''All the locals have been very friendly'' ... Kirra Rigg, 10, with the Indonesian animal husbandry student Safitri, 20, at Lakefield Station in the Northern Territory. Photo: Glenn Campbell
DEEP in never-never country on a huge station, learning to handle cattle is the last situation in which you expect to find a 20-year-old Indonesian woman from the densely populated island of Java.
But this is exactly what Safitri is doing at Lakefield Station.
Safitri and seven other third-year animal husbandry students from Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, and Padjadjaran University, in Bandung, West Java, are immersed in an industry exchange program with the northern cattle producers.
The brainchild of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, the students are spending two months on family, government and corporate stations to learn Australia's best beef industry practice.
A shy Safitri said she had been overwhelmed by the ''wide open spaces'' of the outback, especially compared with Java.
At Lakefield, which is near Mataranka and 460 kilometres south of Darwin, she is learning how to handle cattle, ride horses and manage feed and water, all of which she said she was enjoying. ''All the locals have been very friendly,'' she said.
Indonesia imported more than 413,000 live cattle from Australia last year, worth $275.6 million, but is moving towards self-sufficiency and has cut import quotas.
Australian cattle are bigger than Indonesian beasts and the industry is confident it will still have a role.
Last year, the relationship between the countries was strained after Australia suspended trade for a month and imposed tough new animal welfare guidelines following revelations of cruelty aired on the ABC.
''Importing cattle from Australia is very important and we are learning the special treatment of cattle,'' Safitri said.
She welcomed new stringent rules for live cattle exports and acknowledged the different conditions in Australia and Indonesia.
The Cattlemen's Association is funding the pilot program but hopes for money from governments, universities and industry.
The association's executive director, Luke Bowen, said it had been a couple of years in the making; it was to begin last year but was postponed due to the suspension.
''The clear and agreed focus for the program is to not only impart practical and technical learning but to establish and expand relationships for mutual growth and benefit,'' Mr Bowen said.
''The students will ultimately be going into important positions within industry and within government.''