempenstall out of the Homebush saleyards as a young calf.

Chainsaw also acquired his ear tag #327 from Hempenstall after he simply got the number from his letterbox.

John Condon later bought Chainsaw off Hempenstall as George was seeking to further his rodeo career in the United States. Rodeo great Garry McPhee was Chainsaw’s stock contractor and McPhee trucked and promoted him at rodeo’s from way down south all the way up to northern Queensland and everywhere in between.

After 25 years there has still never been a bucking bull that has reached the heights and accolades of Chainsaw and we doubt there never will be another in the future. So again, it’s hats off to Chainsaw.

A champion bull and Australian icon that will never be forgotten.

Words: Brent Langley (

Chainsaw | Photo credit: 📸 Mike Kenyon
Chainsaw | Photo credit: 📸 Mike Kenyon

Chainsaw on a Sunday afternoon at Warwick Rodeo in 1991. Image by Garry Biltoft of Broxburn, QLD.
Chainsaw on a Sunday afternoon at Warwick Rodeo in 1991. Image by Garry Biltoft of Broxburn, QLD.

VIDEO | Rewind: Take a look back at the career of Chainsaw, the meanest and most feared beast on the Queensland rodeo circuit. Only seven cowboys successfully rode the Brahman for eight seconds. Featuring the song “Chainsaw - the rankest bull on earth” written and performed by Australian country music legend Tom McIvor and later performed by fellow Australian country music legend and Order of Australia recipient Reg Poole.

VIDEO: An entertaining documentary on Chainsaw, particularly the bull fighter talking tough at Chainsaw ...

Do you have a favourite story about Chainsaw or have an old photo of him? Brent Langley would like to hear from you as he pieces together a book due for late 2024.

You can reach Brent on 0413 601 268 or email or visit

Originally published 28th June 2021

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