Not “Just” a Backpacker – Part 1

Host: Yarrie Station
Written by Martha Lindstad – Station Hand, Yarrie Station.

Five years ago I was working as a journalist at a harness racing magazine in Norway. Some of the most common questions in my interviews were always “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What sort of plans do you have for the future?”. Back then I was sitting comfortably at a desk in Norway’s capital Oslo, with no plans of leaving the country. Little did I know that I was going to end up on a half a million acre cattle property in the Australian outback.

Growing up on a small farm, or “lifestyle block” as Australians would call it, got me interested in horses at an early age. Dad bred and raised trotters, and during my teenage years I spent all my spare time at the race track or in the stables around Norway. Even before I finished high school, I had a part time job in a harness racing magazine as a journalist, as well as working in a racing stable as well. I loved seeing new places, and after a bit of travelling through my job, I was hooked. I got a year leave of absence, and away to New Zealand I went. That was four years ago, and I still haven’t moved back home.

In New Zealand I did the typical backpacker things. I worked on farms, met amazing people, and never had to worry about anything. There was always a seasonal job somewhere, or a farmer who needed a casual hand for a bit. When one job was finished, his cousin or someone he knew had another job lined up. Or, I could just go to the pub, meet the locals and suddenly I had both a job, and a place to live for the next couple of months. Everything was so easy over there, and I did all sorts of jobs from guiding horse treks to fruit picking, training race horses, mustering, calf rearing, tailing lambs or sorting out wool as a rousie. While in New Zealand, I heard about the stations in Australia. I mean, the real big stations, not “just” a 5000 acre station like they’ve got in New Zealand. When you’re from a 30 acre block yourself, it’s hard to imagine stations that run thousands heads of cattle, over several million hectares. That’s bigger than some of our regions back home! From the first time I heard the stories of the outback, I wanted to give it a go. I didn’t know anyone in Australia, but I thought it would be like NZ. Everything had been so easy over there, so I didn’t worry too much. However, it was harder than I had imagined.

I flew to Sydney in November ‘15, with no plans about anything, but I had to start somewhere. I remember sharing a room in a hostel with five other backpackers from the UK, who told me to go to this place and that place along the East Coast. I didn’t come all the way to Australia to see the tourist attractions everyone else sees, and I wanted to meet real Australians. I started looking up jobs on Gumtree, Facebook and in the newspapers online. After a few weeks with no luck, I went to Victoria and got a racing job through a Norwegian friend. Not exactly what I had planned for, but you have to start somewhere, and a couple of months in the outskirts of Melbourne was a good time to keep looking for jobs, especially since my days in the stable normally finished at lunch time. I had a great time in Cranbourne though, I travelled around Victoria with the racehorses, and I met lots of nice people.

With limited station experience in Australia, it’s hard to know what to write, look for and expect when you apply for jobs. The fact that I was “just a backpacker” didn’t help either. Most backpackers only want their three months agriculture work to extend their working holiday visa, while my reason for being in Australia was to see and learn more about Australian agriculture and the pastoral industry. During the two months in Victoria, I spent nearly every afternoon on the computer, filling out applications for the big cattle companies, or applying to other jobs online. Some job descriptions sounded so good, I sent all my details and were just as excited every time I checked my e-mails the next couple of days. However, I was always turned down and didn’t have any luck. I never counted, but must have applied and e-mailed around 50 different stations for jobs all over Australia. As mentioned I didn’t knew what to expect, but I had at least expected to get some replies. Out of all these, only two or three stations came back to me. They didn’t have any positions available anymore, but at least they replied. It was both frustrating and depressing. All I wanted to do was to get out somewhere, see different areas and work hard. One of the stations that actually replied was Yarrie station and owner Annabelle Coppin. They were sorted for the season, but she liked my resume and attitude, and also said that if I ever was in the area, I was more than welcome to come by. Little did I know then, that I was going to spend the following year at this station.

In the meantime I spent the summer visiting friends in New Zealand, but still kept applying for jobs. Again, most of them never replied, and I still didn’t have any luck. One of the jobs I applied for, I remember one in particular. It was a place looking for a station hand for their cattle station, and they were mainly using horses for mustering. I tried to share my experience and tell a bit about myself, but the lady was more busy telling me about some of the useless people they had there previously, and that she didn’t think I could make it. She also told me about one bloke who had turned up and thought horses were using gym shoes, and how the station life wasn’t like “f***ing McLeod’s Daughters”. I had never even watched the program, and didn’t understand until later what she actually meant.

However, I got a job on a property in Queensland, which was surprisingly very cruisy and quiet. I had imagined long days from early morning until late at night, but this was far from that and not busy at all. I needed something different, and had always heard a lot of positive things about Western Australia. Finally, luck was on my side, and through an internet agency, I got onto a job in a cattle feedlot north of Perth. I could not have been more lucky, as this place was great. I learnt a lot about a whole new part of the cattle industry, and worked for people who had a lot of experience and knowledge within the field, and was happy to share it. It was also through them I finally got the opportunity to work on a station. They knew Annabelle and Yarrie Station very well, which I thought was such a coincidence as I had been in contact with her previously.

Tune in tomorrow to read about Martha’s experience on Yarrie Station!

A few curious weaners before this days weaner handling session.