'What in the bloody hell is a Jackaroo?' was my first thought, when I initially heard the term. It obviously called for some investigation, and I soon discovered that a 'Jackaroo' is a young man working as an apprentice on a sheep or cattle farm. The female equivalent is a 'Jillaroo,' (what else would it be!?) and so essentially, a Jackaroo or Jillaroo is the Australian version of a Cowboy or Cowgirl.
Further research led me to realise that working as a Jillaroo could count towards signing off the 88 days farm work, which Australia requires in order to qualify for a second year visa. Absolute bonus, seeing as I'd already mentally added 'become a cowgirl' to my bucket list (and am understandably also quite happy at the idea of having to sacrifice three months of fruit picking!) And so, when the chance arose to attend a five day Jillaroo School, run by Tim Skerrett, in the Australian Outback, it's safe to say that I jumped at the chance. Over the course of the next five days, we'd be learning about natural horsemanship, sheep husbandry, cattle mustering, pasture improvement and fencing amongst other things. City life already at the bottom of my thought pile, myself and the rest of the group started our journey into the land of no phone signal...
Upon arrival, we were each assigned a horse. I was paired up with Mahoo - a gorgeous but stubborn male, whose favourite pastime (aside from eating) was to bite the other horses.
After learning how to groom and saddle our horses, Tim gave us a lesson on natural horsemanship, (also known as horse whispering) and we took the horses for a ride before heading back to a campfire cooked dinner. By about 10pm, I was absolutely exhausted and considering that the bunk beds in the barn were so comfortable, I'm pretty sure I managed to pass out as my head hit the pillow!
The next four days consisted of early starts, amazing food and lots of laughing. It was mesmerising to watch Tim working with the horses in the Natural Horsemanship lessons, and although Mahoo and I didn't always see eye to eye when it came down to practicing what I had learnt, I felt my confidence grow as the week went on, and it was easy to see how over time, people form such an attachment to their horses. Mahoo was destined to be slaughtered for dog meat, when Tim rescued him, paying just $20, and although there may have been an occasion or two where I wondered if $10 would have been a better deal, I can't deny that I secretly fell head over heels for him, and wanted to take him home.
Near the start of the week, Tim gave us a demonstration with the working dogs, and it was fascinating to see them round the sheep up, ready for us to muster. Once the sheep were in their pens, it was time to catch one for shearing. It's no great surprise that the dogs were a lot better at chasing than I was! I was fairly nervous about the shearing part - I had visions of me accidentally slipping and cutting the poor thing, giving it a hair colour, rather than a haircut - but I managed to get by without any accidents. I've actually been cutting my own fringe the last few months, so I'm pretty confident that along with my new sheep shearing skills, I could quit travelling and become a hairdresser.
Sheep shearing isn't the only thing we learned. Along with whip cracking and lassoing (which we won't talk too much about, as I'm genuinely terrible at both,) we spent a day working on pasture improvement and fencing. I really enjoyed both - especially the fencing - it made me realise how hard it must be to maintain a farm - especially when the land can stretch for hundreds of acres! It was a very hungry group of students that returned to the barn for dinner that evening. (Though, just like Mahoo, I am always hungry.)
Confident in our sheep mustering skills, we moved onto cattle mustering. A steep trek up into the mountains to find the cattle, made for a really enjoyable ride. The group split up in order to round up the all the cows, and again, it was amazing to see the dogs at work. (Side note - working dogs are at work, and are not meant to be spoilt or made a fuss of, and rolling around with them and letting them lick your face, does not actually class as work...) After lunch we had to wrestle some calves in order to learn about branding and castration. (Extra side note - calves are really strong.)
Before I knew it, my time at Leconfield was drawing to an end. On our final morning, it was warm enough to take our horses for a swim in the dam - something that all the students and most of the horses enjoyed thoroughly! I'd been convinced all week that Mahoo was going to take me for a swim when stopping to drink, so it was good to have the choice of going in with him, and having my swim stuff on in preparation! We all had a chance to dry off before mustering some more cattle in order to practice calf chasing in the arena.
I can honestly say that my time at Leconfield Farm has been the most carefree and enjoyable time I've had in Australia so far. I learned endless amounts about farming and horses, and discovered even more of a love for animals. (Who would have thought possible?) I cannot for the life of me recall exactly how I came to be in a discussion about Jackaroos' in the first place, but I'm extremely happy that I was! Tim is an absolutely fantastic teacher, and the experience he is providing at Leconfield is highly recommended. He's even written me a reference and sorted me with a job! If anybody would like more information on the Jackaroo/Jillaroo School, just click here!
Next stop - farm work!