88 Days: How to get a job at a cattle station

Looking for regional work can be tough, especially when you’re competing against every other backpacker. It gets stressful quickly and can really put a downer on your travels, especially if you’re deciding whether or not to gamble on a working hostel. If you don’t fancy the idea of fruit picking or have been scared off by the horror stories, cattle station work could be a better option for you. I’ve created a handy guide to getting a job at a cattle station based on my experience, I’ve just come to the end of my 88 days and am ready to pass on some advice to all the backpackers out there who are actively seeking regional work. 

Go to the outback

(Just outside Winton)

If you’re serious about finding regional work it is worth going to the outback for various reasons:

1) Location

The fact I was in Winton was what got me my job at a cattle station in Julia Creek, my bosses don’t look for people in Sydney or Perth. Winton is four hours away from Julia Creek and though the bus routes made it tricky to get to the station, it wasn’t impossible to get there. It is strongly worth going to where the work is.

2) Is this for me?

If you go to the outback looking for a station job you also have time to acclimatise to life in the outback, I went to Winton in February which is summer in the outback, Winton was dead quiet and temperatures were reaching over 40 degrees. Living in Winton allowed me to get used to the heat, humidity, quietness, and isolation of the outback, if I’d have found my current job before going to Winton I’m not sure I’d have completed my 88 days just for the pure culture shock of it.

3) Immersion

Living in the outback means you get a taste of the culture and lifestyle before committing to a full time job at a station, this means you can learn a lot about what station life is like before you get there. I served men who had just finished working for a whole month on a station, they’d come in the pub and drink like mad, before leaving the next day to start another months work at another station. Work can be seasonal depending on when stations muster their cattle. 

4) Ask around

Once you’ve settled in start asking around about local stations or try and catch a local station owner to see if he has any work going. Also you can gage a station’s reputation by asking around. In Winton I made it known I was looking for station work, and was actively warned against working at a local station, and once I got an offer from the station I work for the locals wanted to know its name to see if they knew it. Cattle station’s names’ carry their reputation, and so it’s worth asking around once you’ve been offered a station job to see what people can tell you. My station has a fairly good reputation and though it’s typical of station owners to talk shit about each other, getting a general idea of how the property is regarded will give you a good indication about whether you should work there.

Use Gumtree

(Driving through Warrara)

I got my job through Gumtree, by placing an ad saying I was in Winton and available for work. This ad got a lot more responses than the one I posted in Sydney, purely because of location. Here’s a copy of the ad I put up that landed me a job:

“Hi there

I’m a backpacker currently working in Winton and looking for station work to complete my 88 days regional work. I am currentlyemployed at a local hotel and am looking to start farm work in late March or April. I don’t have a car, though I am looking into getting a driving license and I would require a live in position.

I’m a good all rounder, with experience in cleaning and a confident cook so if you require me to cook at the station or do housework I’m fine with doing chores. I earn my keep at the hotel, and am recognised asa hard worker. I follow instructions and complete jobs well.

Living in the outback I’m aware of the climate and have acclimatised well to it, I’m aware of the reality of farm work and am not phased by it.

I studied Ancient History at university, andhave enjoyed visiting museums whilst here in Australia. I started my travels in Sydney and after a couple of months decided to come to the outback, I am enjoying living in a rural area and being fully immersed in an Australian community, I definitely feel as though I’m experiencing the heart of Australia.

So please if you own a station, and have any jobs coming up in March or April please do not hesistate to contact me. Thanks”

Notice how I didn’t use any of the usual bullshit? My bosses are currently looking for new staff, and it’s been funny to read others peoples ads, especially seeing how much shit people put on them. From talking to station owners in Winton I knew not to bother exaggerating or claiming to have skills I don’t have, I was told that as a girl if I was hired by a station it would be likely that I’d be doing domestic work as a station hand, if I had experience with motorcycles, quad bikes or horses I could apply for Jillaroo positions but I don’t, so I didn’t and my experience mustering around Gameda taught me that I wasn’t suited to Jillaroo work. Yes I put some stuff about myself which could be considered irrelevant, but I read an article on fruitpickingjobs.com.au / workingholidays.com.au by a farmer which advised against stating that you want to do your 88 days (they know that already), and to tell them something about yourself, show your personality.

If you’re looking for a job at a station place an ad on gumtree, or look for station work ads, keep your ad simple and bullshit to a minimum.

Avoid bullshit

(Mrs Cow the biggest cow I’ve ever seen)

I know I’ve already made this point but it’s worth expanding, especially as I’ve had the chance to discuss this with my boss whose family have been hiring backpackers since 1983. Here are some things to avoid when looking for regional work:

Don’t say you’re trustworthy – why do you have to point out that you can be trusted? The same goes for honesty, if you have to say you’re honest what does that mean? You do not need to point these things out, and you will look suspicious if you do.

Rethink claiming to be reliable- My boss said she finds this annoying because how are you reliable? Can she rely on you to turn up every morning for breakfast, smoko, lunch and dinner or can she rely on you to return to the house and call the flying doctor if she breaks her leg in the yard?

Don’t have a dog – this makes you unemployable if the station’s owners have dogs and don’t want the responsibility of your dog.

Don’t ask about time off- The saying “what’s a day off ?” is common in the outback, and as I said in a previous post, it is extremely unlikely that you will have regular time off at a property. At my job I rarely get time off, during my time here we’ve had day trips to town or have been taken to local events, which are technically days off, but these have been sporadic.  

Don’t claim to know anything about farm work-

Unless you’ve already worked on a farm or were brought up on a farm. If like me you’ve never worked in a farm before, don’t claim to know anything. You don’t know anything about the reality of station life until you get out there and experience it yourself. Your bosses don’t expect you to know anything and though this makes for a stressful first month, once you get the hang of work the pressure eases. It is better to be honest about being a complete novice to farm life, as it won’t be any easier when you turn up and get asked to do the things you fair you could do but actually can’t.

Ask questions

(Graffiti left by previous workers at Euroka)

If like me you heard plenty of horror stories about both fruit picking and station work, it’s worth doing your own checks. What made me take my job was that my boss offered to put me in touch with her previous workers which put my mind at ease, I was about to ask if I could talk to some previous employees but she offered before I could ask. It was this that made me feel confident in taking the job, and I would strongly suggest asking for whatever information you feel appropriate when you start getting offers. Be tactful though, my boss revoked a job offer after a girl asked to be able to speak to the boys that worked here, if you’re looking for a job take it seriously, it’s a job not a jolly.

As with any job application be sensible, backpackers have a reputation for being a lazy, whining bunch who have no experience of “reality” or hard work, and cattle station work isn’t for everyone. However I would strongly recommend giving it a go for your 88 days as it gives you a chance to experience the outback lifestyle, that in some ways feels archaic but is absolutely fascinating. I wish anyone seeking regional work luck and I hope this post, alongside the other 88 days posts, helps with your job search!

Looking for regional work? Feel free to ask questions or give advice in the comments below!


4 thoughts on “88 Days: How to get a job at a cattle station

    • Holly says:

      Thanks Mark! Haha no I think I’d get in lots of trouble if I graffitied anywhere, I do want to leave a “61” somewhere as I’m the 61st backpacker 🙂


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