10 life lessons I learnt from living on a remote cattle station

Written by Miss Meg – former stationhand in the Northern Territory

Living remote can challenge you in many ways. Some people just flat out say “No, I couldn’t do it,” some people want to try it for a while and some people love the lifestyle. I know it’s not for everyone and to be honest I’m not sure it’s something I could do forever, especially really remote places that I couldn’t be involved with community activities and hear about new developments straight from the horse’s mouth for the industry but I sure love it in doses. The time to think, the routine, the open space is so grounding.

The first time I lived on a cattle station when I was 18, one for 4 months and another for 6 months in the same year, then I went away to university, worked elsewhere and travelled a bit all the while living in smaller towns anywhere from 3,000 people to 100,000 but being from Adelaide after my first stint on a station there was no way I would go back to living in the city again! Then last year, nearly 10 years after my first cattle station experience I had the opportunity to do so again, this time for nearly 6 months.

Happy to be back in a swag!

Each time I have worked on a station I feel I grown so much and learn about myself, what I can handle and what I just don’t want in my life. I’m the type of person that wants everyone to be happy and get along with everyone 100% of the time which less face it, is just not possible. We all become like one big family out there and every family has its quirks.

So far 2019 has turned out to be a tough year for the cattle industry in northern Australia and its only March. Queensland has had devastating floods and the Barkly has seen very minimal rain for the ‘wet season’. Keeping perspective at times like these can be critical to the longevity and mental health of people living remote.

I thought this could be a good time to mention some of the important things I have learnt over the years living remote which may help people that have been remote for a while or the newbies that maybe coming into the industry in a tough year.

1. It’s all about perspective – Perspective is key wherever you are in life, remote or not. What may seem like a huge issue for you, where you sit in the pecking order at work or at your life stage but for someone else it could be quite different and sometimes as a manager that can be really difficult to manage people’s expectations of what’s important or right.

What might be boring or annoying to you, could be exciting for someone else.

2. Look after your mental health – Sometimes on stations there can be an unwritten rule that people should just suck it up and not say anything if they really don’t agree with something or is they are really feeling unhappy. Sure, go away and try and deal with it yourself, speak to someone from home or elsewhere for some perspective as well as trusted friends at the station but if something is really bothering you, seek help. The person providing the help could be a head stockman, the managers wife or many stations have a counselling service available to their workers these days that you can call and make an appointment to speak to someone. If you’re really doing it tough, don’t say nothing as someone may be able to give you just that key bit of advice that helps you see that everything will be ok.

3. Communication is critical – This relates to looking after your mental health as well. Sometimes things can also go unsaid in remote environment’s and the issues bubble away until they get too large and really impact on people’s health which impacts of productivity at the station. Take the bull by the horns and if someone is upsetting you, talk to them about it calmly and get their perspective and you may just see that there wasn’t really an issue in the first place when you both just thought it was! Moral of the story, don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill if it really is only a mole hill.

4. Don’t just expect people to know what to do – there can be a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude on stations and sometimes people are expected to do things they don’t really know how to do. If possible explain to people how to do the job and then let them do it. They will do a better job, you won’t have to fix their mistakes, the people doing the job will respect you a lot more for taking the time to show them and it will be much safer.

If you’re not sure, just ask!

5. You won’t get along with everyone – The saddest lesson of them all for a Labrador like me. On a station there will be some people you just click with, some people who’s company you enjoy, some people you feel very neutral about and others that will just rub you the wrong way and you’d rather not spend too much time with and that’s normal.

6. Some people will set your mood for the day – as much as you might try to not let that happen sometimes there will be people that challenge you greatly or just have really big personalities. How you deal with that is what will define your enjoyment of your time on the station. Living in such an insular environment it can be difficult because in the outside world if sometime really rubs you the wrong way you can just get away from them but on a station you might be relying on them to have your back in the cattle yards and then you go to the rec club and they are still there. There is no way to dilute that interaction. I don’t have the secret solution to this issue all I can say is its normal, be aware of it and try to be the bigger person in the situation. If you need a break from that person maybe don’t go to the rec club for the night and go and speak to someone from home or elsewhere to give you some perspective.

It’s not just people that can set your mood, but jobs too.

7. You need to keep contact with the outside world – Sometimes on the station you can get so busy and caught up with what’s going on there that you take on too much of what’s happening there. While one of my favourite things about living on a station is the opportunity to just be present in the moment with the people you are with and having a yarn, too much of that for some people can be a bad thing especially when there are some issues happening and everyone’s a bit on edge.

Living in such an incredibly expansive environment can feel very small at times.

8. Look after your body, you only have one – Working on a station this time, the amount of people with pain in their backs was very concerning to me. Weather its stress, hard work, poor diet or too much alcohol or a combination of it all im not sure but you really only have one body and once its buggered, life becomes a lots harder. We are circling back to the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude here but once again look after yourself. If something is too heavy and you’ve thought about how you can do something without hurting yourself and you couldn’t find a solution then ask for help. Also having a beer at the rec club is big part of living on a station and don’t get me wrong, it can be the best thing about a day. However, the odd big night is ok but if you do it too regularly your body will start to feel it, especially if you are not eating right. Your body works hard and you can play hard too but ensure you have the time when you look after yourself too. The odd stretch wouldn’t hurt either 😉

9. Sexual health – Ladies and gentlemen when heading out to the station for the season or when you are next in town, get prepared. Whatever you need in your bag of tricks to have a safe, enjoyable, healthy time on the station pack ahead as it can be a long way to the doctor and sometimes if you don’t deal with issues in a timely manner then can get bigger

10. Only you will look after you – at the end of the day, cattle station life can be long days, very busy and only you can really look after you. People will be there to support you in your time there but only you know your limits, know when to ask for help, know when you need a solid night sleep or when you really need to do some washing!

10. +1 (A bonus!) Appreciate something each day – Some days you can get caught up with all the crazy politics and busyness of life on a station and can forget where you are. Occasionally it’s important to just stop, open your eyes and just be. You could be walking cattle past a flock of brolgas dancing out on the Mitchell grass plains or a shooting star on a beautiful, clear night by the camp fire. We live in a pretty amazing place, were safe, well and on an amazing adventure that is life, every moment is precious as we will never be in that same moment again.

I hope this article helps you get the most from the 2019. All the best and have fun!

Your attitude will determine how your experience unfolds.