Aspiring Indigenous men and women hone their cattle skills in the Red Centre | Ralph-Lauren

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Kendrick James, 19, and Lettoya Haji-Ali, 18, are huddled together in the middle of the cattle yard with the rest of their team.

A small mob of droughtmaster heifers are standing in the corner, uninterested and chewing on their cud.

The white-barked gumtrees that surround the yards play a watchful audience, curious as to what the outcome of the impromptu team meeting will be.

Mr James and Ms Haji-Ali are part of the Real Jobs Program, an initiative run by the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) that aims to teach industry skills to aspiring Indigenous stockmen and stockwomen.

Their task at hand is to walk the quiet heifers around the yard using low-stress stock handling techniques they’ve been taught and then navigate them through a tipped-over hay feeder in the neighbouring yard.

They break and move silently towards the heifers’ flight zones, respond and slowly begin to move in tangent to the young cattlemen and women commanding them.

Another option for remote youths

Lettoya Haji-Ali and Kendrick James sitting on the top rail of the cattle yards in front of their freshly yarded cattle.
Lettoya Haji-Ali and Kendrick James in front of their freshly yarded cattle.(ABC Rural: Hugo Rikard-Bell)

The course is taking place at the Arid Zone Research Institute, 10km from Alice Springs, where the 22 participants learn new skills in fencing, motorbike riding, horsemanship, and cattle work.

“When I was in school, I completed a pastoral course, and that gave me a passion for animals,” Ms Haji-Ali said.

“I was working with the CDP [Community Development Program] that was just picking up rubbish in my community and stuff like that,” Mr James said.

What sets the course apart from many of others available is the promise of a job on a Northern Territory cattle station at the end.

“Because I wanted to become a head stockman one day or a manager. So I came down here just to do a bit of cattle work, just to learn a bit more skills.”

However, it’s not just chasing cows and straining fences.

After every practical component, the students are expected to return to the classroom to review what they learnt and expand their knowledge on the less glamourous side of the pastoral industry — book work.

“It’s a good thing to learn, to remember when we’re out working,” Mr James said.

Students in classroom
Real Jobs participants in the classroom.(ABC Rural: Hugo Rikard-Bell)

The NTCA’s Real Jobs Program has been running since 2008 and is headed by Stephanie Frankham. Despite its success, the course comes with challenges.

“One of our major challenges are kids from communities going out to stations and being away from their family,” Ms Frankham said.

“We make sure that when they’re out on the job, they’ve got support from the team at the station and us at NTCA and also knowing their families supporting them from back home.”

Not just about the job

Gaining employment for these young stockmen and women is a strong motivation for many course participants.

However, for Ms Haji-Ali and Mr James, who both have younger siblings back in Katherine, it’s the opportunity to be a role model for other local kids.

“After I’m finished doing this course, I’ll be going back and encouraging my little brothers to follow my footsteps,” Mr James said.

As for Ms Haji-Ali, a major motivation is the skills she gained from the program giving her the opportunity to inspire other young women within her community.

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