After Graduating from high school in 2012, Dalby student Stuart Milne started his Gap Year adventure as a jackaroo at Brunette Downs Station in late February.

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After leaving school as Dux and receiving a final score of OP 2, the Northern Territory provided a fresh challenge for 2013, a lifestyle very different from growing up on the Darling Downs. Owned by the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), Brunette Downs is located on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory, home to roughly 54 workers including cooks, stock-staff, grader drivers, bore runners, a mechanic and butcher. Brunette Downs has been described as more of an ‘oasis township’ rather than a ‘lonely outpost’ where the community is surrounded by various horse yards, numerous workshops, and necessary generators and storage facilities, supplied by small aircraft or road trains.

The Station’s own version of orientation week, `Induction Week’, saw the new AACo recruits from around the tableland gather at Brunette to learn the relevant skills for successful jackaroos and jillaroos. Such skills included fencing, cattle work and horsemanship.

In his initial weeks of life on Brunette, Stuart went straight to work as a jackaroo, describing the opportunity as an “an eye-opening experience”. Stuart, five other stock staff and a head stockman make up one of the three stock camps on Brunette Downs where everyday operations include mustering, loading road trains, branding weaners, yard work; often starting before daybreak and continuing to labour under the scorching Northern Territory sun.
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Early 2013 was looking dry for Brunette Downs; consequently, mustering and trucking cattle begun earlier than usual. Initially intending to truck 50,000 head of cattle off the station by the end of the season, later rainfall provided the opportunity to change plans. More than 2000 head had been trucked by the end of the first week of new stock staff arriving, and to date, more than 40,000 cattle have been moved. One of the first differences Stuart noticed from his family property outside Dalby was the sheer scale. “The mob sizes and land area is significantly larger than any other cattle station I’ve been on – very difficult to conceptualise the fact that it’s all just one property.”

One of the biggest social events on the Barkly Tablelands, the annual ABC Races, was held on Brunette Downs in June, providing for Stuart and the other staff, “an enjoyable break from work”. After previously training Sugar, a race horse which had been kept on the station, Stuart was fortunate to jockey in one of the races. The atmosphere of the day from the seat of the saddle was, he says, “tame but competitive, despite being bush races”. Adding to his list of achievements was competing in the saddle bronc ride to tie first place in an exhilarating experience he describes as unlike any other.

This year has been amazing for Stuart so far, and after completely his Gap Year, he hopes to next year study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Queensland. Stuart says his Gap Year has been, “a gratifying challenge; the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my life so far”.

Words by Laura Macdougall | Images supplied by Stuart Milne