COUNTRY: Zara spent her gap year working on her family's property, Barbara Plains.

Bush kid talks highs and lows of growing up on the land

A CHRISTMAS morning spent laying poly pipe, many afternoons spent jumping table drains on motorbikes and more pets than you could imagine.

These are some of the more vivid memories Zara Agar recalls from her childhood growing up on western Queensland property, Barbara Plains, 130km outside Charleville.

Even though she is living in Brisbane, Zara will always be a bush kid.

In light of the Bush Kids Facebook page's charity calendar being launched, the 19-year-old took time away from her university studies to talk about the highs and lows of growing up on the land.

At the moment she is living deep in a Brisbane suburb while she completes her degree in primary education.

Last year, however, was a stark difference.

She spent her gap year working alongside her parents, Jeffrey and Tricia Agar, on the family's sheep and cattle property. Most of the year was a hard slog, but Zara said she would happily trade her home in the city (which has a massive Westfield Shopping centre just round the corner) to be back working alongside her dad.


CITY: Zara Agar is finding her feet living in Brisbane while she completes her university degree.
CITY: Zara Agar is finding her feet living in Brisbane while she completes her university degree. Andrea Davy

Zara's face lights up when she talks about her favourite childhood memories.

She laughs when she tells her best stories, most involving her sisters Isobella (now 22) and Skye (now 16) and a certain amount of personal risk. She can remember roaring around with her cousins on their own motorbike track, which was a solid kilometre away from their parents' view - so they could do whatever they wanted.

The kids flew through the track and attacked makeshift jumps, like the table drain, for hours on end, luckily avoiding injury.

She also remembers feeding her dad's bulls, calling them at feed time, waiting for them to come racing, "then running full pelt to the hay shed to scoot quickly under the gate" before the cattle reached the fence and came to an abrupt stop.

A cranky angus bull called Kinky (because he had a kinked tail) and a lovely simmental bull officially named Clay Gully Ugarit, but nicknamed Ugi, were two herd bulls she talks about as if they were old friends.

"We just loved the big simmy bull," she said.

"He used to be a lead bull (in shows), so he was so quiet."

As Zara and her sisters grew older, their roles on the property expanded. This increased tenfold due to the impact of drought, which meant feeding stock became a regular task.

Everyone had to chip in.

"And we never got paid for it," Zara added with a laugh.

Although cheekily noting she worked for free, she doesn't look back on those days with any bitterness - even when it included a full shift on Christmas Day.

"A couple of years ago one paddock completely dried out. There was only one creek and dam in it and it all dried out," she said.

"So that day we got up at three o'clock, fed some wethers in one paddock, then as the sun started coming up we had to lay poly pipe to the dam... we ended up being late for Christmas lunch."

Worrying about not piping water quickly enough, and with the threat of being late for lunch, Zara recalls tensions running high.

"To be honest, Dad was a little cranky that day," she said with a smile.

"None of us had put poly pipe out before... and he wanted it to all get done quickly so we could get stock in that paddock and feed them mulga.

"And then we got a flat tyre. My sister took a video of me changing this tyre because we were like 'what else can go wrong?'."

Zara was about 15 at the time. After Christmas lunch, the family returned to work that afternoon, as ewes and lambs also had to be fed.

"And then the next day, Boxing Day, we had to keep going," she said.

Zara has witnessed the drought through her parents' eyes. As a child, she admits, she didn't understand the full impact of tougher seasons.

"As you get older, and you hit your teenage years, that's when you can really grasp what it means," she said.

"It's hard.

"You go from having a good season and everything can be peachy, and you go off to the beach, have holidays and you go to pony club every weekend, and then the drought comes and you stop going on holidays.

"And I have seen my mother and father, especially my dad because he is always out in the paddock, starting to look a little bit defeated.

"I know he will never leave (Barbara Plains)... but sometimes I can tell he is just like 'it needs to rain'."

If there was a positive out of the drought, Zara said it would be that her sisters learnt to work as a team.

"We are now Dad's main men. Or women, if you wanted to be correct," she said.

"He now plans what needs to be done around all our holidays, because he knows we will be home to help."

Zara talks about her sisters as close friends, rather than siblings.

Eldest sister Isobella now works full-time on the property, working as her dad's leading hand.

She is tough, strong and very capable, Zara said.

And younger sister Skye, currently at boarding school in Toowoomba, has a brilliant sense of humour and can keep everyone smiling and laughing.

"She is the one who can always make Dad laugh," she said.


HELPING HAND : Zara and her father Jeffrey Agar installing more than 40km of exclusion fence as part of the Wyandra Cluster.
HELPING HAND : Zara and her father Jeffrey Agar installing more than 40km of exclusion fence as part of the Wyandra Cluster. Tricia Agar

While other young people travel the world in their gap years between high school and university, Zara helped build 44km of exclusion fencing.

The first few kilometres were completed with her dad and sisters, and the next 30 she worked alongside fencing contractors.

"At the end of the day they would ask me 'are you sick of fencing yet?'," she said.

"And I would say, 'no, I am not'.

"It was a huge job and it took months and months and months, so you just had to keep going - you had to just think of it as one day at a time."

It now takes Zara two days to drive from Brisbane to Barbara Plains, but she said it was worth it to get back working on the land.

"I love it," she said.

"My end goal is to own my own property. Teaching is just something that will help me get there."


FUN TIMES: Cooling off and having fun after a hot day mustering at Womblebank, near Mitchell in Queensland, are Lucy, Molly and Mac McGilvray. They are riding Sandy.
FUN TIMES: Cooling off and having fun after a hot day mustering at Womblebank, near Mitchell in Queensland, are Lucy, Molly and Mac McGilvray. They are riding Sandy. Sally McGilvray

Proceeds from this year's Bush Kids calendar support the RFDS - a vital service linking rural families to medical aid.

With all of Zara's motorbike jumping, bull dodging and hefty stock work she has avoided needing RFDS help herself.

"We needed them for my older sister though... she broke her arm doing something silly," she said.

"My uncle had these cattle... we called them the hideous mob because they had wacky horns and they were ugly.

"So my sister took my dad's dog and tried to muster them, or look at them when she was on foot. We are not sure what she was doing. They weren't a nice mob, and they chased her up a tree. She climbed out on a branch that was dead, and the branch (obviously, because it was dead) broke and she fell down and broke her arm.

"That's when we needed the RFDS."

Zara tells the story with humour and a casual tone. Asked if she ever felt like a fish out of water, meeting new friends who had different backgrounds to her own, she acknowledged the chasm between experiences.

"I tell them I am off a property and I have lots of animals, but I can tell they don't really understand exactly what I am talking about," she said.

Just as she did installing wild dog fences, Zara is taking her move to a thriving city one day at time.

It's not always easy though.

"It's just... your neighbours," she said motioning out her home's back window to the house next door," she said.

"They are just there. And the stars... I miss my stars."



WHEREVER there is a family farm, there are likely to be some bush kids lending a hand.

The Bush Kids Facebook page, which champions the efforts of country children working within agriculture, has now surpassed 40,000 followers online.

Each year some of the most captivating and well-liked images shared on the page are entered into a competition for the Bush Kids calendar, which raised money for the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Organisers have set an ambitious target of raising $10,000 through sales, as 2018 will mark 90 years since the founding of the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Proceeds will be donated to the West Australian branch of the RFDS next year.

The calendar was put together from 400 entries, which all give a snapshot into the lives of bush kids Australia wide.

More details here.