By Paula Heelan
Veterinarian Myffawny Lawrie has been up since 5am. If she’s working on a property she starts early to avoid the heat ? making it easier on both animals and people. Today she’s pregnancy testing cattle at Ulcanbah Station, an hour’s drive north of Moranbah in central Queensland. Gloved up and ready to begin she concentrates on the job at hand. Detecting calves from as early as six weeks old is a difficult task and one that only gets easier with experience. Determined to be good at what she does, Myffawny takes on all the preg-testing work she can. Through constant testing, she has developed the essential and specialised skills for the job.
Based in Moranbah, a mining town surrounded by vast cattle and crop stations, Myffawny’s work with the Moranbah Veterinary Clinic, involves an extensive mix of small companion animals through to stock animals. When not consulting or operating in the surgery, she travels long distances over dirt roads to test bulls, preg-test or to check sick or injured livestock. She also consults regularly at the clinic’s branch practice in Dysart ? 100 kilometres from Moranbah. Her familiarity with the bush has helped her settle into the job.
Raised on a cattle property, Tulach Ard, near Blackwater, Myffawny attended boarding school in Brisbane and then later studied at The University of Queensland. “While I enjoyed studying and certain aspects of living in Brisbane, I found it hard being away from home. As well as missing my parents, I desperately missed my horse and my pets.
Following graduation, she landed her first job in a mixed practice at Dalby, in southeast Queensland, where she gained experience over several years with a range of small and large animals. When she got the job in Moranbah, it was as though she had come full circle. “It felt great to be back in familiar country, not far from where I grew up, working as a vet. The people I work with are very easy-going and I love that I can get on my horse, go for ride and really be by myself. While I was in Brisbane, whenever I did get back to the bush, it always reminded me about how much I preferred and missed the wide open spaces. But it took me a long time to return permanently, because before starting vet-science I completed a science degree with honors in bio-chemistry. I used to wander around uni not really knowing what I wanted to do. But once I was accepted into vet-school, I knew instantly it was right. I find animals amazing. After trauma from injury or surgery they can just get up and walk away – there’s no faking. I love that. And in Moranbah I’m able to do more extensive work, like preg-testing, bull testing and horse work, which I really enjoy.”
Myffawny’s boss, Jim Staunton, is keen for the practice to keep up with the latest in vet-science. Being 100kms from the nearest other vet, means it’s easy to become professionally isolated. Currently, Myffawny is undergoing a 12-month distance education course in radiology through the Sydney Post-Graduate Foundation. “The course will help to improve my skills and knowledge when taking and interpreting x-rays and will help us to upgrade our equipment and techniques,” she adds.
Although Myffawny may have her days planned, an emergency can throw everything out. “How early I begin depends on the after-hours work from the night before,” she says. “Generally, if we don’t have any station work on, we usually do small animal surgery in the mornings and consulting in the afternoons.”
Having grown up on a cattle property, Myffawny understands the production side of things and the bottom line for graziers when it comes to working with livestock. “While I enjoy talking to people about their companion animals, I also appreciate that graziers have a different work-mindset which brings its own set of challenges.”
Working as a vet is very people intensive. While the work is primarily with animals, vets have to communicate with the owners all day, every day. “I enjoy working with all the different people and I love the variety of work. One day I’m a GP, an anesthetist and an orthodontist and the next I’m a social worker ? you run the full gamut with is really challenging and stimulating. But sometimes, particularly with mixed practice, being a Jack of all trades can be frustrating. At times I wish I could do better in a certain area – that’s why specialists are becoming more common in vet practice. Inevitably, bad things happen and you can’t do anything to change the situation. You just have to accept what you can and can’t do.”
Settling into work in the bush as a female vet wasn’t difficult for Myffawny. “I’ve been lucky because in each job I’ve followed really great female vets who paved my way. I think some graziers find us a novelty and occasionally I feel I have to do a little extra to prove myself, but generally, I’ve been easily accepted out here. Choosing a vet can be a bit like choosing a doctor; some people want women, some want men. Sometimes people want to chat, others just want the job done. But essentially, most people realise that female vets are strong and capable. These days the gender balance in university vet schools is more female than male.
Preg-testing over, Myffawny heads back to town. Luckily she enjoys the long, solitary driving her job demands. It’s all part of what she loves best ? working with animals in country that is isolated and extreme.