Station newbie finds her place in outback
SARAH Robinson admits she wasn't prepared as she headed off for her first year on a cattle station.
She wasn't expecting how much pressure she would feel to gain a wealth of knowledge and experience within a short period of time - all the while working long hours with few days off.
It was a tough first season.
She considered giving up, but decided to persevere.
This year Sarah is heading into her fifth year as a station hand and is driven by the goal of one day becoming a head stockman.
Helping her younger teammates learn the ropes, like she once did, is now a rewarding challenge.
As many young people across Australia will be heading off, or preparing to leave for their first year on a station, Sarah took time to chat to the Rural Weekly to give her best advice for property newbies.
So far, Sarah has worked on properties throughout Queensland and as far west as the Pilbara in Western Australia - quite a remarkable achievement for a girl who grew up on the edge of a regional city.
"I grew up in Townsville, just on a couple of acres,” she said.
"My mum taught me to ride horses but we had never done cattle work or been out to properties.”
After finishing school she worked in hospitality but was soon keen for a new venture.
"I just put an ad up on Gumtree to see if anyone would give me a go and a little family place (in North Queensland) put me up for a year,” she said.
She describes that first start as being "a bit rough”.
"Well, being my first go I had no idea... I sort of went out there a bit unprepared, and basically it wasn't run very well. I was worked to the bone every day and had to learn very quickly.”
Not being the kind of person who gives up easily, Sarah stuck out a full season and the work started to get under her skin.
Her next experience on a station was much better, and she took her first job with the Paraway Pastoral Company.
This year she is returning to Clonagh Station, about 70km north of Cloncurry in western Queensland, which is another Paraway Pastoral property.
Overall, Sarah said a good attitude and a willingness to learn while working hard was essential.
"You have to be open and prepared for hard work,” she said.
"You need to listen to your superiors. You can't go out there in your first year and question everybody, you have to listen to your head stockman.
"Basically, you need to do as you are told. Otherwise you won't earn respect from anyone.”
Sarah has learnt to be flexible with her role and enjoys the fact that every day is different.
"The plans for the day don't always come through,” she said.
"One day you could be prepared for mustering and then they say everyone needs to go and fight a fire.”
Sarah has found a great fit within the Paraway Pastoral Company, and her manager is now preparing her for a leadership role.
Finding a company that suits your needs is a bit of a knack.
"My biggest tip there would be learning to ask what the accommodation is like before you start,” she said.
"It seems petty, but I have been to a few places where the accommodation was less than adequate. You want to go to a place where you feel comfortable and feel at home.”
She also suggested asking if there was a station cook, if breakfast was cooked and provided, and how their morning meetings worked, in order to find a workplace.
When Sarah reflects on her time working in the beef industry, she said it was sometimes tough going.
"I have had more than a few busters,” she said.
"There has been blood, tears and swearing - and times when you want to give up. But the good days outweigh the bad.”
She has had no serious injuries so far, but has been thrown from horses and rolled by cattle in the yards.
"Cattle are very unpredictable,” she said.
"I was too confident and not watching my back when I started so I managed to get rolled over a fair few times.
"I am much more careful now, I have learnt from my mistakes.” Even though she is coming up to five years in the game, Sarah said it was still rewarding to reflect on the workload a team of ringers could accomplish.
"When you have 3000 head of cattle in the yard to be processed, during that time you are thinking 'far out, this is hard, can't wait for it to be over' then you get them all done within two days and they are out of the yards and you think to yourself, 'wow, we just processed 3000 head.”
Station newbie checklist
Sarah's top essentials for those new to property work
- A good quality 5-10 litre water bottle, or both, to be safe because you won't always get a chance to refill on the job. The best one I've used and still use, is an Esky brand one. They've never failed me.
- A camelback for mustering days. Get one that holds 3 litres plus your lunch. If you don't like them, you might want to get some saddlebags instead. You can get them for both horses and motorbikes.
- A wide-brimmed hat. Sunbody straw hats are inexpensive, lightweight and keep your head cool all day. I can't go past them now.
- Workboots. Don't cheap out on workboots. They take a beating in our line of work. Buy a couple of pairs so when the first ones blow out halfway through the season (because, if you're like me, you forgot to look after them) you have back-ups ready to go. I buy hiking boots from Kathmandu because they provide excellent support and are waterproof.
- Shop around for work shirts. Don't go spending $40 for a shirt so you will "look the part” as stereotypes go. I get mine from Lifeline for a max of $5 each, plus I can usually pick up some funky colours.
- Again with jeans - don't spend hundreds on pairs with fancy stitching or a popular name brand because "that's what everyone else has”.
- Get a good sunscreen. Myself, I use Sunsense for sensitive skin because it has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It's recommended by doctors and provides the best protection.
- Notebooks. Get lots of notebooks and pens and always carry them with you on the job for jotting down instructions or directions so you're not confused later.
- A pair of fencing pliers and have your name engraved on them. I like the Crescent brand. Managers always love people who turn up prepared with their own gear.
- Last essential I feel everyone should have is a good pocketknife/multi-tool. They are very handy to have.
Sarah first wrote this list for the Rural Resources Online website.