Many Young Australian Women Opt to Work as Cattle Hands on Outback Farms

by Gopalan on  June 10, 2008 at 11:00 AM General Health News
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 Many Young Australian Women Opt to Work as Cattle Hands on Outback Farms
Young Australian women are coming forward in a big way to sign up as cattle hands on vast outback farms in Australia.

And their audacity comes as a boon to ranch owners who are facing acute recruitment problems because young men are being lured into the booming mining industry.

Farmers are now reporting a surge of interest from women in their late teens and early 20s.

Many have been inspired by a popular television series called McLeod's Daughters, which tells the story of women running a remote outback farm.

Female cattle station workers are known as jillaroos, while their male counterparts are jackaroos.

"Back in 2001 we wouldn't have had a single jillaroo - the only girls we hired were cooks or governesses," said John Bennet, personnel manager for Jumbuck Pastoral, which runs 12 sprawling sheep and cattle "stations".

"Now, more than half our outdoors staff are girls. At our station on the Nullarbor Plain [in South Australia], we have one bloke and three jillaroos. At a stock camp in the Kimberley [in Western Australia], six out of nine of the station hands are women."

Hours are long and irregular and the work is often exhausting, Jumbuck's managers warn prospective jillaroos and jackaroos on the company website. "The extremes of temperature, dust, flies and mosquitoes may be a far cry from the life you have been used to."

Still young women are willing to forsake the comforts of city life and venture out in search of the exotic.

A lot of women are attracted to the job by the chance to work with horses. While some Outback ranches muster livestock with helicopters and motorbikes, those in more rugged areas still rely on horses.

25-year-old Sarah Amy, who works on Anna Creek Station in South Australia - the biggest cattle property in the world - says that so far she has enjoyed every minute.

"It's just a really good environment - it's active, it's fun, you learn lots and lots of things that you're never going to forget. So why wouldn't you want to do it really?" she asked.

In typically blunt Australian fashion, the manager of Anna Creek Station, Randall Crozier, says his female workers are doing a great job.

"The hormones are not playing up with them and they're more gentle and steady with cattle and look after your machinery and motorbikes and stuff and generally are much better than fellas.

"And I'm not knocking the fellas, they do a great job too. The world's changing, the women are getting tougher than blokes, mate, hey?"

The women are often better with machines, too. "You put an eighteen year old bloke on a motorbike and he'll spin the back tyres and see how fast it can go. The girls tend not to abuse the machinery - they'll drive more carefully," said Terry Omond, human resources manager for one of Australia's legendary cattle companies, S Kidman and Co.

The firm owns 14 huge stations, including Anna Creek in South Australia, the world's biggest ranch.

"At the moment about 60 per cent of our applicants are female," said Omond. "The women tend to civilize the men a bit and make them less inclined to head to the pub."

Those weaned on McLeod's Daughters and attracted by romantic notions of sleeping under the stars and meeting ruggedly handsome cowboys could be in for some disappointment.

"Their heart sinks when they get out there and find blokes with their front teeth missing or with personal hygiene problems," said Omond. "But most of them don't quit."

Jillaroos may not be as physically robust as their male colleagues, but brute strength is not as important as it once was.

Instead of wrestling steers to the ground with their bare hands, a lot of stockmen now use mechanical metal cradles which grip the animals and enable them to be tagged and branded.

"In this day and age you can't ask someone to carry two bags of cement on their shoulders or hoist a 44 gallon drum into the back of a truck - OHS [occupational health and safety] won't allow it," said Omond.

"Being a jackaroo was once a male bastion, but not anymore. I honestly can't think of any downsides in having more women in the industry."

In November last year, a delegation of Australian women from remote cattle properties near Birdsville, the town famed for its outback horse races, arrived in Hong Kong.

It was the very first time some of them had travelled outside Australia.

The eight women included a beef producer who runs a farm that is seven times the size of Hong Kong, a pilot who musters cattle from the air, a mother who taught her six children with 'School of the Air', and the owner of the famed Birdsville Hotel.

They are all involved in the production of organic beef for OBE Beef, which sells the highest quality, all-natural Australian meat into supermarkets around Asia including ParkNShop in Hong Kong.

Australian Consul-General, Mr Murray Cobban, said, "These women bring a unique perspective to Hong Kong. They live hundreds of kilometres from their nearest neighbours, when they need a doctor he arrives in a plane, they manage thousands of cattle on farms as large as Taiwan."

"They are mothers and wives but also global business women who have been selling their organic beef into Asia for almost 10 years. Just as this great city is going to be a cultural shock for them, they are going to be a surprise for Hong Kong," he said.

Source: Medindia

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