Balancing the Fantasy vs Reality of Station Life

This entry was one of the finalists in our 2015 Birthday Competition and was written by Shorna Ross.

I’ve been living and working on cattle stations mostly in the Pilbara since I finished school in Victoria in 2007, left my family farm, and headed West to chase my dream of being a Jillaroo on a station for a year before heading to University. Little did I know it would become my life.

From the country, the red dust, the volatile weather, the cattle, the horses, the long way between towns to the people, it is now under my skin and in my heart. Unlike the majority of people who come and work for a season or two and then leave I’ve been around for a lot longer than that and I have experienced the pastoral world from many perspectives. I was originally a Jillaroo, then a leading hand, then governess, then I did some contract work, then I was leading hand again, then I went back to governess. and for three and a half years of that I was with a chopper pilot and we went on to buy an aerial mustering business. For me Station Life is a brilliant experience, I love the diversity of places, people, animals, jobs, and the many skills I’ve acquired.

Photo 1Myself on one of my stock horses Tyrooki Splash.

I have outlined the above so readers have a background when I say there is one thing I have noticed time and time again from many perspectives whilst working on different stations. People come to work on stations for varying reasons however I have observed a lot come with a fantasy of the work and the lifestyle and they quit before giving it a fair go. I believe if new people walked into our industry with a more balanced perspective it would benefit firstly themselves, the boss, the crew and the livestock, which in the bigger picture benefits the world by feeding people.

Photo 2Last lot of weaners to process with sunset on our heels on a Pilbara Station.

So with the intention of balancing your perception please read on!

When you start at a new place at the very start of the season, mustering will happen eventually, even if it feels like it is taking forever however. You know what? You will come to be grateful for all the fences you put up, all the gates swinging nicely in the yards, and the bull buggies and motorbikes that you spent hours servicing running well when it does come to cattle work.

Photo 3Bike loaded for fencing at start of season.

Hanging out to start mustering is frustrating, however, If the boss says it’s still too wet to muster, it is too wet. Sweeping the shed floor again is less frustrating than unbogging bikes and buggies, trying to ride a horse across quicksand to get to the other side of a flooded creek, or waiting most of the day for the chopper to put cattle together because they are completely scattered which in turn results in a dangerous, chaotic yard up in the dark.

Photo 4Running creek at a station in QLD.

You might have a picture in your mind of resort style accommodation at the quarters however, you will find frogs in the toilet or shower and one day probably even a snake eating said frogs. The generator will overload because of the aircons it is trying to run in everyone’s accommodation and you will toss, turn, and sweat all night trying to sleep or on the other end of the scale you will get drenched and freeze in your swag camping out. You may want to get along with everyone you work with however, you live with them too and personalities do clash, it’s not always going to be easy and people have to stick it out and work at getting along.

Floppy eared Brahman calves are cute, however, they can kick – hard enough to scrape and bruise skin. Having a poddy is very rewarding, however, you will be first up in the morning and last to knock off feeding the little buggers before and after your ‘day job’. You can try to save every orphaned calf, however, some of them die, and sometimes it is the one you’ve been feeding for three weeks or so.

Photo 5One of my many poddies Max.

Walking a mob of cattle is romantic, however, it is also often stressful, hard, thirsty work, very hot, and dusty. You get sore in places you did not know existed and the flies can drive you mad sticking in the corners of your eyes. You may think you know a lot about working livestock, however, you still will have more to learn and you know what, it might be the youngest, quietest, skinny girl in the camp who can teach it to you and you will have to overcome your ego in order to learn. You can head to a station with clean clothes and skin, however, everything turns red (or black depending on what type of country you are working in).

Photo 6My Pilbara makeup as a first year Jillaroo.

You will most likely get to experience a chopper ride or two however, it may be because you or someone else has gotten hurt, or you need to get back to the homestead to feed cattle in daylight or because cattle smashed a fence and it needs fixing right now.

I have a lot of hilarious, interesting, and beautiful station memories, however, I have a balance of challenging ones. I have shed a lot of sweat, blood, and tears. I have seen more days through from well before sunrise to well after sunset than I can count. At times I wanted to quit, at times I was so dog tired and sore I felt as though a road train with three trailers had run over me often for blocks of weeks at a time, at times I have felt so frustrated I may kill a fellow worker or so stressed out I might have a panic attack. You know what, I am giving you a heads up, this will be similar for you on your journey in our industry, embrace the balance.

Photo 7Myself riding in the lead on a plant horse Honey in QLD.