Donal Sullivan loves working on the land.
Donal Sullivan loves working on the land. Kate Harding

22-year-old stockwoman talks of life on remote 37,000ha station

ALTHOUGH passionate, dedicated and proud of her industry, there are days when 22-year-old stockwoman Donal Sullivan wonders why she is working in agriculture.

Mustering on her parents' 37,000ha Northern Territory property, Cave Creek Station, can be a testing environment at times - especially at the moment, with spring temperatures already soaring into the high 30s.

"We are getting to the time of year up here where it gets extremely hot," she said.

"Every single day you finish work feeling dehydrated and sweating - there is no relief. There is no relief until it starts raining.

"So it can be daunting to think of slaving away for the next few months in the hot sun."

Although the work is physically tough and mentally challenging, for the meantime, there is nothing she would rather be doing.

For Donal, the good days far outweigh the bad.

"When you finish the day, and things might not have gone well, but you know you have done your very best for the animals, it's worthwhile," she said.

"Even though they may not appreciate it, you know they are well looked after and content.

"You know they have been treated with a high level of animal welfare. You can lie down in your swag and think, 'yes, I have done a good job'."

An unwavering honesty about life on the land is something Donal embodies.

In December last year she started a social media account on Instagram, called Tinycruiser.

Although her site has stunning photos of dusty yards and romantic outback scenery the Northern Territory has become famous for, she does not shy away from highlighting the less glamorous tasks of a station hand.

As much as there is beauty in the images she shares, there are also pictures of ringers scrambling to the top rail for safety from wild cattle, selfies of her looking dirty and flushed with exhaustion and pictures of her bent over the calf cradle castrating bull calves.

Her raw images, which are often quickly snapped on her mobile phone, have gained her an audience of more than 1100 followers.

"Most of the people who follow me are people from the bush," she said.

"There are a few from the US and Central America. But mostly the people are involved in agriculture."

She is humble in her social media "fame", saying her site is popular simply because other graziers like having a bit of a nosey at other properties.

"Often farmers and cattlemen, we are sticky beaks. We like to see what other people are up to and how they are doing things," she said.

Although she has a fancy SLR, the majority of images posted have been taken on her Galaxy smartphone.

"Every now and again I am organised enough to have my big camera with me," she said.

"But I am never taking photos right in the middle of the action, because I just can't stop and get it out.

"I am too busy and involved in it all."

Donal joked she would get "screamed at" if she stopped to pick her camera up during a busy day.

"The phone is great because I can just pull it out, take a photo and put it away. I don't have to worry about how much it's worth or breaking the lens."

Donal moved away contract mustering after she finished boarding school but returned this year to help her parents during their first round of mustering.

The property has been in her family for more than 20 years.

It's situated about 10km outside of Mataranka, which is about 100km south of Katherine.

"I don't think there would be that many properties where you have three generations working simultaneously," she said.

Donal's grandparents, Jim and Barbara, as well as parents Rohan and Sally, all live on Cave Creek.

"We have limited staff normally," she said.

"We get local Aboriginal blokes that live in Mataranka to come out and help us.

"And we do have one permanent ringer and a mechanic as well."

But during school holidays, Donal's siblings - Jess, Margo, Dean and Philip - all come home to help.

"I am one of five, so when they all come home it's a real family affair in the yards," she said.

"It seems like we have too many people then."

This week Donal will be leaving the property to start a new job on a small family- owned property in the Douglas Daly area.

To increase her knowledge and bolster her skill set, working on other properties was essential, she said.

"These are not skills you can learn in a week," she said.

"Sometimes I find it easier to ask someone else how to do things rather than my father. He is always so busy and has a lot of demands on his time.

"I have learnt so much from other people."

Donal is happy to keep working in the beef industry for the short-term and has plans to one day gain her helicopter licence.

"It's such a volatile and harsh industry," she said.

"Sometimes you have days where you think, 'there is no way I am doing this for the rest of my life'. Then you will have days where you think, 'this is what it's all about - why would I want to do anything different?'."

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