Skip to main content

Outback Magazine 2022

When Chris Bowman came in 1989 as stud manager to Uardry, the famous merino stud established in 1864 near Hay in the NSW southern Riverina, he noted there were 70 jackaroos and jillaroos in the Hay, Jerilderie and Deniliquin districts. “That was normal because the Riverina was long renowned as a training ground for many who became leaders in the merino industry as stud masters, managers and sheep classers,” he recalls.

However, by 2013 the number was just five! The sale of Uardry in 2012 was a factor because jackeroos were no longer needed as Uardry became a purely commercial enterprise. This contributed to the general decline in the number of young people coming into the district which was causing concern among the rural community in and around Hay.

The lack of training and young people became the topic of conversation among landholders and rural employers. Sandy Symons was working in Hay as a wool specialist with Landmark at the time and was impressed with the company’s program teaching young staff how to prepare for a life on the land. “I thought it could be adopted so I wrote to local landholders, agents and businessmen to gauge interest,”, he says. Richard Cannon, who runs Rosevale, a nearby diversified grazing and irrigation business with merinos and wagyu and angus cattle, joined in. “My real agricultural education began as a jackeroo at Wyvern and Brunette Downs,” he recalls. “That’s where I learned the fundamentals. That’s where the groundwork of rural life begins. It’s the system which prepares you for the work that lies ahead.”

So Sandy met with Chris and Richard to see if a training program using experienced managers, graziers and stockmen as trainers was viable. They noted that Matt and Sandra Ireson, who run a beef cattle and prime lamb operation at nearby Booligal, were already introducing year 9 and 10 students to agriculture on their beef cattle and prime lamb property, and they invited Sandra to join a committee which formed Hay Inc in August 2013. “Our aim was to put together an educational course which would teach young people the essentials of farming,” says Sandy who was the first chairman.

Sandra became secretary/treasurer and with committee members began setting up the structure which involved funding, seeking help from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, arranging financial sponsorship from Australian Wool Innovation and Michael Field of the long-standing agricultural company T.A. Field, obtaining help from Scott Dixon of Wyvern in providing yards, sheep and amenities and drawing on input from Tocal Agricultural College and its Business Development Officer, Glenn Walker and long-time local station manager Roly Desailly.

Sandy, Chris, Richard and Sandra built their own course which would draw on the knowledge and experience of local landholders and their years and years of accumulated practical ability to provide a pathway to careers in agriculture. Tuition would not be in classrooms but in the district’s shearing sheds, stock yards and paddocks where the participants handle sheep and cattle, work with dogs, learn about fencing, farm maintenance, health and safety and even how to ride motor bikes and quads safely on off-road terrain. In fact, everything from mechanics, provided by local motor repairer Les Lewis, to animal nutrition.

The courses comprise three sessions of five days each in February, March and June. They are run to fit livestock cycles such as lamb marking, shearing and wool handling, and dog training. The trainers are the managers, graziers and stockmen of Hay and surrounds who provide their time and facilities on a completely voluntarily basis. There are some costs, of course, regarded as minimal by the students who pay $400 which covers accommodation, some meals, travel and insurance.

The first course in 2014 involved eight young men and was held at local properties–Wyvern, Steam Plains, Burrabogie and Benduck. The initial students were young men but that has changed over the years and currently there are seven young women in the group of 16 whose ages range from 18 to 25. Places are not restricted to those from the Hay area. This year those doing the course come from as far away as Kirwan in north Queensland, Keppoch in South Australia, Lockwood and Toomuc Valley in Victoria and Enngonia in the north of NSW.

Mollie Thompson was a student last year. The land has always been uppermost in her mind and after growing up in Sydney she spent a year at Carlton Hill Station in the Kimberley. “Then I heard about the Hay course and knew immediately it would be a step towards a career in agriculture,” she says. “It provides a great understanding of the basics and enabled me to get a first job at Curragh Station near Oxley. I’m also interested in social studies and am currently doing that at UNE at Armidale while working on farms around Moree during vacations. That, too, will help me make a rounded future on the land.”

James Lines is a 2018 graduate. He comes from a sixth generation merino property at Mount Bryan north of Burra in South Australia and felt the Hay experience would be a vital part of his aim specialising in sheep genetics. “The chance to learn directly from people who know was not to be missed,” he says. “The knowledge I gained is assisting me now in my genetics course at Adelaide University and will do so when I eventually return to the family farm.”

“Today Hay Inc has become a first class training ground for young people who want to get a kick-start in the stock industry and understand the importance of a good work ethic,” says Chris. Adds Sandy: “We have some of the best stockmen, dog handlers and wool men in Australia teaching the students—they’re passionate about passing on their skills to the next generation. We now have twelve graduates working in the district, enjoying their jobs and being part of the community.”

The organisers are keen to spread this proud program which has already given 99 people a start in agriculture. With the help of a bursary from winning the 2017 NSW-ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, Sandra has produced a manual detailing how it began and showing how it can be implemented elsewhere.
(Applications are now open for 2022. Contact


Author Mark

More posts by Mark