Cattle Station Dreaming

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Margo Sullivan, Cave Creek Station. Photo credit: Donal Sullivan

Save the date for the 2017 Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Federal Conference to be held in Alice Springs, August 2-3. Hosted by the Alice Springs Branch, this promises to be a great conference in true Territory style. Find all information at this link: 

Isolation is nothing new when you have grown up on a cattle property and while the family property I grew up on is closer to town than others, it is isolation all the same. Crappy internet, limited to no cell phone reception, and long drives into town are all a part of it. While this distance is not always the best thing, in some ways it was my favourite part of growing up on a cattle station. Having the freedom of being out of town and having a vast expanse of bush for a backyard made for some pretty exciting times.

Now while living remote came with so many perks while I was growing up, it had one downside, boarding school. Now boarding school was not that bad despite the fact I was usually grounded or had a detention of some description. I look back on my time in boarding and I made some lifelong friendships while being able to experience things I could not have if I had remained at home. I was able to join a netball and AFL team that could train twice a week, together, in the same place and it only took 10 minutes to get to the courts/oval which was something I had never experienced before. I attended St Philips College in Alice Springs and one of my favourite memories from there was definitely the outdoor education program. Although I was originally reluctant to take part on the camps organised each year I always had an amazing time and it was a program that many schools do not offer, especially not in such a high standard. At the end of year 12, after five years of boarding school, I was so sick of being a boarder that I swore I would never return.

Horses are used on Cave Creek for tailing weaners.

My first gap year consisted of working at home on a wage. I had not applied for university partly because I was not sure what I wanted to do and also because I couldn’t be bothered, such was my attitude at the time . . . Working at home gave me a chance to get involved with everything I missed while I was at boarding school. Mustering, swimming, walking around barefoot, checking bores, feeding lick, collecting poddy calves (orphaned calves), and don’t forget more mustering. I have always loved working cattle and, as my father described me, I was a ‘pig in mud’ while I was home. Over my first gap year I also started my Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing, which after nearly two and a half years (half a year longer than intended) I have finished. The veterinary nursing was more of a self-development choice and not necessarily a career choice. I loved animals and wanted to develop a wider knowledge medically so that is what I did. For part of this I needed to complete work placement and so I returned to Alice Springs to complete my placement and was offered a job in the place I swore I would never return to – the St Philip’s College Boarding House – and I loved it. I still missed the bush, my family (although my brothers were still boarding) and working cattle, but there is a lot of satisfaction in going out on your own heading in the direction you wish to go.

While I was enjoying myself, this was a tough year financially. My boarding shifts cut out my rent, I worked one day a week in the kitchen for pay and worked for six months on work placement in a vet surgery for my Cert IV with no pay. This is when I made my first attempt to get Youth Allowance, but it turned out the Vet Nursing course was technically classified as ‘part-time’ and so it was ineligible. In a town or city someone doing this course would do work placement for a day a week over the two years but that is impractical and expensive for someone living and working in the bush. So I survived on $200/week for the first seven months of my second gap year.

My sister Jess and I drafting breeders in the cattle yards.

Out in the paddock to Bora Bora – one of my ex poddy calves.

Throughout both of my gap years I kept my eye on the ultimate goal, which was studying Agriculture at university. I had been dreaming of going to Marcus Oldham College in Geelong since I learnt of its existence and that is where I am now. Marcus Oldham is a business college that offers Agribusiness, Farm Business Management, and Equine Management courses. I am currently completing my Associate Degree of Farm Business Management. The course is designed to prepare you to manage the financial, social, and environmental aspects of a farming business. Ultimately, I plan to return to the family property. In the meantime, I intend to educate myself and work in different places to build my knowledge and experiences. It has been a dream of mine to start my own stud of either Brahmans or Droughtmasters and furthering my education is one way I see myself getting there.

My sister Donal and I and three of our stockmen at Cave Creek.

Education may be important, however, it is not free and I’m sure if you have tried to apply for Youth Allowance from Centrelink you will know just how frustrating it can be. The rules and dispensations for rural and remote kids are complex and no-one in Centrelink can understand or answer your questions. For those of you who don’t know about the process, it usually consists of waiting on hold for at least an hour, filling out online applications, trying to attach documents to an application, going into the office, being told to go call someone and crying. Then after all of that you wait ten weeks only to get rejected. Then there is more crying and a few more documents uploaded, distress calls to your mother, another long wait on hold, a trip to the office, being told to call someone again and then hoping like heck you get through, because you can’t meet your next college instalment if it doesn’t.

Once I have finished with Centrelink and late nights finishing assignments due the next day (usually ones I should have started three weeks ago not three hours ago) I am definitely heading back into the bush. College is like a working holiday; it is hard work but I love it. So does it really count as work?