From jillaroo to airport general manager

How Sara Hales went from jillaroo to airport general manager

Life & Style

Sara Hales says her job as the general manager of the $250 million Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport is a long way from the girl who left school at 16 to become a jillaroo.

High Flyer: Sara Hales, general manager Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport.

High Flyer: Sara Hales, general manager Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport.

Sara Hales has a simple but powerful message to all women and it is the importance of supporting each other.

Speaking recently at the Dalby Australian Stock Horse sale ladies morning tea, Sara told the guests that women really needed to support each other.

“I had never really understood why women needed the support of other women in particular,” she said.

“Today, though, I benefit enormously from the support, friendship and wisdom of other women and they are an essential part of my support network.” . 

Sara is the general manager of the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport on the city’s outskirts.

She oversees the operational and commercial management of the $250 million facility and leads a team of 67 staff in her role.

But Sara didn’t always aspire to be in a corporate position.

She ran away from school at 16 to work as a jillaroo. 

“I was in Year 11 attending North Sydney Girls High School, when I decided to leave,” she said. 

“It was a very competitive academic environment and we were under pressure, enormous pressure, it felt, to make all the right choices and decisions about our whole lives.

“I left – it caused quite a stir at what was a very high achieving school." 

It caused quite a stir at what was a very high achieving school. - Sara Hales

Sara applied and got a jillaroo job at Mittiebah Station, north west of Camooweal, over the Northern Territory border.

She is the first to admit that while she could ride a horse, she previously had no cattle experience.

While at Mittiebah she spent the most of the time in the stock camp, situated about 60km from the homestead. A lot of the time she was the only female in the camp.

It was while at Mittiebah she met fellow ringer Charlie Hales, initially forming a friendship before romance blossomed. 

“Charlie has always been perhaps my biggest supporter – way back then shoeing a horse that I had trouble with, and today, supporting me to do a job I love by capably taking over the household and running his own business at the same time,” Sara said.

Sara and Charlie left Mittiebah together and worked on Woolner Station situated between Darwin and Kakadu chasing buffalo and crocodiles.

Next it was back to Queensland for a short stint at Bundaberg and finally on to Toowoomba.

It wasn’t long before they found the call of the north west too much. 

In 2001 they moved to Richmond to work for Alastair and Jo McClymont when they bought Burleigh Station.

Sara Hales speaking at the Dalby ASH ladies morning tea.

Sara Hales speaking at the Dalby ASH ladies morning tea.

Then, in 2004, Sara and Charlie took over the Richmond and Maxwelton Dips managing it as a livestock transit centre.

During that time, they would process 200,000 cattle annually in transit from the Gulf country heading to southern markets and for the boat trade.

In 2013, the Hales moved to Toowoomba with their three children, Robert, Lyndsay and Harry.

Sara joined the team at Wellcamp Airport when it was little more than a patch of dirt, as community liaison consultant. 

Since then she has built the Wellcamp Cargo business, before being promoted to the top job six months ago. 

Her message to the younger generation is also clear. “

Young people today will have many different careers during their lives,” she said.

“So long as you manage to avoid a small number of very big, career limiting mistakes – like getting a tattoo on your face, or a criminal record – there will be lots of options for discovering what you enjoy and where you can make a significant contribution. Don’t despair if you don’t know what you want to do.”

The story From jillaroo to airport general manager first appeared on Queensland Country Life.


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