For many young people taking a gap year before starting university or a career is a rite of passage.
But that was before the pandemic hit and travelling closer to home became the preferred – if not the only – option.
Emily Hirst’s gap year, however, started in Western Australia’s Kimberley region three years ago.
The 22-year-old from Westbury, in northern Tasmania, has enjoyed the experience on Ruby Plains Station so much that she is heading back for her fourth season.
“The scenery and the country is absolutely incredible, I’m hooked, ” she said.
Ruby Plains is a large cattle property owned by S. Kidman and Co, about 50 kilometres south of Halls Creek along the Tanami Track.
It includes outstation Sturt Creek, and with both properties combined it spans two million acres.
That means vast distances to cover on horseback during the mustering season.
“We’re really on horses all day and bringing cattle into the yards,” Ms Hirst said.
Embracing the campdrafting scene
That is where months of hard work in the heat and dust pay off — and in more ways than one.
Ms Hirst says she looks forward to competing in the campdrafts and seeing what her horses are capable of.
“You get to put their skills into the campdraft arena and try and win some money, which is cool,” she said.
The social interaction with other competitors is also a big drawcard.
“By the end of those rodeos, you’ve got some fantastic friends and that is your social life,” Ms Hirst said.
“That first half of the year is pretty quiet because you just don’t know anyone and you can’t get out.
Opportunities to learn
Being based in a fairly remote part of the country, ringers need to be agile, multi-skilled and up for a challenge.
Ms Hirst doesn’t consider herself much of a station cook, but needed to take on the role at the Sturt Creek property briefly last year.
“I learnt a lot, to cook for everyone, ” she said.
“It doesn’t feel like it when you’re coming in and eating and leaving again.”
So would she recommend being a ringer?
“A hundred per cent, it’s an incredible experience,” she said.
“You really can’t go wrong as long as you suit the place, that’s a big one.
“Do your research, and I can’t recommend it enough.”