Outback's Brett cattle stations have romantic appeal to workers

By Shan Goodwin
April 27 2022 - 4:00am
ROMANTIC: Mustering cattle on Brett Cattle Company country in the Northern Territory. It's photos like these that attract workers, say the Bretts.

WORD of mouth, and how a pastoralist has performed as an employer in the past, is now proving key to securing labour in a period that is arguably the toughest it has ever been to find workers.

So say well-known Northern Territory live export cattle suppliers Colin and Alison Brett.

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Innovative thinking has always been part of the deal when it comes to attracting the 14 workers the Brett Cattle Company requires annually for each of its two pastoral properties, Waterloo on the Western Australia border, and Willeroo, near Katherine.

From ringers to grader drivers and mechanics, the Bretts say it isn't really the pay rate people are looking for when they sign up for beef cattle property work. It's the experience.

"It's the romantic side of working a cattle station that is the real appeal," Mr Brett said.

"When we first started up, and our boys were at boarding school in Sydney, during education week we'd put up posters with photos of the country and cattle.

"The boys were good talkers and would tell stories about what it was like.

"You do have to pay a reasonable rate but it's not really the money people are after.

"We don't charge for board or feed and we make sure everyone is looked after properly.

"If anyone stirs the camp up a bit or doesn't settle in, we ask them to go quickly. It's very, very important that everyone is getting on.

"If you're a good employer, that gets spread around.

"What we've done in the past, and our contacts, have put us in good stead now. This is the hardest it's ever been to find workers."

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Brett Cattle Company today is run by Colin and Alison's son Hamish and his wife, Georgia.

Over the years, they've had young men and women from all over the country, and plenty from overseas too, working on their stations.

Some have stayed - the current grader driver was head stockman first and has been on Waterloo for close to 40 years - but most stay for just the year.

Still, they pass the message on when they've had a good experience.

"One chap's father was a barber in Denmark and he'd tell everyone in his shop about us and year after year we'd have applications from Denmark," Mr Brett said.

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"They were all great workers and became part of the family."

This story is part of our ongoing Pay Day series which explores the challenges around labour shortages currently impacting all sectors of agriculture.

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