I came to Australia on my working holiday visa from the UK in January 2017. I though I’d get my visa farm work done and out of the way as soon as possible. Carly is Australian and obviously didn’t need to do farm work but thought she’d accompany me for the experience anyway, what a champ!
The Aussie farm work is hard. It’s as hard to find as it is to do. When I say it’s hard to find, I mean finding a good one. And by good I mean a fair day’s work for a fair days pay. Backpackers are so desperate for that second year it leaves them very vulnerable. This often leads to unfair pay, exploitation, less than ideal living standards and in some rare cases worse. But we do it, because the lure of another year in sun kissed Australia is too good to turn down.
After a few days searching through Gumtree and Australia backpacker pages and groups on Facebook. These are the two best ways to find farm work in my opinion. We landed a place! So we packed up the van and headed there.
So It Begins
When we arrived it turned out that we weren’t actually doing farm work, we’d be helping in running a resort (use the word resort very loosely).
Back home I trained as a chef so when they saw this on my cv I was suddenly very employable. I didn’t want to cook in Australia, I actually wanted to do farm work, work outside, get tanned and ripped. What a dream. So instantly I was pretty let down by this, back in a kitchen. But we thought, whatever, lets see how this goes.
It wasn’t till later that evening when we were talking about pay that we found out we’d only be earning $250 a week each. That’s a terrible wage, impossible to live on, and way way way below the legal minimum in Australia. To claim your 88 days for your visa you must provide proof that you have earned at least the national minimum wage.
So not only did we have to lie about the fact we weren’t doing farm work, he wanted to give us $250 a week and claim the extra $600+ for us to hit the minimum wage as our rent and living expenses. We were not having this. We called him out on it and he said,
“Oh well, leave then. I’ll have another couple here tomorrow, and they’ll be desperate enough to do it.”
That wasn’t the last time I’d hear those words, or near enough to them. This is the mentality of sorry to say it, all the farmers employing backpackers I ever experienced. We are disposable, there’s an endless supply of cheap and easy to acquire labour through the form of backpackers after their visa, and little to no legal or rights protection in place. Which drastically needs to change.
Better Luck Next Time
So we left this place and onto the next. The next few places were more of the same, working in roadhouses/motels in the middle of nowhere. Cooking, cleaning, making beds. The pay wasn’t great about 500$ a week, but it was better than before so we stuck it out. Technically the days didn’t count towards my visa, (417) but as the properties were usually in partnership with cattle stations and/or farms we got a few weeks/months in the bag anyway. The work wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. We were just backpackers, and we were treated like it too, but oh well, I quite liked being in the outback.
We met a few good people, locals, colleagues and other backpackers which made it all worthwhile. Spending a month living in the red centre of Australia, 2 hours from the nearest town seeing snakes, spiders and dingoes everyday was quite the experience too, real Australia!
Next up in the farm work saga was a working hostel, in Bundaberg. DO NOT go to Bundaberg.
We tried our best to avoid working hostels, being a couple and Carly being Australian herself it just didn’t really suit us. It was not the experience we were looking for, but frustration and wanting to get it over and done with got the better of us, and we checked ourselves in.
We were promised work, 5 days a week, every week. After paying my rent, which was extortionate for a bunk bed in a room with 10/12 other people and my bond, it turned out the promise wasn’t true. There was a huge waiting list, people checked in and waiting for work. How they can allow people to check in when there isn’t enough work the people already staying there is beyond me. It shouldn’t be allowed!
The rooms were disgusting; the whole hostel was disgusting. I was getting minimum wage from the farm, they’d pay it to the hostel, and then the hostel would pay me. God knows why. They had me over a barrel, I felt like a child. It wasn’t nice at all.
Never mind I stuck it out and completed my days. In Bundaberg I was picking pineapples. They don’t grow on trees you know; they grow on a big horrible spikey bush, and I had to walk through them all day, everyday in the sweltering head. With snakes and spiders between my legs and climbing all over me Remember when I said I wanted to do farm work?
I was so happy to leave that place and have it all done. It was over. The major irony is I’m leaving Australia to Asia in 10 days. Only 2 weeks into my second year visa, didn’t need it anyway hahaha.
Would I Do It Again?
If I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t. Australian farm work for your visa in my experience is not nice, it’s not really worth it, not like it is now anyway. If it was regulated a bit better, if at all, then maybe I would
The working hostels have a monopoly on all the farms to leave you no choice to go to them is a huge issue.
If I didn’t feel like a backpacker everywhere I went, and felt like a colleague, I could enjoy it more and feel included.
But as it stands, come to Australia for a year, work hard for 6 months in any other field but farm work, then travel the next 6 months. That’s my advice. You can’t go wrong with that.
On the other hand, living in a van in Australia is great! Read about it here