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In this post we are going to talk about the dreaded 88 days of farm work. Lots of backpackers I met despised it, some didn’t mind it and the few strange fruits like myself fell in love with it.
Working the harvest trail throws up a multitude of problems, mainly the fact that it’s seasonal. Australia being the vast, varying geographical behemoth that it is, means it has most of the climates on the planet, which in turn means the capability to grow almost anything. So there’s always work out there you’ve just got to find farm work Australia.
So why do I need to do 88 days of farm work?
In order to be granted your 2nd year visa you must complete a minimum of 88 days of “regional work”, most places outside of the capital cities qualify but you can check online just to be sure.
Although in this post we are talking about farm work, it doesn’t have to be. It can be working in roadhouses, road works and just about anything else. It just happens that farm work is the most readily available because of the huge labour requirements it takes to get food from field to table. Also backpackers who originate from non-English speaking countrys have less problems with language barriers.
So you want to become a fruit ninja?
Once you’ve decided that you’re cracking on with your 88 days, where do you start?
First thing to do is look on the Harvest Trail website. This is a government run jobs board designed to match farmers with readily available labor I.e you!! I never had much luck on the website but calling their hotline sometimes threw up a lead that hadn’t made it onto the website as of yet. They are also quite knowledgeable with what is coming up and in what areas. There is also a Harvest Trail book that tells you what areas have work at any given time, this is not something you can rely on though as I found out on my rookie season. I traveled 1200km to Kununarra on the information in the book saying that there was work harvesting mangoes about to kick off. I’d hardly stepped foot across the threshold of the job agency doorway when the lady behind the counter said “if your here for fruit picking we’ve got a 300 person backlog” disaster!! When I inquired further it turns out the weather had but the crop back by nearly a month and I was early anyway. Lesson learned.
Gumtree is also another good one to keep an eye on, lots of backpackers use Gumtree so don’t expect jobs to be around for long. You must be on the ball. Another thing I found with gumtree is that while most of the ads are genuine there are a few unscrupulous a**holes out there who want to rip you off. Word of warning, any advertisement that asks for money to be sent upfront for accommodation deposit are scams and no matter how desperate you are never hand money over to a potential employer. People leave it too late to “get their days”, grow desperate and fall for these scams.
Again Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find farm work, so get networking people.
The truth about working hostels
Working hostels in my opinion is where it’s at. For less than the price you’d pay to live in a city hostel you can stay at one of these, as everything some are good and some are bad. What sets a working hostel aside from a usual city hostel is that you pay your rent and the hostel manager finds you work on farms. Most have cars that you can use to get to and from jobs, sometimes there’s a small fee sometimes you even get free fuel, all just depends on the hostel. Rent is normally between $160-220 per week.
A tip for getting work in a working hostel if you haven’t already been allocated a steady job is drag yourself out of you pit early doors every morning, hangover or no hangover, get it done. There were many times when work was shy that me and a friend Dan would get up 7am, sun shining, sitting on the benches outside overlooking the mighty Murray River and Lesley the manager would walk out of her office and shout “you two red car, john lorries half an hour”. Might be one days work might be a month you just never knew. By the way the red car was my favorite, 3 litre V6 Mitsubishi magna ;). Don’t get me wrong though some days the early start would be in vain but on those days me and Dan would be sat Itching for the clock to say 11am so that we could get the goon out!
There was one day I recall I was feeling a bit depressed, missing home, pretty skint, no work on. Just didn’t want to be around people so went for a lie down, as I laid there on my back I couldn’t help but start to read the chicken scratch left behind on the bottom of the slats of the bunk above. “As long as you’ve got food in your belly and a smile on your face then it’s just another day in paradise”. Another thing I’ll never forget. Nothing had ever rung so true in the whole of my life, I had it all! I climbed out of bed asked Lesley to borrow a car and organized a run to the “bottleo”, within the hour me and 15 people were going at it! The rest of that day is just a haze.
Working hostels have many benefits, the biggest one for me was the community spirit they breed. Being in a city hostel everyone works different places, different times and don’t tend to stick too long. Here you are normally staying for at least 3-4 months, in which time you get to know everyone very well. Soon enough you feel your fellow inhabitants as your family. People you will NEVER forget. By far the most fun I had was in working hostels and I would recommend them to anyone, especially over staying in the cities hands down!!
Things to watch out for with working hostels:
- Manager telling you they have work when there’s not.
- For some people the facilities are just not up to scratch. (they tend to be a little more run down)
- Work can be sporadic at best.
- pay and conditions can be bad.
A few places I found good farm work.
The Riverland: A beautiful, stunning place in South Australia made up of a few relatively small towns. There’s around 4-5 working hostels in the area. Although I believe the one I stayed in, the mighty Nomads On Murray has since closed down I know there’s an abundance of work in the area.
- Orange picking from July-September
- Grapes January-March
- Vine pruning july-september and November – December
Echuca: This place is I’d say the best I came across for money, there’s only one backpackers hostel with lots of work, if the manager says there’s work there’s work! Amazing little town also on the Murray river but in Victoria. Just try not to spend all your hard-earned cash in Shamrocks Irish bar 😉 Blag you can drive a tractor as I did, (just a car with 25 gears) get a job planting tomato plants on a massive scale, (if memory serves me correct each patch was 800 acres and millions of plants) and you’re in the money.
- tractor driving October-March
- Apple packing shed and fruit thinning October-December
Maffra: Another nice little town, maybe they just all are!? There is a hostel here but I only stayed in it for 2 days as I found cheaper accommodation. Another friend Scott got me the job here working on a lettuce farm 50 hours per week at $20ph, so again good money.
- Weeding lettuce: all year round but considerable less labor requirement in winter so summer is the time to get down there.
To wrap part one up.
I hope this post gave you a good insight into farm work Australia. There’s just simply just far too much to shoehorn into one post so I’m going to leave it there for now. Part 2 and maybe even 3 will be arriving soon. Until then please help me finish a comprehensive list of good jobs to get the farm work done. Your experiences/places/seasons of farm work will help others tremendously so please share.
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