The power of television

17 Aug, 2006 07:00 PM
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A PHENOMENON is sweeping through stations across the state, in the form of long hair, nice clothes and big ideas.

Known to pastoralists as the McLeod's Daughters effect, over the past year or so WA has seen a significant increase in the number of women wanting to work on stations.

This boost would have been welcomed by the labour-starved industry if it was long term, but it seems a lot of the women do not even last a season as they come to grips with the harsh reality of life in the bush.

The initial lure owes much to the popular television series McLeod's Daughters, with its glamourised portrayal of a sheep and cattle property run by four women.

Since it launched on screens around Australia in 2001, the high rating series is now seen in the UK, Asia and New Zealand.

The creator of the series, Posie Graeme-Evans, has said her inspiration for McLeod's Daughters came after seeing a photograph featuring blue skies and typically Australian girls' faces with "big wide grins under the broad brim of a classic RM Williams hat".

With the series emerging from such a romantic notion of what it was like to work on farm/station, it's little wonder that the show continued with that theme.

The show gives a somewhat illusory charm to life as a farmhand, an aspect which a lot of pastoralists label as simply unrealistic.

Karen Anderson and her family, who part-own and run Jubilee Downs station, 50km south-west of Fitzroy Crossing, experienced first-hand such disenchantment when they took on three female jackaroos join them at the start of the season.

Karen said it was obvious that the women had received a shock when the work started, and she had a fair idea that they would not last the distance.

She had to tell some of the women that were not dressed appropriately, as what they thought they could wear was simply unsafe and impractical for the work that was required of them.

Rural Enterprises Australia managing director Tom Wilson said he had seen a slight increase in the number of female applicants for station work over the past few years.

He said in response to job advertisements, there had been quite a few women of all ages taking up the challenge.

Mr Wilson said while he thought there may have been an effect from television on some applicants, there were still genuine women who wanted to work on stations and who enjoy the lifestyle.

"They are the ones who last," Mr Wilson said.

"Often the ones who have an impression of the television lifestyle quickly get weeded out.

"They are a minority and we give applicants an idea of what it is like before they go out there anyway."

Mr Wilson said Rural Enterprises required applicants to go through an extensive interview process and to provide a minimum of three references.

He said the number of experienced station workers was declining, making it more difficult for pastoralists, as they had to continually train new staff.

"It is difficult for pastoralists to get staff at certain times of the year because the amount of experienced stationhands is dwindling," he said.

"A lot of station owners or managers have to train people up because they can't get the quality staff they need, so they basically train backpackers to do the jobs.

"And they only usually stay for one season.

"Even the local stationhands move around quite regularly.

"They are a dying breed."

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