From the station ~ Ringers Western

Station Life || First year working on a cattle station

Station Life || First year working on a cattle station

Picture this, you finally get accepted into making a start on the property! You are off to be a ‘Ringer in the Top End’ whatever the hell that means. 

Over the years I have worked a great number of places, with a variety of different crews, chasing several different outcomes. Just for today, let me tell you about what you sign yourself up for as a first year ringer working on a remote cattle station.

Station Life || First year working on a cattle station

I can’t speak for every first year's experience or every station's program, but I can speak on my own experience. I was a Ringer on the Blacksoil country, between the Kimberley, and the Western edge of the NT.

How do you know what you need before you leave home if you haven't ever worked on a station before?

Let me help you. Here is a list of things I took, or wished I knew to take.

Work gear:

Boots - I had yard boots, riding boots, and a pair of town boots. Check with your employer if you need steel caps. 

Wide brimmed hat - Straw or felt is a personal/temperature based preference. Make sure to take a couple of caps for when the occasion strikes. For instance, shoeing, branding, trucking, or simply going to the pub.

Work clothes - At least 5 sets, sometimes you won’t get to a washing machine for a few days.

Long sleeve work shirts, jeans, socks, you know the drill. Surely you've seen all the photos and have done some work yourself to have an understanding of what the ‘uniform’ is.

Make sure you have some shirts that are very light colour or as lightweight as they come. I promise you this will make a difference on those really hot days.

Bandannas - to keep the sun off you. We found all different kinds of uses for them, even made a sling out of two tied together once for a dislocated shoulder!

Belt - any sturdy belt that goes through your belt loops, ensure you can slide your knife pouch on. There is no need to wear a giant uncomfortable hobble belt straight away but it may come in handy as you gain a higher level of experience. Do your credibility a favour, please don't wear a massive belt buckle, sure if you won your very own that's amazing, just leave it in the cupboard until you’re going out somewhere flash.

Knife - We use knives for cutting hay bales, hoof picks, bang tailing or earmarking cattle on a rare occasion, peeling oranges, picking out splinters, in some cases castrating calves. No need to go all Croc Dundee on it. A two blade pocket knife served me as well as any other.

Lip balm - This might sound a bit extra, but out in the heat you can get such cracked lips that they bleed. Which is a whole new level of unpleasantness. Some lip balm or invisible zinc is the simplest prevention. Don’t forget to pack a few spares because those little things go missing out of your pocket like it’s no one’s business. 

Other gear:

SWAG! If you forget so many other things, don’t forget your swag.

Something to think about too is if you put an extra set of sheets in your swag for when you get to the station quarters. Usually, they are all BYO bedding. (something I did not know as a first year, I had my swag on top of the bed for a long time because I didn’t have any other bedding).

Take your own basic first aid kit. including, Betadine ointment, zinc cream, strapping tape, the rigid tape, and some flexible elastic rock tape type.

Cold and flu tablets, antihistamines, (if you have ever come out second best to an itchy grub nest you’ll agree with me that this IS an essential.) 3B cream, and some sort of really sticky band aids, don’t forget scissors.

Other really handy things to have are hydrogen peroxide and oral magnesium supplements as a lot of Ringers will tell you about the 'running out of salt' cramps you may get. They start in your feet or hands, and end up going through your whole body if you get that low in salt. A magnesium supplement will fix this.

A collection of first aid like this can help you treat a lot of little things which will make your life more comfortable. Nothing worse than a cough that won't go away or sores that refuse to heal. 

All stations are equipped with full Flying Doctor medical kits for serious accidents or injuries.

Bath bag - surely you don't need me to tell you what to pack in the toiletries department. Make sure you have enough for at least a month or so. Avoid taking the most expensive bathroom products. Showers are often bore water and you are going to be living with a big team, so taking long showers or ½ hour in the bathroom can make you very unpopular.

Electrolytes - I use the single serve packets you can keep in your top pocket. A hit of electrolytes with your water can make a big difference.

Saddle - if you have your own saddle, take it. Station saddles can be pretty hard in the seat at times. Your saddle will still need to fit the horses you are riding to keep them from getting sore.

Water bottle - this goes without saying. Take a water bottle at least 5L capacity. camel backs are great too if you work somewhere you muster all day. You can also get 1L water bottles that buckle to your saddle or you can strap on to a bike. 

Good clothes - You will need a few sets of just casual clothes for weekends you get off or to be clean and presentable for dinner. No one lives in jeans and boots 24/7.

It's going to be a lot of work but that's not saying there won't be a little bit of time for play, whether its going to training courses the station provides, or heading to the local rodeo/draft.

Thongs or Crocs - again surely I don't need to explain why you probably should pack these. Bindis aren’t much chop, nor is hot gravel, you will also want to wear them to the showers.

Sundries - a torch, spare phone charging cables, a notebook and a pen.

Picture this, you finally get accepted into making a start on the property! You are off to be a ‘Ringer in the Top End’ whatever the hell that means. It's possible you've met some of the team at a draft, or you are as green and inexperienced as they come.

You bundle yourself, a swag, a bag, and your best ‘I know what I'm doing face’ into your transport, and off you go.

When you get to the property, they give you a very brief rundown of how the homestead works, where you will be sleeping, and what time you need to be at the kitchen for dinner.

The next week they spend figuring out your ability levels,

You are chucked on a horse and they watch how you ride, this sorts out which horses they will give you as your “plant”. A plant is the number of horses you ride over the season (usually about 3 or 4 so you don't wear them out, and have back ups if one gets injured).

Depending on the time of year you sign on, you may have time to go through all the introductory processes, which will give a good grasp of the fundamentals, and what’s expected from you. OR, you will hit the ground running when the season is already underway. This is more of a baptism by fire situation.

Now being a first year is tough, even if you have previous cattle experience. Don't assume you know what you are in for. Your bosses need to get hundreds or thousands processed in an efficient manner. Every station will run differently and procedure and yard shape means no two setups are the same.

As a first year you will get a lot of things wrong, but with a bit of luck you know how to open your eyes, and the crew that you have joined will help teach you throughout the season.

Buckle up for your first season ringing, it will be one you will never forget.

P.S. Always be clean for dinner, and ALWAYS say thank you to the cook. They work some very long hours to feed your hungry ass, don’t ever forget their capacity to feed you something nasty because they feel like you don't appreciate them. A happy cook is one of the greatest and under appreciated assets you will have in station life.

Written by Jemima Skerman