Perhaps you’re thinking about or even getting ready for your first year on a station. Then you’ll probably be feeling a mix of nerves and excitement for the new adventure ahead. Trust me, I know exactly how you’re feeling because four years ago I was in that position, heading off into the unknown at the young age of eighteen.
The reality of life on a Cattle Station
My first year was incredibly tough, rough and scary, I struggled a lot, it was a ride or die situation every day and there were a lot of times I felt like giving up, I really should have been turned off station life forever. Instead I took everything as a lesson, I worked harder, I learned faster so I could improve, to avoid disappointing.
Now I’m heading into my fifth year as a station hand, I’ve been on stations up and down the east coast, over on the west coast and today I am finally in a really good spot working towards the completion of my certificate four in agriculture and I am striving to improve myself as a leader/role model in my team with a wonderful manager guiding me.
Station life has to be experienced to be understood
Living and working on a station isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. One with many benefits. You’ll learn life skills and make solid friendships you will hold onto forever. You will also have hard days, I can guarantee it. I’ve had more than my fair share, but if you take it all in your stride you will come through far stronger than you ever thought you could be.
You will be pushed, you will be challenged but when you sit down at the end of the day with your team, a cold beer in hand and talk about all you achieved for that day, you will realise the blood, sweat and tears are all worth it.
How to make your experience positive
That said, I would hate for any of you to have an experience like I had in my first year. Now days it is far easier to get yourself prepared. The internet, specifically facebook, is full of information, opinions, rules and advice others have already shared. It’s wonderful to see so much support from everyone and patience for those who are learning.
I’ve never felt the need to include my two cents, but a quote from an unknown source a friend of mine shared on facebook got me thinking my experiences and opinions could be helpful after all, the quote read,
“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it”
I felt it was incredibly relevant for those of you heading out into the Wild West for the first time, you should carry these words with you every day on the job, along with some tips and suggested essentials I would like to share with you in the hopes they would be helpful in your journey to finding your feet on your new adventure.
Essential items you’ll need on a rural station in Australia
- Get yourself a good quality 5 to 10 litre water bottle or both to be safe because you won’t always get a chance to refill on the job. The best one I’ve used and still use, is the ‘Esky’ brand ones they’ve never failed me.
- A camelback for mustering days, get one that holds 3litres plus your lunch, if you don’t like them, you might want to get some saddle bags instead. You can get them for both horses and motorbikes.
- Wide brimmed hat, I know everyone loves the faithful felt Akubra, they are reliable hats, however, Sunbody straw hats are inexpensive, light weight and keep your head cool all day. I can’t go past them now.
- Work boots, don’t go cheap on work boots, they take a beating in our line of work, buy a couple of pairs so when the first ones blow out half way through the season because you’re like me and forget to look after them, you have backups ready to go. I buy hiking boots from Kathmandu because they provide excellent support and are waterproof.
- Shop around for work shirts, don’t go spending $40 for a shirt from Ariat or Wrangler just so you will “look the part” as stereotypes go. I get mine from lifeline for a max of $5 each, plus I can usually pick up some funky colours.
- Again with Jeans, don’t spend hundreds on pairs with fancy stitching or a popular name brand because ‘that’s what everyone else has.’ Get your measurement’s, go online to Sheplers and you can usually find some good deals on work jeans.
- Get a good sunscreen, myself, I use Sunsense for sensitive skin because it has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, it’s recommended by doctors and provides the best protection.
- Notebooks, get lots of notebooks and pens, always carry them with you on the job for jotting down instructions or directions so you’re not confused later.
- A pair of fencing pliers and have your name engraved on them, I like the Crescent brand. Managers always love people who turn up prepared with their own gear.
- Last essential I feel everyone should have is a good pocket knife/multi tool, they are very handy to have.
First impressions matter on cattle stations
Ok so you have all you need and you’re starting you’re very first day on the station, first of all I can’t stress enough that you should turn up to breakfast fully prepared for the day. Get up, wash your face, brush your hair and walk into the kitchen fresh, with your water bottle or camel back ready. Say good morning to everyone especially the cook and make sure to thank the cook after every meal, happy cook equals happy camp. Throughout the day if you are going back into the kitchen for smoko and lunch, make sure you wash your face and hands thoroughly, it’s very rude to walk into the kitchen with a dirty face and never, ever wear your boots inside!
My biggest piece of advice is to always make sure you’re listening! I can’t stress that enough, if you’re team has meetings in the morning at breakfast or over in the shed, don’t hide behind the others and rely on them to repeat and explain the days instructions later. You need to take everything in and if you’re confused or a bit lost with instructions, please ask them to repeat and explain! It may seem intimidating to do so for some, I know I was always terrified, but it is far better to ask for instructions to be repeated a dozen times than it is to go out and stuff something up because you didn’t understand.
Like everything in life attitude is everything
Go out there with a positive, open attitude, always do as your superiors say, ask lots of questions, especially about where you are on the property, try and learn your way quickly, it will make life a lot easier. Respect station gear, treat everything like it was your own, tools, cars, saddle, always keep your gear clean and looked after, if you use it put it back, you dirty it you clean it. If you break something you fix it, if you can’t fix it then you need to report it to your headstockman or manager, please don’t try and hide a stuff up by lying, it only makes matters worse, besides you will earn better respect if you own your mistakes and if you accept when you’re wrong. You will make mistakes, we all do, but you need to learn from them so then next time you will know what to do, how and where to improve yourself.
I hope that my experience, opinions and a few starting tips come in useful if you’re heading off for your first year. I wish you all the best of luck, please remember most importantly, listen, think about it, learn, live and have fun.