“WE worked hard but we played pretty hard too,” says former Wonga jackaroo Stuart Hodgson.
Mr Hodgson is based in the Riverina and holds the reins as Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) sheep industry specialist.
But he – like many agricultural leaders - got his start working as a jackaroo on one of the highly-respected Riverina seedstock Merino Studs.
During a visit to Campbell Town Show in Tasmania he caught up with some fellow industry stalwarts who had strong ties back to the Riverina.
The Riverina was the choice location for young jackaroos and jillaroos who were looking for an industry entry point.
It was also competitive with only the best applicants gaining places at the big-name Riverina Studs.
“I was at Campbell Town Show and got talking to Neil Graham who had worked on Riverina studs too,” Mr Hodgson said.
“I hadn’t seen Neil for a while and we got talking about the other people we had worked with in the Riverina and how great it would be to get together,” he said.
“I made the comment that it would be nice to have a reunion,” he said.
Mr Graham, Mr Hodgson and Annie Taylor have gotten together to set a date and establish a reunion for April 16 and 17 2016.
“There are people indicating that they are coming from as far away as Western Australia and Queensland,” Mr Hodgson said.
“And it is not just for jackaroos, we have had interest from agents and journalists and other people who work in the industry,” he said.
“It is a chance to get together and talk about the times we had in the Riverina … it was a great period and we will never see that again,” he said.
In speaking of his fond memories as a jackaroo on the Riverina plains Mr Hodgson reminisced about the demise of the jackaroo and jillaroo days.
“Some of the parent studs have been broken down and there are not the amount of young people entering the industry,” he said.
Mr Hodgson said the jackaroo programs were irreplaceable and were an important training ground for the industry.
“Agricultural colleges and universities are training young people … but they are not coming out with that hands-on knowledge,” he said.
Aside from the foundation training the lifestyle of jackaroos provided strong bonds.
“We would all socialise and I remember going to places like the Hay Races and the Hay B&S,” he said.
“We had a great social network and we had a lot of fun,” he said.
Mr Hodgson estimates the Wagga reunion will bring people together who are aged 85 and older and maybe some perhaps in their 30s.
Meanwhile, financial conditions for many sheep producers are looking good.
There is a rare alignment of good wool prices, high returns for surplus sheep and a buoyant prime lamb market.
“I suppose it is a coincidence rather than a plan that we are all going to get together at a time when the industry is in good shape," he said.
“It is certainly a bit of a plus,” he said.
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