From the mountains of Afghanistan to the dark and dangerous coal mines of Pakistan, it has taken Ali Khanullah all his life so far to find his calling as a jackeroo in outback Queensland.
At 18, Ali Khanullah was one of 10 migrants and refugees undertaking a Certificate II in Rural Operations at the Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE’s (SQIT) ‘jackeroo school’ in Warwick. And while it might seem like hard work, Ali’s taking it all in his stride.
“I enjoy everything about the course - the horse riding, driving tractors, cattle work and fencing. It’s all good,” Ali says.
“I feel safe in Australia, and free to do what I want, which I never felt in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
“I’d only ever ridden a donkey without a saddle before coming to Australia, but riding a horse is much easier.”
Ali says there was another reason he was happy to trade in the donkey for a new set of hooves.
“I like going fast!” he says with a laugh.
Ali was sponsored to come to Australia by his uncle, Naser Ali, and has been joined by another uncle, Sadeq Mohammed, who also is learning to become a jackeroo.
“We all get on really well - it’s good to be doing the course with my uncle,” Ali says.
The Federal and state governments contributed $120,000 and $178,000 respectively to the pilot rural operations program, which will equip an initial group of 20 migrants the skills needed to gain employment and be effective workers in the rural industry.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s (DIAC) sustainable regional settlement program also contributed a grant of $28,000 to cover the accommodation expenses of the students.
While the rural operations course has been offered at SQIT for several years, it was modified this year to include an English-language component, provided by DIAC’s Adult Migrant English Program’s (AMEP) employment pathways initiative, to help migrant workers adapt to the rural life.
In the true blue spirit of Australia, all the boys are giving the “outback lingo” a “red-hot go”.
“We’ve learnt words and sayings like “how ya going?”, “smoko”, “she’s broken” and “she’s okay”,” Ali says.
While being gender-specific when referring to tractors and fences might have confused the students at first, Ali says they have all been quick to get the hang of things.
“It’s always hard learning new words at first,” he says. “Once you hear it a few times though, it becomes easy.”
A rural teacher at the SQIT, Kellie Monckton, says the Warwick community has done a brilliant job in taking the students on board and accepting them.
“There’s been a great amount of support around the program from the people of Warwick,” Kellie says.
“The boys have helped out at the local show, polocrosse carnivals and other local rural events. It’s been wonderful to see them all getting along, enjoying themselves, and learning some valuable skills at the same time.”
The students, who come from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Burma, have developed a comradeship that Ali believes has helped them all to feel at home.
“We all hang out and do things together, like playing soccer, going fishing and swimming,” he says.
“I enjoy everything about the course - the horse riding, driving tractors, cattle work and fencing - it’s all good.”
In Afghanistan, Ali spent his childhood days playing soccer, attending school, and tending to his family’s sheep and cattle. He then fled the volatile country at the age of 12 to spend six long years living in Pakistan, a country where Ali says he never felt at home.
“It was terrible living there,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I was accepted. I worked for a year on a coal mine and it was very dangerous going underground each day. I saw many people break their legs and get crushed by rocks.”
Ali expressed his sheer relief when his uncle offered to sponsor his permanent residency in Australia.
“It felt wonderful,” he says. “I feel safe in Australia, and free to do what I want, which I never felt in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”