Dutchie NIENKE KROOK learnt that working as a Jillaroo on an outback ranch is not for the faint-hearted.
We’re told what we can expect on the Leconfield Ranch east of Tamworth – anything from riding horses and mustering cows to sheering sheep. I can see a couple of my fellow backpackers trying to disappear under the wide brims of their newly bought suede cowboy hats. Their headgear must have looked well impressive in the leather shop, but right now I keep thinking I’m at a fancy dress party.
It turns out that most of us have never ridden a horse before – or even know what they look like, for all I can tell. Tasks such as lassoing down calves and branding them don’t seem to be activities the average European teenager engages in on the weekend.
Having a second look at us all, sitting a little dazed around the campfire pit, wearing oversized gumboots and looking a bit anxious at the great nothingness around us, I am a bit concerned about our chances of survival this week. But we’re about to put that to the test: we’re going horseback on a massive sheep herd.
While I’m enjoying the endless views, something tells me the other riders don’t appreciate it all that much. Most of them are either trying to pull grass-eating horse heads back up or look frightened at oncoming descending slopes. One girl even manages to lose her stirrup (with attached boot) after just 10 metres.
I feel sorry for them, but quickly ride to the front of the group and focus on today’s goal: herding all of the sheep from the meadows back to the ranch.
Sheep are a special kind of species. Surely, when you’re at a waterhole minding your own business and you’re being approached from behind by 20 horses and their mildly aroused riders, you might feel a little uneasy. But the total hysteria that emerged from the 50 balls of fur in front of us, we didn’t quite expect.
As if we’re armed with spears and a rotating grill, they launch into the air, screaming and fleeing in every direction possible, pushing each other aside. With the help of sheep dogs we finally manage to get the shaking group of pre-socks and sweaters together again and guide them back to the ranch, where their second ordeal awaits.
We get our shearing lesson from Fiona, a girl that has clearly spent too much time with cattle and horses and has started to look like one herself.
“The mosst importhanth part of ssheering is thath you don’th feel sshorry for them,” she says with a slight lisp while single-handedly throwing one on its back and sitting down on it. She fires up the electric razor and within a minute, pieces of wool swirl from the sky and the sheep’s left side is left bold and a bit bleeding. She swings the poor thing around and strips him of the rest of its coat. It seems easy, but when we try it ourselves it’s clear we don’t nearly have enough strength to finish the job properly.
And still, the toughest job is yet to come. You see, we’re having lamb meat for dinner. When I get up to throw away my leftovers (which we keep in closed containers, against rats), karma hits me right back. Four neatly shaved and bundled sheep legs stare at me, as silent witnesses from today’s massacre.
I feel my stomach turn and decide that maybe I’m not such a great Jillaroo after all. Perhaps I’d make a good vegetarian.