Accountant to Cowboy

Host: Yougawalla Station
Written by Jane Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Station.

“The story of how a city boy ended up in the outback”

When most young boys are growing up they want to be a fireman, policeman, builder or astronaut, not me, since I was six years old I wanted to be an accountant. Rest assured that I had a normal childhood, it’s just my career choice was odd for a child so young. Having followed my “career” dream I realised after a few years there was more to life. Following my passion for snowboarding I started travelling the world searching out the best mountains to ride; this not only elevated my sense of adventure but my desire to travel and has seen me become a bit of a gypsy living and travelling around both Australia and the world.

So instead of spending my days chained to a desk staring at the soft glow of the computer screen, crunching numbers, writing reports and analysing performance I now spend my days mustering cattle on motorbike, repairing fences destroyed by the raging wet season floods, working 2,000 head of cattle through the yards in a day, and loading road trains with cattle ready for export. From going to bed after midnight and rising at a time that suited me before heading into the office, my sleeping has now taken on a more military edge, rising every morning at 4.30am and tucked up in bed exhausted at 8.30pm. I have swapped a suit and tie for jeans and a collection of old business shirts purchased from various op shops back home. My brother (a tough plumber) is proud that my office boy hands now have calluses and have experienced hard manual labour.

My backyard is like the vast plains of Africa. Three properties make up over two million acres of the Yougawalla Pastoral Company (YPC), home to 30,000 plus head of cattle. As far as the eye can see in every direction, to the horizon plus much more is one place; huge is an understatement. I have to thank Haydn and Jane Sale from YPC for giving a 37 year old reformed accountant his chance at an outback life, my chance to be a cowboy. A few stations I applied for said I was too old, but I knew otherwise. Fit, healthy, and always looking for adventure, settling down to normal life (a wife, ridiculous sized mortgage, and sugar riddled kids) is not for me.

One thing that is very important to my boss is improving how the cattle are handled and we were lucky enough to recently attend a two day Low Stress Stockhandling (LSS) course run by the well renowned cattleman, Jim Lindsay. The skills learnt on this course bring many improvements – the cattle are less stressed and hence calmer to work with, meaning it’s safer for the staff. It also improves the bottom line as the cattle lose less weight during processing, suffer less bruising, and are more in demand from exporters who rate the ease with which the cattle can be processed. Improving the bottom line is a big concern as it is forever under attack from drought, live export bans, fluctuating cattle prices, and rising costs – the list goes on.

Out here 12 hour days are the norm and I often fall into bed following dinner, exhausted but happy, sleep coming easier than when I was a stressed out city accountant. You make many sacrifices to live out here but the rewards are pretty good. Not every day is awesome, but many are. Once advantage is that I am awake to experience the beauty of the sunrise every day and work is usually wrapped up by the time the sun leaves the sky a glowing assortment of orange, red, and yellow.

Where in the past a hunger for a chocolate bar, a hamburger, or a six-pack of beer was resolved with a five minute walk down the road to the shops, now it’s a choice of either a 200km or 400km round trip depending on whether I turn left or right onto the highway (this is after a 50km journey on a dirt road that can be a challenge even after the smallest of rains). In the wet season the station is regularly isolated and stranded as the dirt roads become muddy slop.

I have taken advantage of the isolation and have put myself on an alcohol detox, 36 days and counting. One thing that people probably don’t realise is the outback is no longer the wild west as it was once portrayed, that’s not to say that there are some stations that are a bit more raw than others. It makes it easier to give up the booze when you are running around in 45 degrees of blistering sun with humidity so bad you sweat at 4.30am while you are eating your breakfast, in these conditions it pays to be feeling fresh.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the city lifestyle (especially Sydney where I grew up), where choice abounds. Be that a surf before work, heading to the stadium on the weekend to watch the footy or cricket or of course the chance to see your mates and family with ease. I have been lucky enough to spend the last 10 years living around Australia and the world living in the beautiful mountains of Canada, the great metropolis of London, by the beach at Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, a stint in Melbourne followed by time in the Japanese Alps. But there is something about the outback that grabs you, you can’t place your finger on it, you just feel it. With bush blood slowing starting to flow through my veins I can see myself here for a while, I don’t know if it will last forever but if things work out this season and Haydn and Jane are happy to have me back, The Kimberley will be my new home for at least the next couple of years while I try my hand at this way of life. The added advantage is that I only have to work eight months of the year so I can spend my Aussie summers (wet season up here in The Kimberley) living in Japan snowboarding, living the life of a ski bum, spending my cash that you just can’t spend while living in the middle of nowhere.