I vowed I would never again take part in any sort of ‘farming’ role after my 6 month prolonged experience in Australia. Yet, here I am with a bed time of 9:30pm due to my sheer exhaustion from the working day and wondering how on Earth I ended up back in this position. ‘Farm work’ could be described within the backpacker communities, as any sort of regional occupation, usually in Australia and New Zealand, i.e. fruit picking or tree planting. If you’ve done it, then you know it can be of a difficult nature.
So, how did I get back here? Coronavirus has single handedly managed to isolate every country, forced us to lose jobs and subsequently shoved me back into an outdoor shed, freezing my knackers off and enduring break times dining at a bird poo covered table. Unfortunately, on both occasions, I have had to take part in these farming roles during the Winter months; conditions which are so chilly, they even manage to penetrate my four layers of clothing. Now what’s my big problem? A lot of travellers enjoy ‘WWOOFING’ (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in New Zealand or end up lucky with their choices in Australia; sunning it up in Queensland’s 30 degree heat. Maybe it’s just not the life for me? Where would an honest travel blog be if everything was seen through rose tinted shades?
Regarding this work in Australia, working holiday visa holders must complete a minimum of 88 days in order to be eligible for a 2nd year stay in the country. As a result, backpackers are subjected to poor working conditions, terrible payment and hard faced bosses. Back in Mildura, Victoria in June 2017, my friend and I were paid $18 for 7 hours of work. This work involved pulling vines from a wire fence for a pitiful ‘piece rate’ and we received 10cents per tree we managed to complete. After a week of similar poorly paid jobs, we ended up having to lie to the hostel manager and pretend we were catching a flight to Bundaberg before trundling out of the back door exit and scuttling across the car park to another local ‘working’ hostel. This being accommodation in which occupants pay rent and will be provided with jobs during their stay. This wasn’t the first time this particular hostel owner had lost workers to other providers (probably because of the dire jobs) and as a result, blacklisted anyone who dare mentioned leaving to another part of town. Hence our little white lie and the fake flight to Bundaberg.
Comparing Australia with New Zealand, our current destination, is a lot more preferable. The piece rate in NZ is very reasonable and our bank balances are looking a lot healthier than during our previous stay in Queenstown, in which we burnt through our savings whilst looking to find a hospitality role post COVID. The ability to find a regional role in New Zealand is also a lot easier. Since everyone is scrambling to find their 88 days of consistent work in Australia, you are unable to plan ahead and simply have to go to any part of the country that is offering spaces. This nearly resulted in us travelling to Bowen back in 2017. Our flights were booked and ready to go, before another friend had warned us the day before the flight that she had stayed in the same working hostel as we had planned to visit. To our shock, the owner was known to be a complete nutter who proudly kept a jar of fleas on his desk and never helped find backpackers their promised jobs. Suffice to say, we missed our flights.
Now I must admit, measuring the size of root stocks in our current role is hardly a good use of the limited brain cells I have and the wet and frosty weather in the South Island of New Zealand is affecting my mood tenfold. Being consistently covered in dirt with flecks of mud sprayed all over my face and a constant chill that even the industrial heater can’t seem to help shake off, is a recipe for disaster. A hot water bottle has officially become my best friend and although the money is enticing, the remaining 9 weeks my partner and I have left are counting down at a snail’s pace. That’s seasonal work for you!
Rewind back to 3 years ago and after our trip over the car park to our new working hostel in Mildura, my friend and I had received a role within days and began hand packing boxes of oranges. With a $22 an hour salary which we graciously accepted compared to our previous $18 a day, this role certainly had better perks. However, as we were new to this type of position we didn’t realise how speedy employees were expected to be and after 3 days, we were threatened of getting “the shift” if we didn’t quicken our packing abilities. Frantically fearing our release from the role, we knuckled down and by the end of the 88 days (which stretched over 5 and a half months overall) orange boxes were flying down the conveyor belt and the weather had gradually started to heat up as we approached South Australia’s Spring.
My hat goes off to the local workers who manage to do these jobs permanently. They are made of stronger stuff than I and I’d be happy to trade in my steel cap boots, anytime. The unusual characters you meet are definitely what make these experiences memorable. Be this the local pub dwellers of Mildura who enjoy their VB lagers way too much, or even the forklift driver at our current workplace who barks orders at you and has the face of a trout. Something which my New Zealand experience lacks is the positive spirit and sense of community that was apparent in the working hostel in Australia. There, everyone is in the same boat and you can moan in unison over a box of ‘Goon’ every weekend and one by one, congratulate the people who have completed their days before welcoming the new, fresh meat into the fold.
As I sit here finishing this post, wrapped in a blanket and donning a pair of slipper socks to fend off the cold, I know that once this is over, I will again enjoy a good moan to my friends and family about the time that I returned to a regional job. Truthfully, this Brit is not made for hard graft and would rather be shovelling in leftover office board meeting buffet. However, honesty is the best policy and I can’t deny that I will always miss the cracking people who help make the experience the best it can be. Even old trout face.