Mel’s Road to Yeeda

Host: Mel McDonald – Rangeland NRM
Written by Mel McDonald – Kimberley Project Manager, Rangelands NRM.

How true is the saying that as one door shuts another opens? I have been lucky enough in life that whenever things haven’t quite worked out as I had hoped, I have always been able to look forward to something just as exciting just around the corner.

As a little girl growing up on a sheep and wheat farm a couple of hours north of Perth, I always wanted to work on a cattle station. I remember sitting at the breakfast table circling job ads for Jackaroos and Jillaroos in the newspaper. The main attraction was probably the horses – for a horse-mad 10 year old whose favourite thing was when Dad let my sisters and I ‘muster’ the sheep on our ponies.

At 22, with a Uni degree, a great job, a long term boyfriend, and a mortgage, I thought I had missed my chance to be a Jillaroo. So when my little sister finished high school and went to work on a cattle station I was terribly jealous. Towards the end of her time there I thought that it was now or never so booked holidays. I jumped on the bus for the 24 hour ride to Mandora Station on the Eightly Mile Beach in the southern Kimberley next door to Anna Plains (the crew of which you met in April on this blog). I absolutely loved my time on the Station. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

A long story short, and a lot of soul searching in between, six months later I found myself back on the driveway to Mandora with a new boyfriend (and husband–to-be) who had known the family who owned the Station since he was a baby. We worked for the family on a couple of their properties for two years. At this time we had become so sick of Queenslanders telling us how wonderful Queensland was that we decided to go for a look. Here we oversaw a property south of Charters Towers for two years before deciding that Judd should get a helicopter pilot’s licence from Cairns Helicopter School.

After couple of years experiencing the highest rainfall in Australia — a 4.2m annual average in Babinda in Far North Queensland — we were happy to be home in WA, Judd with his Commercial Helicopter Licence and me having been working back in natural resource management in sugar cane country. Returning home all our friends seemed to be working on the mines. This left us at a crossroads – do we chase the dollars and look for mining work too or do we follow our hearts and head back to station work where much of the remuneration is in the lifestyle? While standing at those crossroads, a job was advertised working with Rangelands NRM in a Regional Landcare Facilitator role based in Broome. Before being offered the job, we had made up our minds to head north again in any case.

Not long after moving to Broome, Judd started working with Yeeda Pastoral Company. I will never forget the conversation when Jack asked whether we wanted to live in Broome or to move out to Kilto, 65km from town. He was worried about dragging us away from luxury but we could not wait to not only escape the hustle and bustle of Broome but also the tiny caravan on an industrial block that we had been renting. For 18 months we lived at Kilto and I drove the 65km to Broome each day or more often than not car pooled with Vicki and others which was a great chance to catch up. When Judd was offered the move to Yeeda, the 200km from Broome was just a little too far for me to commute each day. I was very lucky that I was able to keep my job and work from home most of the time, travelling to Broome regularly.

I absolutely loved our time at Kilto and the first 18 months at Yeeda. I would work for Rangelands NRM during the week and spend my weekends on the station doing whatever Judd was doing: working in the yards with the cattle, fencing, ensuring the cattle had water. The pace of this slowed a little when I became pregnant but I still did what I could. Now with a young baby it is even harder to get out on the Station – but I love it when I can!

1.1From a kid who loved the sheep yards to loving the cattle yards.

1.2Smoko time on the Station.

1.3Not always stuck in the office working in natural resource management either: Facilitating an erosion control workshop.

1.4Controlling Rubber vine – a weed of great threat to agriculture and recreation as well as the environment.