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Should I work on a cattle station?

Kimberley-based ringer Emma Moss shares her advice for those seeking to work on cattle stations 'up north'...

3 Ringers | Wave Hill Station 2022 by Emma Moss
3 Ringers | Wave Hill Station 2022 by Emma Moss

Maybe you have left high school, finished university, had a quarter life crisis, watched McLeod's Daughters; or want to find yourself a dinky-di cowboy or cowgirl. So, now what? You may find yourself asking: Should I go up north? Okay, the idea of uprooting your life to a place referred to as "up north" is, without a doubt, daunting; You can't find "up north" on a map, so where actually is it?

"Up north" refers to cattle stations - huge properties of about 200,000 hectares. In Western Australia, there is the Kimberley, Pilbara and Southern Rangelands. In the Northern Territory, there's the Top End, Katherine area, Victoria River District, Barkly region and central region.

And Queensland has the Gulf and Channel Country.

For those seeking work experience on the land, I can't emphasise enough that every cattle station is different.

The schedule for the year depends on the season (wet or dry) and when cattle export boats are running. Meanwhile, the people and work culture depends on the station manager.

For mustering, some people have horses, while others use bikes, utes, bull-catchers or a mix. On some stations, mustering season runs for nine months over one or two rounds, while other places do it in two or three months.

Emma Moss
Emma Moss with her 'low rider'

Some staff camp out on musters if the yards are far from the homestead. Other stations are small enough for staft to stay home year-round. The stock camp (station hands/ jillaroos/jackaroos) also changes in size. Often, a station will plan their mustering calendar so that staff can attend campdrafts and rodeos. Some stations prioritise races, while for others, a busy social life isn't on the calendar.

During my two years, I worked on two different stations.

Both had horses for mustering, and we took them to campdrafts and rodeos. There were six to eight of us in the camp, with a 60:40 ratio of boys to girls. We worked long, hard days - sometimes for a month or two before we got a dayoff. Being in the camp is tough, sweaty, dusty work.

Your clothes will be stained and your hat will never be clean. But our camp became like a second family; the boys are still like my brothers today. My point is: do some research and ask questions about working up north. Do you want to be on a horse, or have the wild bull-catching experience? Or is socialising important to you? 

Tail End | Wave Hill Station 2022 | Image by Emma Moss
Tail End | Wave Hill Station 2022 | Image by Emma Moss

Driving to the Kimberley fresh out of school, I was grateful that Mum was in the car with me. If she wasn't, I might've turned around. The 5000-kilometre journey gave me time to think: am I tough enough? What if I don't get on with everyone? Will I be a failure if I leave after a month? It's normal to worry about doing new things!

Going up north changed my life forever. The trusty old universe put me on a path I never could have imagined.

I bought a second-hand camera and started taking photos of the station and rodeos. I created an Instagram page.

This brought opportunities for me through photography, and speaking at events about social media and women in agriculture. This has involved flying around Australia, and meeting some awesome people along the way.

So, should you go up north? If you love the outdoors, animals and working hard (and don't mind isolation), then it might be for you. Your experience level is not as important as your willingness to learn, listen and improve. To join this community, you must challenge yourself. You'll be surrounded by like-minded mates who are willing to work hard, which results in mutual respect. Have a crack!


Article first appeared in CountryStyle Magazine Feb 2022, reposted with permission by Emma Moss & CountryStyle Magazine.

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