Working on a cattle station is addicting. Hard, dirty, and dangerous, by all means, but it also stirs something deep inside. An evolutionary relic that living and working in the bush gives you the chance to get reacquainted with. Ultimately, it’s a level of fulfillment that most people spend their whole lives looking for.
When you first get to the bush it doesn’t seem exceptional. A whole lot of cows surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. But as time goes by, and you become immersed in that world, you begin to develop an appreciation for the richness of it all. The dingo tracks you wouldn’t have even noticed before are now a big source of information. You can tell if they’re fresh. You learn that it means something when they’re in a particular place, or something else depending on what direction they’re headed.
Enough time riding through tall grass on a motor bike gives you a sixth sense for where fallen logs or termite mounds might be hiding. You learn to move seamlessly through dense bush, getting over obstacles, and ducking spider webs. Do this over and over and the process becomes natural. You develop a feel for the land, a kind of innate understanding for how the whole thing works. Ultimately, you reach a level of intimacy with animals and nature that few people in this world ever do.
Of course, this being a cattle station, your relationship with one particular animal will flourish. With cows, you learn to speak their language, to read their mood, to anticipate their movements, and, ultimately, how to use that knowledge to achieve a goal. It requires a level of total concentration that is simultaneously effortless. You’re reacting to the cows and they’re reacting to you in an intricate dance that often results in nothing more interesting than walking through a gate.
However, it is that act of using your knowledge of land and animals to achieve a goal which ultimately leads to the most profound aspect of station life, the sense of fulfillment. It’s not just the feeling of a job well done. Rather, it’s the fact that you’ve given so much to achieve it. Aggression, patience, improvisation, speed, endurance, attention to detail, troubleshooting, and physical strength are all daily requirements. Using those skills out in the bush, working with large animals engages people in a way that’s just not possible in ordinary life.
Yet, thanks to millions of years of evolution, it’s also something which comes quite naturally. This total engagement of so many innate skills, developed by our ancestors over eons surviving outdoors, leaves you with a feeling that this how your mind and body are meant to be used.
It’s like the house cat who’s never seen a mouse yet can’t resist chasing the first one it encounters. The cat doesn’t question what it’s doing, and it is deeply satisfied when it achieves its goal.
You see that same satisfaction in your coworkers faces on the end of every day. With each person floating on a cloud of giddiness, taking in the last few minutes of sunlight while telling stories from the rich and full day they just had. Whether they realize it or not, that giddiness, the result of excess dopamine in the brain, goes right back to the same survival mechanism that
helped get humanity out of the jungle in the first place. Ultimately, it’s the reason that life on a station is such a fulfilling experience for so many people.
Since the conditions and tasks on a station so closely mimic the ones under which we originally evolved, working there gives us the opportunity to use our bodies and minds in the way that they are most well suited. Thus, it’s hardly surprising when people stay longer or return for second and third stints. They get hooked on that deep natural sense of fulfillment that, again, most people spend their whole lives looking for and never find.
The only unfortunate part of station life is that it often takes some time to realize just how special the experience was.
Most people are eager to leave and get back to “civilization”. However, as time goes by you start to feel deeply nostalgic for station life. You realize that a massive part of you is still out there in the bush, where it belongs. It’s a feeling that, with any luck, will stay with you forever, informing your life going forward, and showing you exactly what you and the world are both capable of. And to think, someone actually paid you for the experience!
Written by Spencer Nichini