From chef to jillaroo to entrepreneur

When Rachel Brindley decided to leave her job as a chef in Melbourne to work as a jillaroo in the Northern Territory, she couldn’t find a relevant jobs site. Spotting a gap in the market, she launched Outback Careers where people can peruse jobs ads and gain a realistic view of working in the Outback.

When Rachel Brindley decided to work as a jillaroo in the Northern Territory, the general lack of information about jobs available in the outback sparked a very different career.

“When I decided, at age 28, I’d had enough of being a chef in Melbourne and wanted to live out my dream of working in rural Australia, I couldn’t just go on SEEK and look for a jillaroo job,” Brindley explains.

“Those sort of positions weren’t on job sites; they were usually filled by word-of-mouth. If you were looking to become a jackaroo or jillaroo, the only option was to spend hours searching online for the larger properties that had websites then email them and hope for the best. I did that, didn’t hear anything back for ages and had almost forgotten about making my tree change when someone I’d emailed got in touch saying there was a cook’s job going.”

That was the start of a life-changing adventure for Brindley, one she’s hoping to make more accessible to many others. “I worked as a cook then as a jillaroo. After a couple of years of doing that, I married a co-worker. He’s now the station manager at a sheep property in southwestern NSW. I help him manage the property, look after our kids and devote whatever time is left over to my Outback Careers site.”

Job opportunities in the Outback

There are issues on both sides of the equation, says Brindley, explaining why she was inspired to create the site.

“As is well known, property owners have issues finding staff, especially experienced staff,” she says. “It can take them 6 to 12 months just to fill an entry-level station hand role. Also, there was no central place job seekers could go, both to find out what’s involved in working in the bush and to apply for jobs.”

Brindley, who has had two children in the last four years, admits she hasn’t had the time to build her site into the powerhouse she would like it to become. However, with her kids now being a bit older and Australia on the cusp of a ‘dining boom’, she’s optimistic about the future of Outback Careers.

“Wool prices are at record highs and meat prices are good too,” she says. “Plus, there are new sources of income popping up everywhere. On the station we manage, we used to see wild goats as just a pest. Now we’re able to send them off to abattoirs that export goat meat to the Middle East and Asia.”

Not only are there lots of jobs arising out of all this rural prosperity, but they are also the type open to pretty much anybody.

“There are some jobs that require specific skills,” Brindley says. “Such a being bore runner, the person who has to maintain the pumps and windmills connected to a property’s waterholes. But anyone can apply for jobs as a station or farm hand, a jillaroo or jackaroo. There a lot of governess positions around. They don’t need anything other than a ‘working with children’ police check. Once you’ve gotten into the industry, you can gain experience and work your way up to managerial positions, such as overseer or station manager. Those are good jobs that can pay six-figure salaries.”

The agricultural workforce in Australia has become more gender balanced in recent years, something Brindley attributes to the mining boom: “With all the blokes going down the mines, there were more opportunities for women.”

Being realistic

Though she loves it, Brindley takes care to point out on her site that life in the bush isn’t for everyone.

“The hours are long and the pay, at least to start with, is low,” she says. “I can’t see that changing given you’re dealing with animals and the weather, which don’t respect business hours. And farmers don’t have the budgets to pay big money. The accommodation can be very basic and then there’s the isolation of being two hours drive from the nearest pub. It sounds ridiculous, but the lack of mobile reception is often the last straw for Gen Y workers. They can cope with everything else but not being able to communicate with their friends and make plans to do something on their day off can drive them over the edge.”

But Brindley is also quick to point out the upside of living and working on the land.

“You’re not sitting in an office doing the same thing day in, day out,” she says. “You’re riding motorbikes and bucking horses, moving mobs of cattle, forming strong friendships with your workmates. At the end of every day, you’re dirty and exhausted but you feel you’ve achieved something. It’s a fulfilling lifestyle.”