Game for a go at outback school

HARD YAKKA: Former Newcastle Herald journalist Deb Richards during her outback adventure.
Wuxi Plastic Surgery

WHEN Deb Richards received a playful email from a friend she had no idea it would send her packing for the South Australian scrub to become the next ‘‘jillaroo’’.

‘‘Are you kidding?’’ was all the former Newcastle Herald sub-editor could utter when she received a follow-up call from an ABC producer informing her she had been chosen out of 800 applicants to be one of five trainee farmers for the documentary show Jillaroo School.

‘‘I’ve always had a fascination for the outback and I love adventure’’, said Richards, who describes her experience as funny from day one and crazy ever since.

The show, created in response to a need for female farmers, documents an intense four-week training program where five women ditch their former lives and head for the Flinders Ranges.

They ride horses, quad bikes and learn what it takes to work on the land under the guidance of horse master Bill Willoughby.

‘‘I knew of Bill’s reputation and all I could think was holey moley,’’ Richards said of the man who is famed for his work with animals in programs such as McLeods Daughters and Rabbit Proof Fence.

Under Willoughby’s instruction, Richards acquired skills alongside women she now shares a bond like no other with.

‘‘We’re like sisters now,’’ said Richards, whose favourite part of the experience, other than working with Willoughby and his wife, was forging an amazing friendship with her fellow jillaroos. The program, to air on ABC on February 1, will also depict the many trials farmers working in such harsh conditions go through on a daily basis.

It also highlights the serious employment gaps within their community.

‘‘Unless you live their life for a month you have no idea what they go through’’, Richards said.

‘‘It’s a real employment option. It’s a good life but you have to be really adaptable.’’

Richards, who was ready to run in the beginning after experiencing the trials of that lifestyle, said she now feels more grown up in her mid-forties after being part of the program.

‘‘I loved talking to the women in the community we were in [and seeing] how they survive on each other’s support,’’ she said.

Eagerly awaiting the program to air, the former journalist can’t wait to see how women especially react to what she calls one of the most confronting emotional and physical experiences of her life.

‘‘It shows what women can do’’, said Deb.

‘‘We weren’t thinking about what our hair looked like, there was no make-up, nothing was sugar-coated … it was just women doing great stuff’’.

‘‘I just kept telling myself ‘if you can get through this you’re gonna be amazing’– and I did,’’ Richards said.