Diversification

Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by James Camp

Hi, my name is James Camp. I’m a 4th generation stockman born and bred in the Kimberleys in the North West of Australia. When I was a kid, instead of fairytales, I was brought up hearing stories of my family throwing scrub bulls, fording crocodile-infested rivers and shooting pistols off horseback as they struggled to make a living in the harsh West. Real life can be more exciting than anything made up.

20 years ago my parents bought Kalyeeda Station as little more than a bare block. There were no cattle, no homestead and very little infrastructure (by that I mean fencing or water points). Things have changed a lot since then and I’m proud to say my family has built nearly everything here.

Hundreds of kilometers of fencing, endless bores and dams, generator sheds, poddy yards, accommodation and cattle yards – it has taken a lot to turn Kalyeeda into the working station it is today and I’m proud of the home and business we’ve built – all to run our herd of 6,000 Brahman cross cattle and home the people needed to look after them. For as long as I can remember working with cattle was all I ever wanted to do.

2.1 copyMyself as a teenager working the calf taxi service for tired babies on a long muster.

Diversity – what an awesome word!  It gets used a lot in the cattle industry. Obviously it’s not a good idea to have all your eggs in one basket and so by diversifying a property with different land uses (cropping) or off property investments you can protect yourself and your property from catastrophic industry events such as the 2011 Live Export ban. When the ban threatened to shut our family business down overnight it made me realize how much not only the station itself but my own job and future was entirely reliant on this trade. We always talked about diversifying the business – but what about me?

I remember watching the footage on the TV when the story came out and after the initial shock had abated a bit I thought about my own circumstances and what a permanent ban would mean for me.  I had started working for my parents as soon as I had finished school. I never had any desire to leave the station I’d grown up on and it didn’t bother me that I had no outside trade or flash bits of paper to show I had any skills outside of this industry I had grown up in.

I started to realize just how fragile and volatile a life living off the land could be. My world could change in an instant due to circumstances outside my own control – not just the bad bushfires or heavy droughts that are always a threat to farmers, but government interventions like the ban that shut down the entire industry and not just small parts overnight. Unemployment, the loss of our animals, our home and the land I had grown up on where all the possibilities I could foresee in my future.

This wasn’t a time for morbid contemplation though. Time to knuckle down band together and make the changes that were necessary to ensure our cattle were treated right and our industry survived. Although it wasn’t an easy road we made it through to the other side. Thanks to those dark times our industry and family business came out stronger and better.

Fast forward 3 years and I found myself a married man still living at Kalyeeda and working at the job I loved with my family. Our business had diversified to survive – we had explored new markets and changed the genetic makeup of our breeder herd to allow us to sell our cattle to other markets. But I started thinking – my circumstances haven’t changed much in those three years. I was still entirely reliant on the cattle business and still in a vulnerable position if things went pear shaped. Like we had done to the business I decided it was time to make my career  bullet proof- time to Diversify!

Whilst my wife Barbara began studying nursing, I began the search for a career that would suit me. What did I like to do apart from being a stockman? What was I good at? I knew I liked to make things and my life of work on Kalyeeda had made me pretty handy with metal work. Within a few weeks I found myself signing up for an apprenticeship in Boiler Making (metal fabrication) in Kununurra with Argyle Engineering. This was going to involve a big change. For the first time I was leaving my home on the station and heading off to live in civilization.

I loaded up the truck, threw the wife, the dog and a couple of horses in the back and moved off to try out town living! Actually we moved to a mango farm just out of town – we weren’t quite ready for the full city experience. We were close enough to have mobile phone reception, though – a strange luxury.

2.2 copyWhen leaving home you need to remember the pack the essentials.

I find mango farming much more boring than cows! It was quite a challenge leaving my family run property to start a new career in an industry that I knew nothing about. To come from being head stockman to the newest apprentice in the workshop and bottom of the pecking order was quite hard – not to mention realizing how much I had to learn. It was hard to start over as a 25 year old but I knew I had to do it. I realized it was going to take four years to add these skills to my repertoire. Four years away from the only job and way of life I had ever known. Kununurra is 10 hours from Kalyeeda so it wasn’t as though I could run home for the weekend.

Life was very different. Instead of pulling all-nighters fighting bushfires I experienced nightshift underground in diamond mines. My old standards of OH & S (occupational health and safety) might have been remembering to put on a helmet when I went out mustering on the bike – the workshop was all about Hi-Viz and steel toe boots. I missed the days of fixing bores and servicing generators but I also loved learning to use a welder for things more technical than assembling the rails on a new fence line.

By the time this blog is released I will have finished my trade. It’s been awesome fun working in the workshop and I now have more tickets and certificates than I can keep track of. In the last few years I’ve learnt the secrets of steel (it’s hot and heavy), welding (ya gonna get burnt!), poly (this stuff is absolute bomb diggity) and Hi-Viz clothing (instant sexiness). I’ve given myself the skills and recognition I needed to go out and get a job anywhere (I hope). But now I’m equipped with infinite knowledge, my trade paper armor, and an arsenal of tickets and certificates … where to next?

2.3 copyMine site work.

They say cows go out to graze but come back to water.

This describes the effect station life has on me and many other people as well. Leaving the station isn’t a problem – it’s staying away that is the hard part. It keeps drawing you back.

Everybody has fond memories of their old childhood home where they used to play with their old family dog ‘Rex’ … for me, instead of a unit in the city with a little courtyard, this home is a couple of houses, several sheds, 250,000 square hectares of spinifex and buffel grass and many, many pets!  There’s a lot more to love and a lot more space for the memories! So I will naturally find myself back there before long.

For me, the idea to have a sea change wasn’t because I disliked my work or home, it was because I feared that one day I might not have a choice in the change. I needed to try adapting to something completely different as a bit of a personal challenge. I needed to be sure I could diversify myself in case in the future I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have the choice.

That’s the thing about station diversification. It isn’t just about diversifying, isn’t just about keeping the individual stations running; it’s about keeping the individuals, families and communities that are part of them alive because one cannot operate without the other.

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