You’ll save loads of money they said. It’ll be really fun they said. They were wrong.
To qualify for your second year visa for Australia you have to complete/survive 88 days of regional work. Usually this is fruit picking or labouring on a farm, for us it was both.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. How do you even go about selling a situation where on your first day you’re given a burning hot tool, a pen full of lambs and told to get tailing? I found the four months we spent on farms in Victoria and then Adelaide, ridiculously hard and draining. Both physically and mentally it was a challenge, unless you’re really clever and just find a farmer who will sign off your visa. (hindsight)
One of the hardest things we found was actually finding a job in the first place. I remember spending hours searching Gumtree, replying to adverts, exaggerating our rural backgrounds or lack of and hoping somehow we’d got back to the farmer before all the other desperate backpackers beat us to it. Competition is tough and finding a job that pays an acceptable wage is even tougher. That is unless you’re happy to work 10 hours a day, for 50 bucks a week, and that’s for two of you. Plus paying out for food. Plus accommodation. You’re more likely to end up making a loss rather than a profit but sadly the farmers know how many people are out there and they use that to their benefit. Just because one couple say no there will be hundreds of desperate others right behind them. Which is why I feel quite comfortable saying that the whole set up is a nasty affair. Overall what we found is that backpackers are completely extorted for labour with minimal pay in sometimes horrible conditions.
It’s a mixed bag out there. Travellers can be put up in these disgusting working hostels where you’re effectively shipped out daily to different jobs, paying over and above for the basic accommodation which is half your pay cut gone in a flash. We had a taste of this when we worked on a strawberry farm in Queensland for a week. I was packing, imagine one long factory line where you only earn depending on how fast you packed. Where as Jonny was a picker out in the fields. Safe to say after a week it destroyed his back and the cute experience of ‘pick your own’ we used to enjoy back home.
Next it was on to the hard stuff, sheep farming. And ‘luckily’ for us we were hired right in the middle of the lamb marking. For anyone blissfully unaware of what this is, let’s just say there’s a process to go through to get to the little bouncy short tailed immunised, tagged lamb you normally come across. This was a factory line set up of a different kind. Like a conveyor belt of doom. I’m still so sorry cute little lambs. And when they cry and they sound like babies I wanted to steal all of them and hide them in my jacket. I found this so hard, physically for a start I was no way strong enough. I can’t leap over fences and wrestle sheep, if a lamb ran towards me I’d end up on the floor and I’m not playing the little weak girl card. It’s just an honest fact, girls aren’t as typically strong and as useful on a farm as boys. There was very little I could do in this sense to prove helpful, something that the farmer seemed to hold against me when I struggled lifting a rotting carcass over my head with one hand.
Just for arguments sake and because he’s making me, I should say that Jonny feels differently. He looks back on our experience much more fondly, if possible. And I understand why, he didn’t struggle like I did in terms of how hard he found stuff, he got to weld, learn about mechanics, drive a combine harvester, shoot guns, fix up and ride round the outback on a motorbike, wield a machete in the bush, it’s definitely a more boy orientated experience and more in his comfort zone.
I missed the normal things. Being able to go for a drink with the girls. Have a bath. Pick up some sushi. I lived for our day off every week or so. And the end of course.
But somehow despite all this, after four months, Numerous hospital stays. One broken arm. One pet calf. Two pet lambs. One car crash. One dead pet calf. One pervy farmer. And god knows what else I’ve blocked out my memory, we finished it. We are now 88 days complete and allowed to stay in Australia for another year.
So it was all worth it in the end. At least it makes for a good story and unique experience. Its something we never would have done if it wasn’t for this, so I am glad we got to experience something completely different but I will not be dusting off my ‘gum boots’ and overalls anytime soon. If you have to do your farm work then just be careful. There are some nasty people out there.
Despite all the ups and downs, and trust me there were a few, this guy managed to put together a portfolio of photographs of our farm life over the months. How he managed to capture the beauty in the struggle is beyond me. But he did. And he’s got some amazing photographs to show of it. This if anything makes it all worthwhile.
So not only does this guy herd sheep like Babe and carried me through all the shepherding challenges doing all the work for both of us but he’s a demon behind the lens. Thank you Jonny.
Visit noneother for more photographs.