Alice Nixon, From Jillaroo to Mansfield Vet

Alice Nixon

Alice works for Progressive Equine Services, a mobile business looking after horses in the Mansfield District. With a life-long love of the outdoors, she has also done stints as a jillaroo and at a Canadian ski school. Read on to hear more about Alice’s journey to become a country vet.

Did you grow up in the country?

No, I lived in Melbourne, but I’m grateful my father insisted on us spending time in the country on weekends. We camped at a friend’s properties at Yea (on a few occasions we got rained out and had to run to the Tartan Motel) and spent time at the Howqua in a log cabin my father and uncle built near Sheepyard Flat.

How did you become a jillaroo?

I’d always dreamed of working as a jillaroo (partially through reading books by Rachael Treasure). I spent every high school holiday working for a trail riding company called Blazing Saddles in Aireys Inlet. I then applied though the adverts at the back of the RM Williams magazine and straight out of school, accepted a position working for McDonalds MDH at Iffley Station in the gulf of Queensland.

Did it live up to your expectations?

Yes and no. When I started I was green as grass. On my initial drive to the station, I wondered how the cattle could possibly survive on the pasture outside my window. I was surprised when the gardener explained the Downs Country was the best fattening country in all of northern Queensland.

The work was dangerous at times, but I was lucky to work with knowledgeable stock people who were good with both cattle and horses. I knew it would be extremely physical but did I expect to ride for so long it caused underwear line chafe? No way! The year involved countless hours in the saddle, many entertaining conversations and a lot of fencing. We were all pretty keen to let our hair down on weekends off to enjoy a local rodeo (local meaning at least 3 hours away!)

I didn’t expect how tough I became to face some of the challenges faced in this environment, but it shaped me for the better in the rest of my life.

Why did you become a vet?

Of course I love animals, but I also like the idea of living and contributing in a rural community with genuine people.

Where did you train?

I studied at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. The course appealed as it included a substantial focus on large animals. They also had amazing facilities where I could keep my horse.

How did you end up working in a ski school in Canada?

Good question! I’d planned a month-long trip to Canada with my two best girlfriends from University. Five months prior, I had horse riding accident at a competition. The doctors told me I’d never work as a large animal vet again and it would take six months to walk efficiently again. Through sheer determination and with help from my specialist and amazing physio, I was on that plane in five months. During my recovery, I worked at the Whistler Ski School in a scheduling role, organising the instructors and their lessons. Then I travelled and worked as a locum veterinarian across England and Scotland.

What brought you to Mansfield?

Mansfield has a special spot in my heart from my childhood experiences. The town is social with great places to eat and drink. Its proximity to the snow, high country and wineries was also a draw card. When I heard Poss Thompson (my veterinarian mentor) had a position available, I was excited to pursue the opportunity.

What’s it like being a country vet?

I love the variety in my job. It may entail working with local trail riding companies, top performance horses such as racehorses, and broodmares all in one day. Spring is extremely busy in breeding season with foals, scanning and inseminating mares. By summer, all the trail riding companies are in full swing and everyone is out enjoying and riding their horses. Competition season continues through autumn and in winter everyone catches up with horse routine maintenance such as dentistry. After hours and weekends, either Poss or I are on call for emergencies for colics, chokes, stitch ups, etc. One of the best perks of the job is working with our amazing clients.

What are the challenges of living in a country town?

It can be isolating if you don’t push yourself to get involved in the local community. In particular, it’s hard to meet other young professionals. Maybe this is because the crowd fluctuates with the seasons, or perhaps it’s because there is no young networking group. There are lots of lovely people to meet, but it takes time and effort.

What are the challenges of working as a vet in a country town?

Mental health is a major issue within the veterinary industry. Luckily, throughout my career, I’ve had amazing mentors to give me support and guidance, however I’ve seen many friends and colleagues struggle. Employers have difficulty finding associate veterinarians due to the large drop out within the profession. I believe this is due to stress, isolation, lack of support, mental toll and poor work/life balance. I am planning a collection of short stories to raise awareness about this issue.

What are some of the joys of living in a country town?

It has to be discovering the ‘hidden gems’ in the area. Here is my ‘must see and do’ list:

  1. Howes Creek Farm – enjoy lunch at the local pig farm
  2. Horse riding through the high country
  3. Local Producers Nights – Night markets
  4. Hiking in Mr Samaria – Wild Dog Falls
  5. Delatite Winery – Music in the Vines or open air cinema
  6. The Alpine Patisserie

Do you have any advice for people considering a move to the country?

Push yourself to meet people. Embrace the outdoors. Embrace your neighbours.

What’s next for you?

My only plan is to get to the snow more this season! I’m not heading anywhere anytime soon.

You can follow Alice on Instagram (the_rustic_route). We hope to share a few of her short stories on this blog soon …

Next time: Read about the Writers Victoria flash fiction competition. Flash Fiction – Stripping the Words Bare, Part 1
Next interview: Eleni Hale – Novelist
Next Mansfield interview: Amelia Turner and the Little Farm in Mansfield


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