The borders are open, bags are packed, and the lure of adventure in a far-off land is almost too hard to resist.
But where these young Australians are going doesn’t require a passport, as they swap a gap year overseas for the experience of a lifetime in the outback.
Brisbane student Sarah Buglar is spending her gap year working as a ringer on a 50,000-hectare cattle station west of Emerald in central Queensland.
“I did my first year of uni but just didn’t vibe with it and didn’t really enjoy it; I just needed a break so I thought I would give it a go,” Sarah says.
The 19-year-old was inspired by a video on social media and is only three weeks into her trip yet already feels like she’s in the right place.
“I thought I was in over my head the first week but my bosses have been so lovely and really helping me and I’m getting the hang of it now.”
Urge to get out of the city
Television shows like Outback Ringer, Muster Dogs, Yellowstone, and social media influencers are showing the romantic side to life on the land and they’re catching the eyes of city slickers like Lauren Walker.
After graduating from high school, Lauren spent two years on remote cattle and goat stations in New South Wales and Western Australia.
She worked as a governess and a ringer, helping muster cattle on Ruby Plains Station in the Kimberley.
“I heard a lot about it from people who said it was a great experience and I think social media played a big role in it.”
Catherine Wiencke runs Outback Govie, helping stations find a governess or “govie” as they’re affectionately called — a hybrid between a teacher and a nanny.
“Most of the applicants are in their 20s, school leavers, or there are people who are semi-retired who have a background in teaching,” she says.
Burnt out from years of teaching in the classroom herself, the Briton travelled to Australia for a holiday in 2014 and never left.
“I kept coming across governess roles on Gumtree and other sites and thought I’d look into that.
“I had such a good experience, the kids were wonderful; it was like going back to a form of teaching you expect when you go into [the profession].”
COVID-19 changing the landscape
AgForce general president Georgie Somerset said it was encouraging to see more people take up rural jobs and often stay long term.
“Young people are looking inland and we’ve seen more of them think about maybe a long-term career in agriculture, so I think what I’ve seen is employers respecting young people coming through and working to keep them as well,” Ms Somerset said.
“We hear that there are a large amount of people applying for a small number of jobs, but we also hear that it is difficult to fill jobs, so there is a bit of a mix.”
Backpackers coming back, slowly
Since Australia threw open its international doors in February, recruitment agencies have reported an increase in backpackers applying to work in the outback.
Recruiter Erryn Wells said many were signing up through the Queensland government’s Work in Paradise scheme, which entitled them to $1,500 cash.
“Outback regions can offer more sustained hours; a lot of them give free accommodation to push people to go to regional areas,” Ms Wells said.
The outback got under Lauren Walker’s skin, and now back at university in Brisbane she says it’s an experience that’s hard to forget.
Additional reporting by Victoria Pengilley.