After a great week on the training farm, I took a job as a station hand on a sheep and cattle station with four thousand heads of cattle and six thousand sheep – which in Australia apparently counts as a small place.
Apart from me, there were two other backpackers on the station and we lived together in a small cottage a couple of hundred yards away from the main house. Working closely together under sometimes extreme conditions for often 70 and more hours a week formed a strong bond between us. I knew that I could always count on the others to help me out in difficult situations.
Our small cottage
Since all places like that are fairly secluded, and outside help is very hard to come by, or insanely expensive, we did everything that needed to be done on the farm. As a result, it was always something different and kept the work really interesting, since I learned something new nearly every day. A few of those different tasks were: checking and cleaning the tanks and troughs for the cattle on a bike, taking care of the 15!! working dogs, some construction work, like the building of a big iron shed, and general maintenance work like servicing and fixing the huge amount of machinery used on the station.
And then of course there was the stock work, the reason why I chose this particular job and also a big part of the reason why I came to Australia in the first place. We mustered everything from wild goats, over sheep and horses to (docile and a lot less docile) cattle. Since my horse-riding skills are somewhat limited at best and I’m not that biggest fan of it either, I did most of the mustering on an off-road-bike and sometimes a 4–wheeler. I had very little experience on a bike beforehand, just the few days on the trainings farm, so riding a bike on very rough and often sandy ground while chasing cattle and other stock, came as quite a bit of a shock and a challenge… but it also was incredibly fun. Since the paddocks were quite large, we normally mustered with 4 and more people, some on horseback, others on bikes and most times one in a gyrocopter, which is like a mix between an ultralight aircraft and a helicopter.
Once all the stock was mustered in, the yard work – at least with cattle and sheep – would begin. First they had to be drafted, which meant pushing them through the yards and sorting them up, while trying not to get trampled, kicked or charged by some “mongrel” bull. Then the calves had to be branded, ear-tagged, dehorned, and castrated. Depending on the situation, the other cattle had to be processed in the required way, which could mean drenching them against parasites or weighing them for the meat works, and so on. Both types of stock work were quite hard and exhausting, but I hugely enjoyed them anyway. And of course nothing tastes better than a well-deserved beer or two, or some Bundi and coke, after a hard day of work.
Overall, I had an amazing time during my four months on the station, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a more extreme experience. I will absolutely work at a similar place again, but now I’m looking forward to my well-earned vacation.