As Joshaviah “Jojo” Johnson walks over to a saddled horse in the middle of the round yard, he smiles as he reaches out to stroke the patchwork gelding.
Five of his high school friends from Tennant Creek hang from the railing, eagerly watching the silent conversation between man and horse.
Then, in one fluid motion, Jojo puts her boot in the stirrup and rocks in the saddle.
The horse remains calm. Spectators shrug their shoulders and move on to their own tasks. There would be no spontaneous rodeos today.
The students are part of the Juno 2022 program, a course aimed at giving high school students in Central Australia and Barkly industrial skills in agriculture.
At the end of the year, 17-year-old JoJo will become the second in his family to graduate.
“I’ve been through some tough times [times] … but I pushed to the end with my friends.
“They’ll feel proud…I’ll just feel proud after this.”
A horse for a lesson
The programme, in its fifth year, is part of vocational education and training.
It takes place at the Juno Center, one of two off-campus facilities specializing in agriculture. The other is Taminmin College in the Top End.
Students learn skills in working cattle, general farm maintenance such as fencing and stripping horses.
“It’s a bit difficult if the horse isn’t listening…just move him around a bit…pat him if he’s doing something right,” says JoJo.
Russell Young, Horse Care Coordinator at the Juno Centre, is impressed with the hard work of his students.
“They too [receive] accredited training and the beauty of Juno is that they can choose a certain course, whether it’s fencing, cattle or horses, and focus on those skills.”
The reasons why students participate in the Juno program vary. For Stanley Waisfood, ringing was in his blood.
“It reminds me of my grandfather training at a resort near Rockhampton,” he explains.
Friends helping friends
Tennant Creek has its social issues, with juvenile delinquency topping the list.
Many children in the region do not complete high school.
The majority of this year’s students have been together since elementary school and really pushed each other to graduate.
JoJo sheds light on her own struggles to get to her senior year.
“In 10th grade, I probably got mad at school work. I didn’t want to keep doing the work,” he recalls.
“Then my buddy told me to come to school… Juno helped me a lot to stay in school.
Excellence in horse work
The course is not just for high school students.
Danyel Forge, a ninth grader, was offered a spot in the Juno program after an incident at school. Since then, she has excelled in working with horses.
“I had problems at school, and they took me here…it made me calmer and more relaxed,” says Danyel.
For JoJo and her classmates, graduation will be a special day.
“I’ll be proud that I did something before I finished school so I could prevail in the big world,” he says.