Darcy takes the wheel: how a journalism student studies, works and sees the outback

One day Darcy Watt might be up a tall tree wielding a chainsaw. The next, she might be driving a tractor, slashing long grass. At night, she’s likely holed up in a modest room above a country pub.

While many Charles Sturt students studied from their bedrooms during COVID-19 lockdown, Darcy was tuning into lectures from a truck parked on the side of a dirt road somewhere in western NSW.

Darcy, a journalism student, took the opportunity to study and work full-time when on-campus classes went online.

“I’m living two completely different lives,” she says.

Darcy manages a team of vegetation workers, who create fire breaks, cut grass, and maintain trees around NSW.

“I’m doing a lot of work away from home, which means I’m in a motel room at night doing my uni work.

“The job is really dangerous. No two days are the same, it’s physical, it’s fun.”

She has worked in and explored places like Gosford and Newcastle on the coast, the Blue Mountains, and western towns like Nevertire and Nyngan.

“This job has really taken me to rural NSW, which I never thought was something I’d want to see, or really experience. I just took Australia for granted because it’s where I’m from.”

Darcy says her work has shown her the immense power of nature.

“Going from an office job, or studying, to going outside all day, you’re surrounded by trees which are the provider of life for so many things, even us,” she says.

“When you stop and take a minute to look around, you hear all of the birds and sounds of animals.

“We’re not always cutting down trees, we’re maintaining them as well, so you feel connected to nature.

“When you are cutting down a tree and … you hear the cracks going up it, it’s a really scary moment. Then when it hits the ground you feel the earth shake. It’s intense.”

When Darcy started her job two years ago, she didn’t know how to attach a trailer. Now, she’s faced new challenges most days.

“You’re operating a chainsaw, which has kickback, and you’re climbing trees with it.

“Branches and limbs can snap, so you’ve really got to know and understand the trees. Weather also impacts a lot of it, the earth, wind, rain, there’s fire.

“At Clarence and Zig Zag [in the Blue Mountains], we did bushfire regeneration work.

“I remember I was cutting a tree down that had burnt; and there were still embers inside of it. That was insane.”

Along the way, she’s found a lot of good stories, which have helped her studies.

“It’s given me an understanding of a greater variety of people, just through who we meet at work.

“The majority of my stories that I’ve written for class … are about what I’m doing, so it’s not just your average story from downtown.”

Darcy says she’s also found herself breaking down stereotypes.

“It’s always a funny experience – the further out west you travel, the more surprised they are that a 25-year-old girl is cutting down trees.

“I always get the comment, ‘Do you actually use the chainsaw, or are you just doing the books?’

“I’m like ‘No, I get in there and I give it a go’.”