My son Sam is currently away on his gap year jackarooing on a Cattle Station up in Northern Queensland in the Gulf country.  He finished Year 12 last year and like most 18-year olds wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. There were so many recommendations to jackaroo flooding in from older students, friends and even the school principal! They say it is the one time in your life that you may get this opportunity ……. so he decided to defer his university degree and embark upon a year of hard work and plenty of adventure.

Anyone can be a jackaroo or jillaroo.  There are really no age limits either.  As Sam says you just have to be prepared to commit and work hard.  You really need to have a genuine love of the land and farming life and just need to be able to ride a motorbike competently and/or the basics in horse riding. A well-managed trot is enough as it won’t be long before you are an accomplished rider!  A lot of the Stations use one or the other so you can always choose where you go.

In Northern Queensland, Northern Territory and far north Western Australia the wet season dictates the periods of work.  Usually the jackaroos and jillaroos head up after the wet season around end of February early March and work until the wet season comes in again usually in mid/late November. There are plenty of big properties in NSW so you don’t have to go interstate if you don’t want to.  The experience will just be a little less extreme.

The job description is basically to do anything required on the Station. This can be from cleaning out sheds to mustering cattle.  Every day is different.  Sam has had various training days being taught how to shoe horses, intense riding schools, welding, just to name a few.  You just have to be easy going and prepared to do whatever and whenever.  The pay is usually anything from $150-$200 per day plus food and accommodation.

The jackaroos are housed in their own quarters, having their own rooms and usually share bathrooms.  The girls have their own quarters and rooms also, but most Stations have a “Rec Room” and in Sam’s case they have a shed that is decked out with a bar, pool table, and table tennis table. There was also a kitchen and barbeques with lots of tables, chairs and lounges including the requisite tv with wifi.

Many stations will have a communal kitchen with a fulltime cook and so meals are prepared everyday. The fare is as expected; plenty of steak with the traditional pudding, and always plenty of cake, quiches and biscuits for smoko time. (That could also be another fun job as a cook on a station!  Again, there’s no age requirement except someone who is dedicated and organised and they get their own accommodation and usually Sundays off).

The cattle station is a real community.  There would be at least a dozen houses, housing everyone from the Cook to the Farm Manager to the Station Manager to the Mechanic.  The gardens are like an oasis with palm trees, bougainvillea, hedges and surprisingly lush green lawns.  They are the nicest bunch of people and a great crew of jackaroos and jillaroos, or “ringers” as they get called, the ringers all around the ages of 18-28.

This year has been like no other of course.  They have only had a couple of rodeos and races.  Usually the social life if rife so there is always a function to look forward to every couple of weeks, but having said that, they have made their own fun and gone fishing on the Leichardt River or kayak on local gorges where they have camped and partied. They also travel up to the barramundi capital of Karumba with the famous sunsets and abundant fresh seafood.

There is lots of driving but the roads are mostly, surprisingly good and most of the properties these days have to be extremely safety conscious. They do get grilled on general farm safety and I guess it is another step of them growing up and taking responsibility for themselves.

To apply is easy – just jump on the internet and google the various jackarooing websites such as Bush recruitment, MDH Pty Ltd, Paraway Pastoral Co.  There are many.  Locally there are sheep properties such as Egelabra or Haddon Rig in Warren. Any time from now until December is a good time to get in touch and organise.

Sam was once told if you don’t get anything else out of this year, you will learn how to work hard which will hold you in good stead for the rest of your life.

I asked Sam what he would say to others and he said, “It’s the best thing I have ever done and would highly recommend it.  Best experience ever.” That’s a pretty compelling testimonial. He has made some amazing friendships along the way.  I definitely can see how much he has grown in himself during the year and I am really proud of him.

Just warning you though, some never want to leave!

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Kate Ridley

Kate Ridley moved to Orange for work in the TV industry nearly 30 years ago! She met her husband Hunter who is a local and has now been married for nearly 25 years and has 3 boys Jack 22, Sam 19, and Billy 17. She is a part-time House Colour Consultant and also works at The White Place in Orange on a Friday.

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