WOULD you pack your life into a Ute and hit the road with nothing but your dog by your side?
That's exactly what Lithgow's Jaime Balzke did when she left home with her kelpie pup Jodie in July, for what she hoped would be the adventure of a lifetime.
Jaime has always been passionate about agriculture and wanted to experience the lifestyle of living and working on a station.
"I am passionate about horses and cattle and want to work with both, potentially to one day become a station manager or be in a leadership role," she said.
She said she has a strong interest in the paddock-to-plate mentality of raising healthy cattle to become quality product for Australians and loved the idea of living on the land.
"I love the attitudes and connections with people you encounter when living and working in a rural setting," she said.
The best laid plans
Jaime hit the road and arrived at a beef cattle station near Burketown, Queensland before a change of plans led her to Toowoomba within a week, where she is now working as a stud hand at a quarter horse stud.
"The original plan was to work as a station hand in Far North Queensland until the end of the season, and then to move on to Northern Territory/Northern Western Australia to work on big company-owned cattle stations," she said.
With a slight change of plans and the ability to see the silver lining, she said working on a quarter horse stud would allow her to gain experience with young horses.
"I will be able to translate that into a station setting in the coming years and I would love to break in horses for cattle stations and will most likely be heading back to station work next year," she said.
I didn't feel alone because I was travelling with my kelpie pup which in my eyes was like travelling with a mate.Jaime Balzke
Jaime said travelling to Queensland was amazing and she wished she had endless funds for fuel.
"I just felt free," she said.
"Free to choose when and where I wanted to stop and I didn't feel alone because I was travelling with my kelpie pup which in my eyes was like travelling with a mate."
She also has basic car skills that would get her to the next town if she was to break down.
"I made sure to have a toolbox, spare fuses, a tyre repair kit and tyre pump with me."
"I wish that I had brought spare engine oil though, as I had a bit of a scare when the oil light came on and I was about a hundred or so kilometers from anywhere, but it turned out to be a faulty fuse," Jaime said.
She took a 20 litre Jerry Can for fuel and one for water for extra precautions.
"Just in case I was to break down at some point or if a service station I had hoped to fuel up in was closed or abandoned."
Jaime said her travel highlights included driving through NSW towns she hadn't seen before.
"I enjoyed seeing towns with fresh eyes I hadn't previously visited such as Mungindi, Moree, Narrabri and Coonabarabran."
Her drive between St George and Mitchell, Queensland was a relatively remote road and she only encountered a handful of vehicles with the majority being road trains.
"At some points on that road, the tar section of the road became one lane, so if I saw a vehicle coming, one of us would have to get right off the road to allow the other to pass," she said.
Jaime said other highlights included the drive between the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and an intersection to head to either Normanton or Burketown.
"For the most part this section of the drive was a road which went through to other stations and I got to see the condition of the cattle on that type of land, giving me an idea of the cattle I would encounter," she said.
She said every town she stopped at in Queensland was a highlight including Blackall, Longreach, Winton, Tambo and Augathella.
"Augathella had a fantastic roadhouse and the pub did a great feed too," Jaime said.
She said her biggest highlight was the drive from Cloncurry to the station in Burketown.
"It was so exciting and amazing to see the land up there," she said.
"Not far out of Cloncurry it was really rocky ground and very red earth, but further north between the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and the station it became sparse grasses and trees with large dry riverbeds full of sand."
"I really enjoyed watching the land change as I progressed through from bush land, to open plains, to rocky outcroppings... every few hours drive the scenery would change," Jaime said.
Being away from family
Jaime said it was a challenge to be far away from family and friends.
"It was hard to imagine being so far away from everyone I know and at times the realisation that I wouldn't be seeing my family for a while sunk in.
"I was having second thoughts just before I left but everyone gets cold feet before a big change," she said.
She said once she left it was an adventure and it helped that her family and friends were supportive.
"I know that I'll still keep in contact with people from home, it was definitely a challenge to have such a big change in lifestyle and location, but it's been rewarding meeting so many different people and building new friendships already," she said.
Jaime believed she would have a journey ahead of her in wanting to go to stations in the Northern Territory next year.
"But that is why it is such a major goal. I have a lot of learning and skill development to gain in order to get the ideal job I want."
"Although challenges can be tough and seem near impossible at times, in hindsight I appreciate the hard times as they've helped me get to where I am now," she said.
I'm looking forward to working outdoors, experiencing the changes in weather and the seasons, being fully and wholly capable in my own right.Jaime Balzke
She said she looked forward to the challenges ahead and experiencing everything station work has to offer.
"I'm looking forward to working outdoors, experiencing the changes in weather and the seasons, being fully and wholly capable in my own right, working as a part of a tight-knit team, and most importantly, working with horses, dogs and cattle," she said.
"I am looking forward to the entire package deal that is working on stations.
"The environment, the people and the job all appeal to me and working on stations is an opportunity for me to combine my passions with full time employment, and to learn more in these areas," Jaime said.
Jaime encouraged anyone contemplating travelling for work or changing their career to go for it.
"Just go and do it."
"It seems difficult but once you take the first step, the rest follows," she said.
"Do what makes you happy. You just need to keep a positive attitude and an open mind."