In February 2009 I began my Australian Outback Adventure and had an absolute whale of a time doing it. After a few days in the sun getting over my jet lag and trying to add some colour to my lily-white skin, we took a bus up to the training farm. There we joined up with some more people for the training course and split off into two training groups. Once we got to our training farms we jumped straight into the training that continued over the next four days, and I loved every minute of it. It was great trying out new skills, working hard, getting dirty and finding new things that I was quite good at – I found I was quite a dab hand at tractor driving and really liked working with horses (just a shame I wasn’t any good at riding them)!
Pretty soon everyone was getting used to living and working on an Outback farm; finding it easier to put up with the heat (although you definitely still notice it). You are also looking more and more like a cowboy/girl with worn in jeans, boots, chequered shirts and the essential cowboy hat. During the week, job offers were being phoned in for the group and quickly I had a job in very-remote North West Queensland on a cattle station as a governess (home school tutor) to an 8 and a 10 year old boy. Other people in the group had work as polo grooms, farmhands, even a drover like in the “Australia” movie!
After some goodbyes, two long bus journeys, a plane ride and a helicopter flight(!) I arrived at my job to find two little cowboys eagerly awaiting my arrival. Also awaiting me on the farm were thousands of cane toads that came out at night, lots of bright green frogs (3 of which were resident to my outside toilet) and 3 goannas (a cross between a lizard and mini crocodile – luckily they are herbivores). After a few weeks more staff turned up to work on the station, at most there were 14 of us. The days started early, most people had breakfast at around 5.30am to get out working by 6am and then would finish at 4 or 5pm with several beers around the stables or practising for that weekend’s rodeo! Whilst I was there, I fired a gun for the first time, saw my first Kangaroo and Wallaby, went waterskiing for the first time, had a near-death on a horse, went to my first rodeo, slept in a swag (outside sleeping bags), cooked for 14 and learnt the Queensland lingo. I also met some fantastic people in the Outback who were incredibly friendly and generous; often going out of their way to help you. I had a brilliant trip and am really glad that I went into the Outback to live as a local with great people rather than just backpacking with the rest of Europe around the coastline.
Mustering involves going out and moving the cattle, in stages, to different paddocks (paddocks are a lot bigger in Australia than English paddocks!). The cattle are then brought into the station and the cows are separated into 3 groups. These are the weaners, poddies and mothers. The weaners are calves that need weaning from their mothers, the poddies are calves that have been separated from their mothers a bit too early and need hand feeding, and the mothers. The day after the cattle have been separated, the cows that have been born in the wet season (November/December to February) are inoculated, dehorned and castrated. This can take a few days depending on the size of the herd. The poddies are fed with pellets until they are big enough and strong enough to go with the weaners. The mothers are taken away from the calves to another paddock. Between the mustering and processing of cattle, fencing is checked, food supplement is put out and repairs and maintenance is done. These three jobs are done in cycles until all the cattle is mustered and processed. There are usually 2/3 rounds of mustering per year and once the wet season comes the cattle are left until it becomes dry again.
5am: Wake up
6am: Get tools and horses ready for the day.
6.30am: Ride out on horseback or quadbike for the day and begin work.
10.30am: Smoko (Aussie for morning break) - a snack from yesterdays leftovers.
11am: Continue work.
1pm: Usually lunchtime but dependant on what you are doing.
1.30pm: Continue work.
4.30pm: Rodeo practice (to prepare the horse for chasing cattle), or drinking beers with the other jackaroos/jillaroos.
7pm: Dinner - usually variations of beef!