It was a sunny Friday morning when 20 Indonesian students arrived in the Top End to take part in the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Indonesia–Australia Pastoral Program (NIAPP), which was started in 2012. Students were from 14 universities across Indonesia. The selection process was extensive and highly competitive, with more than 120 students applying to participate this year.

Students began to learn about the Northern Territory’s beef cattle industry by visiting Berrimah export yards and Australian Agricultural Company’s Livingstone abattoir in Darwin. Berrimah export yards acts as holding pens for cattle before being exported through Darwin port. Cattle are quarantined for a minim of 24 hours at the site (but are usually spend three to four days there). While at the Livingstone abattoir, cattle are processed within 24 hours of arrival at the site. Meat products will generally be boxed beef for the export market (US and Asia including Indonesia, China and the Philippines).

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Fia walking cattle away. Photo: Julie Richter

Students then undertook a two-week training course at the Katherine Rural Campus (KRC). They learnt many things at KRC, such as how to handle livestock, about livestock nutrition, genetics and reproduction, how to care for livestock health and welfare, and they also learnt about Occupational Health and Safety processes. Students learnt more about riding horses, and operating quad bikes and motorbikes. All these activities were pivotal to adjusting to living on a cattle station.

This year’s host cattle stations comprised ten stations across the Northern Territory. There were Lakefield and Cave Creek Station (a family-owned station), Victoria River Downs, Pigeon Hole and Birrindudu Station (Heytesbury’s station), Manbulloo, Auvergne and Newcastle Waters Station (Consolidated Pastoral Company’s Station), and Helen Springs and Brunchilly Station (S. Kidman & Co’s Station). Each cattle station hosted two students who spent six weeks working and living in the outback.

Alifia Imtinatul Fajri was placed at Victoria River Downs (VRD) Station, which is often referred to as The Big Run. It was a warm place to live, and was surrounded by stunning views of the rural landscape. VRD Station is an iconic cattle station as it has been operating for over 100 years and was once the largest cattle station in the world. Now VRD Station is divided into four standalone stations: VRD, Pigeon Hole, Moolooloo, and Mount Sanford Station. Recently, Heytesbury purchased Humbert River Station, which is located next to VRD Station, to become VRD’s outstation. The station is managed by great people, Russell ‘Rusty’ Richter and Julie Richter.

Students arrived in the first round, which was one of the busiest times in the season. They had an opportunity to work like a ringer (a male or female stock worker on an Australian cattle station). Ringers start their activities early in the morning to avoid the heat. The yard work began with mustering (rounding up cattle), which was mostly performed with a helicopter and motorbike. For a rocky or muddy lot, however, horses are preferred.

Student performing the bang tail. Photo: Alifia Imtinatul Fajri

Student performing the bang tail. Photo: Alifia Imtinatul Fajri

Drafting (separating cattle into different categories) follows the mustering. For processing purpose, ringers draft cattle into four categories; calves, weaners, heifers, and cows. Cows are bang tailed (their tail is cut), vaccinated and tested for pregnancy right after drafting. Bulls also go through the same process (without the pregnancy test of course). Students at VRD performed all of these activities, but mostly they performed the bang tail and vaccinations.

Students also participated in the handling of calves (dehorning and castrating), identification of calves (ear tagging, ear marking and branding), tail weaners (educating weaners by slowly walking them into the mob of cattle), walking cattle away to the paddock, and trucking.

Walking cattle away

Walking the cattle away. Photo: Alifia Imtinatul Fajri

“I find walking cattle away with horses the most memorable part of my days in the outback. This is because I could refine my horse riding skills and learn how to keep the mob whole, which is pretty hard. The part when we have to chase weaners makes me tense but the experience is superb!” Fia, one of the participants, said.

Before the program concluded, students made a presentation at KRC and the Indonesian embassy. “The program is important for maintaining a good relationship with Australia,” Mr Andre Omer Siregar, Indonesia’s Consul, said.

For more information about NIAPP, click here.