The pretend Jillaroo

Host: Anna Plains Station
Written by Natasha Mahar

This Broome girl needed some time out and a purpose again as there was way too much binge Netflixing happening while I wondered what to do next in my life. My dear friend Helen, aka Mrs Boss made the call… “Tarshy, get your arse down here to Anna and bring your dog!”. I don’t really like saying no to Mrs Boss.

A new day at Anna Plains Station begins as the sunlight starts to crinkle through the Poinciana tree. The grass shimmers after the night dew. Sleepy eyes and weary bodies emerge in the kitchen to the smell of crispy bacon frying. The crack of dawn is a thing! (Well… actually, way before the crack of dawn is a thing … 4.30am alarm for a 5am brekky!)

The marine planes grass is as green as Ireland (and Ireland is pretty green) stretching for miles as far as the eye can see. There are white cows, brown cows, orange cows, black and brindle cows, wet cows and well lots of cows!

The helicopter swoops and swirls circling figure 8’s in the dusty skies working the cattle from the air. Toyota Landcruiser utes doing the work of horses and motorbikes are on the ground bringing the cattle into formations for their short 10km walk to the yards.

1500 head merge into one large herd and all you can see is blue sky, cattle and dust. Once the dust clears momentarily there are cowboy hats and rusty steel, heifers and calves, cows and bulls, hooves treading… ”there’s movement at the station”.

The yards are a hive of activity, jillaroos fast thinking and agile working quickly together tagging and vaccinating like a well-oiled machine. Jackaroos effortlessly jump fences like monkey’s, slowly working the cattle up to be processed and drafted.  Gates are swinging & sliding, calves are bellowing and shouts can be heard above the raucous mooing, “Bull Calf, Heifer Calf, Wet Cow, Heifer, Weaner bull marked, Herd Bull…”. Cattle are recorded meticulously by the Boss Lady while the Director stands silently under a shady tree hand feeding his cattle tufts of grass.

Hailing from a sheep farm in South Australia where colourful language at the shearing shed was par for the course I expected the same, a whole lot of shouting, hollering and plenty of swearing. So, while there might have been the odd F word muttered here and there, usually the result of a cranky old cow or a cantankerous young bull but on the whole those cattle were pretty quiet and orderly.  Except when they had to be processed, let’s face it, none of us likes a jab even if it’s for our own health and wellbeing!

One of my tasks at the yard included the slide gate. Ideally between 2 & 4 cattle would waltz on into the race calmly, orderly and in single file prior to being tagged and vaccinated. Then I would slide the gate shut behind them so it didn’t get too crowded in there. On the rare occasion this unfolded but usually the cattle were:

a) incredibly impatient and bursting with excitement to be tagged and vaccinated
b) terribly stubborn, or
c) had a phobia of needles and didn’t want to be anywhere near the humans!

After my (clearly impressive) slide gate duties I was promoted to draft gate and record keeping for some of the time … gulp!  This is the one spot you don’t want to get cow muddled and you need to listen attentively to the head stockmen when he’s telling you if it’s a heifer, wet cow, dry cow, herd bull, heifer calf, bull calf, or bush cow…. then … some of them had tag numbers that needed to be correctly scribed … no pressure whatsoever on this pretend jillaroo! I would very much like to believe that all the cattle mentioned in this yarn ended up in their correct yards!

It was a long hot, dusty day… (have I said that already??)

The romantic connotation of mustering and yarding cattle swiftly dissipates when you are in the thick of it! It’s hot, hard, dusty work. My feet were sore from standing for 11 hours, I had blisters on my heels from my new work boots, my hands, nails and hair were literally filled with bull dust! So much so the wrinkles in my wrists became alarmingly more evident where all the dirt had seeped into. I honestly can’t remember being that filthy or more thoroughly proud of myself as my days mustering & yarding at Anna were filled with laughter, hard yakka, grit, determination, satisfaction, and purpose! Oh, and those gorgeous frolicking calves (I really wanted to use “frolicking calves” in this story somewhere.)

It was time to head back to Broome town after 3 weeks of station life and within 48 hours I went from being a pretend jillaroo to being appointed Australia’s North West Tourism’s incoming CEO.  Must have been the Anna Plains magic, good for my soul!