"Life on a Station": my experiences of being an 18-year-old Jillaroo in the Pilbara (Western Australia)

By Emma Moss

My name is Emma Moss, I am 18 years old and I live and work at Pardoo Station in the Pilbara, Western Australia. I was born in Toowoomba, Queensland and have always lived on a small farm where we run sheep and horses.  My main passions in life are agriculture and photography.  Living on a station for me is a perfect combination where I can combine my love for the land and animals, and my love for my photography. Next year I am going to University of Queensland in Gatton to study a dual degree in Sustainable Farming and Agribusiness with the long term goal to stay in agriculture.

Emma Moss pictured during a golden sunset in the Kimberley, Photograph: supplied.

Emma Moss pictured during a golden sunset in the Kimberley, Photograph: supplied.

My Mum has been a big influence on my own journey into becoming a jillaroo. Mum was lucky enough to spend her teen years living and working on big properties in NSW. After starting University in the early 1980’s and not loving what she was doing, she opted to take some time off and work on the station they were living on at the time, Haddon Rig Merino stud, Western NSW.  She then went to Orange Ag College and continued to work at Haddon Rig during the holidays. Following college, she landed a job as Farm Secretary on Pooginook Merino Stud in the Riverina. This job allowed Mum to work both in the office and out in the paddock. The merino industry at the time was still very male dominated, and there were very few girls working in the industry.

Hearing my Mum’s stories and visiting Haddon Rig when I was about 13 certainly first sparked my interest to work on a station. It is due to this, along with my mates wanting to do the same thing, that I put ‘going up north’ on the to-do list. After school, I got a job at Nerrima Station in the Kimberley, Western Australia for the 2016 season. With my urge to work super hard in horrible heat and dust not fulfilled, I got a job at Pardoo station in the Pilbara for the 2017 season.

"Horses" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Horses" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"3 curious calves" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"3 curious calves" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

Even the drive up (a short 55 or so hours from home) started my addiction to the landscape, open-ness and isolation of station life. There were so many “I wish I had a camera, this would be a great photo” moments. Finally, in April 2016 I bought a second-hand camera from our station cook, Dan Macintosh. It was the first ‘proper’ camera that I had owned. Since then I have carried my camera everywhere.

Emma's colleague Lauren Balfour from Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's colleague Lauren Balfour from Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Having my camera is a brilliant way for me to capture all the things I love about being a jillaroo and working in a wonderful part of our country. At first I didn’t even consider what other people would think of the photos. I thought I would just take photos and have them on my computer to look back on as a memory. The more photos I take and the more I learn, the more my photos start to resemble the beauty I see through my eyes. Taking photos now is a way for me to share the beauty of the place where I live and work and the incredible people I am surrounded by.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

By carrying my camera with me I am able to create some realisation of the work that goes on behind the scenes of that steak you buy at the butchers. Some people might not know where their meat comes from, and I’m passionate about raising awareness of the work that jackaroos and jillaroos do behind the scenes. My Instagram page ‘Life On A Station’ and my personal Facebook page are my main outlets. Life On A Station has over 4500 followers (and growing each day) which is an exciting thing for me that so many people are able to see my photos.

Zarrah Blackwell, Rachel O'Conner and Grace Harrison, all of whom have worked at Liveringa Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Zarrah Blackwell, Rachel O'Conner and Grace Harrison, all of whom have worked at Liveringa Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Isla Bell, who worked with Emma on Nerrima Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Isla Bell, who worked with Emma on Nerrima Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

From what I have heard about what things were like 20 years ago, women’s roles in agriculture – and particularly station life – have changed a lot. Long gone are the days where women were encouraged to stay in the office and kitchen. Men and women now work side by side throughout the day and enjoy a well-earned beer at the end of the day together. Whilst men are generally stronger than women and often find lifting jobs easier, us girls find other ways to get the job done. Our head Stockwoman at Nerrima used to like to send a boy and a girl out together to get the work done. She liked to say that the girls used their brains and their natural nurturing ability and the boys used their skills and muscle. She thought it was the perfect combination. I tend to agree that men and women working together balance everything out more. The social structure changes with a mix as opposed to just having one sex in the camp.

Jacob Dunn, Kit Le Lievre and Emma Moss, working together at Pardoo Station, "these guys taught me so much", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Jacob Dunn, Kit Le Lievre and Emma Moss, working together at Pardoo Station, "these guys taught me so much", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma Moss with Kit Le Lievre at Nerrima Station, "we were both on the lead of some bush cows", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma Moss with Kit Le Lievre at Nerrima Station, "we were both on the lead of some bush cows", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

My main roles in the stock camp are fencing, mustering, yard work, fencing, shoeing horses, bore runs, fencing and checking fences – yes fencing happens a lot! There are probably two things that I love the most about this lifestyle, the first being mustering and walking cattle out. Once the cattle are walking out and all is not too hectic, I find it hard to believe I get paid to ride a horse in amazing landscapes, following a mob of cattle with great people surrounding me – (maybe I shouldn’t tell my boss that though)! The second thing I love is there isn’t a day where I don’t get to challenge myself. I know it sounds corny but at the end of the day the only person who is ever going to back you up is yourself. So, learning to back myself all the time, accepting I will make mistakes and viewing everything as a learning experience is a pretty cool perk of the job.

"Boots and spurs" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Boots and spurs" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

To say what an average day entails is quite difficult as plans change constantly and it depends what time of the year it is. Here, everything depends on the rain. We muster after the rain is finished in about April. We plan when we put the bulls in the paddocks so the cows calf when there is enough green feed for all to stay healthy.  Most station hands go home before the ‘wet’ starts again. Our days generally start when the sun comes up or maybe earlier and finish when the sun goes down.

"Pilbara Storm Clouds" by Emma Moss, photograph: supplied.

"Pilbara Storm Clouds" by Emma Moss, photograph: supplied.

On a station, you learn to be a handyman/handywoman – fencing, welding, mustering, painting, repairing broken things, DIY mechanic jobs, building, bore running and small plumbing jobs are all skills I have learnt over the past 2 years. No day is ever super easy, some days are plain hard, but there are plenty of the ‘this is why I’m here’ days to make it all worth the terrible tan lines, cracked lips, horrible nails and near constant dust moustache!

"Beers and dirty nails" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Beers and dirty nails" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

I’m happy to be able to contribute my story to the Invisible Farmer Project. A lot of women in agriculture were probably not as visible as men in the past and more specifically not in the public sphere. But I have grown up in an environment where women work just as hard as men, our job positions are based on our skills rather than our sex and I think that we make a brilliant team. I hope that my photos help shine a light on not only the beauty of Australia, but the work that women and men do up here on stations. Jillaroos like me work hard, are passionate about our job and industry and care deeply about our impact on the environment, animals and what happens ‘behind the scenes’.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

My future plans are to go to university and get a degree in agriculture and continue taking photos of the industry I love. I hope that more people can become educated about where their food comes from and the work that is put in behind it. I would love to know more people make an educated and discerning decision about the food they buy and consequently the people they are supporting in doing so.  I believe agriculture is going to continue to be a hugely significant contributor to Australia’s economy and in securing food in an ever growing world population.  It is knowing I am part of something so dynamic and progressive that makes me so excited to bounce off bed every morning and make my small contribution to help make the world a better and more sustainable place.  

Emma Moss photographed with her sister Amelia Moss and cousin Olivia D'Arcy, Photograph: supplied.

Emma Moss photographed with her sister Amelia Moss and cousin Olivia D'Arcy, Photograph: supplied.

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