Old trade gives shoe-in for struggling farrier

A MURWILLUMBAH farrier has been forced to quit his day job and instead fly to Western Australia to pick up work following the outbreak of horse flu.

Mark Curtis had been shoeing horses since 1983 and had been working full-time in the trade for the past seven years ago before equine influenza (EI) struck.

With a family to support and no work rolling in for five weeks following the outbreak, Mr Curtis had to look at other options outside the horse industry.

When EI took his income last year he contacted a mate and left his wife Alison and three children Jesse, aged 19; Sarah, aged 17 and Meghen, aged 15 behind for four weeks the first time and nine weeks the second, while he repaired earthmoving equipment for properties in outback Queensland.

"My wife and children did it hard without me for almost three months," Mr Curtis said.

Now he has what his wife calls the "ideal" arrangement. He has had to fall back on his former trade as a diesel mechanic and has been commuting to work on excavation equipment at a Telfer gold mine in Western Australia. Mr Curtis flies out to the work camp for two weeks and then returns home for one.

"My wife reckons it's great - two weeks away isn't long enough for her to miss me and one week at home isn't long enough for her to get fed up with me she reckons it's a win-win situation." But it is not all bad news.

Mr Curtis, who flew to WA for the second time this week yesterday, said he had tripled his farrier salary and was enjoying taking up his mechanical tools again.

He said some parts were easier and some more difficult than being a farrier, which was pretty hard on your back.

"All of us get to a point when your body is hurting a lot, and it was getting to the point that I needed a break," he said.

"The EI all happened at the wrong time, but it was the right time too."

He said he wasn't sure counting whether the mine work would be for the long or short-term.

Mr Curtis is the sort of dinkum bloke who says he's happy in the middle of one million acres with his horse and dog where there are no people.

"I'm not one for crowds," he said.

But at the camp, 1200 people work in accommodation - half with ensuites, half sharing communal showers, and there's lots of girls working out there too, driving trucks as well as catering.

The mine produces 800,000 ounces of gold a year and operates 365 days a year 522 km east of Port Headland, south of Broome.

"Some of the girls there are pretty enough to be models, but they are out there in the middle of the desert," he said.

"The drivers get $100,000 a year and it doesn't matter if you are male or female, they still get the same money, but the girls do look after their equipment better."

In the meantime, he has passed his clients over to Brisbane master farrier Andrew O'Brien, who has bought a property in Uki.

Mr Curtis said Mr O'Brien expected to take a year to build up his business enough to move here full time.

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