INDIGENOUS men and women are keen and willing to work on remote properties in the cattle industry – all they need is an opportunity.
That’s the opinion of Myroodah Station indigenous manager Chris Daniell when talking about indigenous people living in northern Australia.
For almost five years, Mr Daniell, alongside his wife Pam and two boys Will and Sam, have lived and worked on Myroodah Station, which is situated about an hours drive away from Derby in the Kimberley.
The 401,944-hectare property is a 20,000-head commercial cattle business operated by National Indigenous Pastoral Enterprises, a subsidiary of the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC).
The station also runs a residential, employment- based training hub for up to 10 indigenous workers from across the region each year as part of the ILC’s Our Land Our Jobs initiative.
Mr Daniell has managed other large-scale properties but said nothing had been as challenging or rewarding as Myroodah.
“It’s a heavier work load,” he said.
“Not to say that running a normal cattle operation is at all simple but there is an extra weight to carry when doing employment-based training as well as running a commercial business.
“It’s not like a normal station manager’s job. It’s not easy but it’s rewarding at the end of the season.”
Mr Daniell said he first became interested in working on Myroodah Station because he believed more should be done to help indigenous people.
He is indigenous himself and without a doubt believes that the ILC is making a difference to the rural industry as well as to people’s lives
“I think, for me the biggest thing is that it’s getting harder each year in the northern cattle industry to find quality staff,” he said.
“And across northern Australia there are many young indigenous men and women looking for opportunities to work and make a living for themeslves.
“It’s just about finding the ones who are serious about getting into it – because they are there.
“In every indigenous community there are people who are really passionate about wanting to get into the industry, it’s just about finding them.”
Mr Daniell said he had learnt a “hell of a lot” during the past four-and-a-half years.
His biggest tip was having patience and empathy.
“You have to keep your eyes on the goal post or on the bigger picture.
“A lot of people get caught up in the nitty gritty stuff and want to give up,” he said.
“A lot of these guys who we employ here have grown up in indigenous communities and some of them have had a pretty tough upbringing.
“You have to have empathy and an understanding of where they’re coming from to help them succeed.”
Each year Myroodah hosts new trainees to undertake a Certificate II in Agriculture.
Following an intensive recruitment process, selected young workers are put through a four-week jackaroo school, including life skills, to prepare them for entering the industry.
When they start, most have had no previous experience working in the cattle industry or riding horses, Mr Daniell said.
“But for the ones who really want to make a go of it, you can see a huge difference in them by the time they leave.”
Although the trainees have limited skills when they begin, they learn quickly.
“We process 7500 head of young cattle each year.
“They need to be branded and be ready for export or to go to other properties,” he said.
“That’s the trainees’ job; they are just part of the team. They are an integral part of our operation.”
Mr Daniell said the secret to getting all staff members up to speed quickly was to do the exact opposite – you had to slow down.
“For the first four weeks we slow the whole operation right down,” he said.
The first month of the season at Myroodah consists of an intensive program of hands-on training.
“We do a seven-day horse school at the beginning of the year with Heath Stewart who comes up from Perth,” he said. “He would spend two or three days on those new guys just teaching them the basics of riding.”
On top of that, low-stress stock handling expert Jim Lindsay runs a course with the team.
Mr Daniell said the training courses were invaluable.
“On a large cattle station you can’t just go at it full tilt.
“In the industry nowadays you are not starting with stock camps that have five or ten years experience like we used to have 30 years ago. You have to slow it down.”
Shifts up to 10 hours a day and a breakfast call at 4.30am during the hottest months of the year become the norm.
It’s hard work that doesn’t suit everyone, but for those who enjoy it, the employment- based training can be the start of a long career.
Myroodah Station head stockman Ian Long is a true ILC success story.
Mr Long, originally from the Bulla Community near Timber Creek in the Northern Territory, started out in the industry by completing a Certificate II on the ILC-operated Roebuck Plains Station near Broome.
“So he did a couple of years on Roebuck Plains with ILC then went on to working in the live export yards in Broome,” Mr Daniell said.
“He was there for three years and then he came out to work for us.
“Last year I promoted him to leading hand and this year he is our head stockman.”
Ian is now undertaking a Certificate IV in agribusiness to further build on his existing management skills and capabilities.
Mr Daniell said it was stories like Mr Long’s that made him passionate about his work.
“We get guys who might come out and work for us for about three years and then move on.
“People always say to me that we must be disappointed to see them leave because we have got them to a certain level, but it’s just the opposite.
“It’s good to think that you might have made an influence on someone’s life.
“We would like to think that we have given them exposure to something good and hopefully some of what we have taught them has soaked in and will help them.”