Working on an Australian Cattle Station.
I worked as a Jackaroo on an Australian cattle station for 3 months during the first half of my year in Australia. This particular station was both a cattle and sheep station, located between Tambo and Charleville in Outback Queensland. Known as Bayrick Station it covers approximately 60,000 acres and has hundreds of cattle and tens of thousands of sheep. Putting the size of this station in perspective it is roughly the size of Luxembourg. Compared to other cattle stations in Australia it is relatively small as one of the largest stations located in the Northern Territory is approximately 12 times larger than Bayrick.
I originally heard about this job through a company specialising in work placements within the Australian farming industry called VisitOz. This company provides training in all areas of station life to prepare you for the adventure ahead.
Working on a cattle station involves very long hours awake, water rationing and meals containing little or no vegetables. If you are a vegetarian then remote cattle station work would possibly not suit your lifestyle. One of the perks for the meat eaters planning to work on a cattle station is a none stop supply of meat. This is usually beef, mutton, lamp, pork and sometimes kangaroo.
Water as mentioned above is rationed, this is because of the extremely arid environment in the Outback. On Bayrick station the water for washing pots and having showers came from the local creek. Creek water was orangey brown in colour and if you got any in your mouth it tasted like sand. All drinking water was either bottled water bought from the nearest town or rain water collected in massive steel drums at the end of each building. This water did tend to play havoc with your digestion for the first week or so, after which you adapted to it and found yourself strangely liking this two year old rain water by the end of your time on the station. Water for the animals was pumped from bore holes using windmills and then transferred directly to either water troughs or large manmade dams scattered across the station.
The sorts of jobs to be done on a daily basis on cattle stations vary from station to station and depending on the time of year. Work that takes up the main part of station life is working in the yards, mustering, droving, branding, tagging and injecting livestock. Fixing the fences broken by storms, fallen trees and wildlife, using machinery for jobs around the station, including growing some fodder and crops and helping with the routine maintenance and gardening. Mustering is done on horse back and/or motorbike, because of the shear size of some of the stations, helicopters are used to assist in the rounding up of livestock. Techniques in mustering the cattle or sheep will depend on the type of terrain you are moving them across and also the type of animal you are moving. Most sheep mustering tends to be done on motorcycles, whereas cattle mustering lends itself more towards the use of horses. The cattle you can expect to work with on the stations vary from European and African breeds through to cross breeds and even buffalo.
Being a Jackaroo is officially the most dangerous job in Australia, with more injuries and deaths per year than any other profession. The reason for this is simple, it is because of the isolation and time it would take to both find an injured colleague or once found transport them to the nearest hospital. To help speed up the transportation of injured workers most stations have their own airstrip allowing the "Flying Doctors" to land, treat and evacuate patients.
Dangers that may be faced in the role of a Jackaroo are mainly due to the hot, arid conditions as well as the livestock and local wildlife. Keep yourself hydrated by always carrying plenty of water and remembering to drink often and don't wait until you feel thirsty. Please bare in mind that someone unaccustomed to the Outback might need as much as one litre of water every hour. On both sealed and unsealed roads, whether they are fenced or unfenced, be aware of wandering stock and wildlife. These can include sheep, cattle, kangaroos and in Central Australia, the odd camel. Dawn, dusk and night times are best avoided if possible, but if you have to drive be very careful and vigilant. Remember, of the world's 25 most deadly snakes, Australia is home to 21 of them. The perceived threat of snake bites is one of the most common fears for people planning to travel in Outback Australia, especially overseas tourists. Contrary to popular belief, however, snake bites are not a major cause of death for people in Australia. In 1997 for example only six people in the whole of Australia, died of snake bites.
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