Australia - East Coast

The Farm Chapter – How to Survive Australian Regional Visa Work

Thursday 19th November 2016 – Thursday 10th March 2016

I’VE DONE IT! ITS OVER! Aaaaaaarrrrgggggghhhhh!

Yes, that Viking mating call is the sound of my three months of regional farm work FINALLY being over, and I’m surprised I’ve made it to the end. This has been the hardest three months I’ve ever had during my 21 years of life but I’ve kept myself going for a firm belief that it will all be worth it in the end, to spend another year in this wonderful country. And I also believe that the things we’ve endured will have made me a stronger person (and given me a lot to talk about in future job interviews. Worked in stressful situations, under bosses you’ve disliked and doing work that makes you want to pack it all in and poke out your eyes with a spoon? Why yes I have!)

So where have I been, I hear you cry? I’ve been on a lovely farm just outside of Tully town centre (ie the middle of nowhere), a town renowned for its high amounts of rain fall periodically but also ridiculous humidity 24/7,and I’ve been farming bananas for a living. And when I say farming I mean kerosene injecting, stringing trees together, sorting bad bananas from the good ones, hanging up rat poo and wee covered bags, shovelling bad bananas off the floor, weed spraying, riding around on the back of trailers and making cardboard boxes. All in a day’s work. Come blistering heat or pouring, torrential rain. It’s a miracle I’ve come out of it all reasonably unscathed (my finger tips will grow back and the sap will wash out from under my nails eventually) and without leptospirosis, a disease carried by rats and passed through their wee.

Along the way though I’ve also had some amazing experiences. Holding tree frogs, seeing pythons wrestled from bunches, nearly sticking my face into a spiders web and falling into mud up to my knees. I kid. I’ve met some wonderful people whilst both working on the farm and staying in Mission Beach, some of which I know will be friends for life. Spending Christmas and New Years here was a special highlight, my first away from home, which led Jos to calling it ‘the orphans Christmas dinner’ as none of us had any family around. Christmas Day we awoke to the sounds of merry Christmas songs playing over the tannoy system, to which we all gathered around the Christmas tree for a glass of champagne and the opening of our Secret Santa gifts. And then we ate a Christmas dinner consisting of cold meats, fish and cold pasta before getting right royally drunk and heading to bed around 3pm before the evening festivities started later on. One of the most wonderfully weird but lovely Christmas days I’ve ever experienced to say the least. A shopping trip and night out in Cairns was also a highlight, as well as trips to the other end of Mission Beach to swim in the sea within stinger nets (yes, those nasties are still at large) and a day spend on Dunk Island. 

But that’s just my experiences, read on for my tips on finding and surviving farm work as well as some information for those of you who are wondering if you should even bother. 

What is Farmwork/Why Bother?

  • When you first arrive in Australia on your working holiday visa you are told that the visa is for one year and one year only, starting from the date of entry to the country. Many decide that one year is more than enough time to see everything they want to see. However if you’re anything like me and you like to take your sweet time roaming places, then a year was never going to be enough. Believe me, I knew 3 months into my  first year that a year wasn’t going to be enough. And so I had three options; find a local to marry and apply for a defecto visa, find a company willing to sponsor me or undertake regional work for minimum 88 days (or 3 calendar months). I was very lucky in that I landed in Mission Beach to do a skydive and the local farms at the time were desperate for workers that I was signed up immediately. Previously I hadn’t even thought about the prospect of another year here yet, but I am so glad I stayed.
  • Regional work consists of industry approved work such as; plant and animal cultivation, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, mining and construction. This must be completed within a regional postcode (a list of which can be found here).
  • You have to do 88 days of work to qualify for the second year visa. If you find full time work, then your days off can be counted towards the 88 days. Example: I started work on the 7th December 2015 and finished 7th March 2016. This was only technically 66 working days, but including weekends totalled to exactly 3 calendar months/91 days.
  • If work is not full time (by the industry standard) or if it is split over more than one job, then exactly 88 days have to be worked. 

How To Find Farmwork

  • I was lucky that the hostel I was staying in at Mission Beach had a good relationship with the surrounding banana farms and also forestry work and so people were matched with farms requiring workers pretty quickly. Whilst waiting there was work for accommodation available (I was laundry fairy for a week whilst I waited for work to start) and the hostel also provided transport to and from the farms. 
  • Tonnes of farm jobs are advertised via Gumtree or Facebook. There is also the website Harvest Trail to aid with finding suitable work.

Top Tips for Surviving Farmwork

  • First up, make sure you’re paid at least minimum wage (or are earning equal to minimum wage if being paid by the bucket) as this is another requirement of the visa.
  • Keep hydrated. We’re in Australia, it’s going to be hot and humid so make sure you pack lots of water and top up regularly. Ditto suncream and protective clothing.
  • Be wary; sadly some farmers just want to rip backpackers off and will attempt to pay you less than minimum wage, or make you pay high amounts for accommodation. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • Work hard; most farmers don’t care for you and know that they can have another worker in to replace you in a heartbeat so make sure you’re pulling your weight. After all would you want to pay someone $20 an hour to waste your time? It’s going to be hard work but it makes you a stronger person. 
  • Keep your head high; you’re amazing, you. Look at you, travelling the world! Chances are you’ll meet farmers who treat you like utter crap, who just want the work doing quickly but don’t let them get to you.
  • Have fun! I met some amazing friends through doing Farmwork, both on the farm and in the hostel. We had weekly traditions to keep us sane, like going to the pub after work, Subway on a Friday or the Scotty’s famous ‘last clothes wash’, which involved jumping in the pool fully clothed after completing your days. Seeing others do this really made me determined to make it happen for myself! Enjoy yourself and once it’s all over you’ll look back on the time with fondness, rather than just remembering the hard work. And remember it’s all worth it, that second year visa has your name all over it!

All in all, I know I keep banging on about how happy I am to be leaving but I will be sad to say goodbye to certain faces who are staying behind but I’m sure we’ll all meet again. Next stop, Cairns for a few days and then it’s time to hit up the West Coast! Excited is an understatement!  But for now, I leave you of a selection of my favourite photos from the last 4 months. 
  
   
 
 
 

   
  
    

  
         

    

      
 
    
 

 

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