The Truth About Farm Work In Australia & How To Get Your Second Year Visa
In my last blog I spent time with my friend Taleen but now for farm work! It truly is a struggle to sum up doing my farmwork in Australia in an attempt to complete 88 days and grant me access to a second year visa in the country. In the end I managed only 2 months but it was an experience nonetheless and the people I met on this trip will stay with me for many years to come. I’ll start from the beginning and do my best to sum up 2 months in a relatively short amount of words. Key moments and memories from my time.
After my friend Taleen had headed home to California I had neglected to tell her of my financial struggles not wanting to ruin her visit to Australia. Truth is I had overspent since coming to Oz. Having saved a huge amount of money bartending in England before leaving I was surprised to see I had quickly blown the lot of it. This was my first time abroad alone, first time living alone, first time washing my own clothes… and here I was 4 months into my trip with nothing left. I felt stupid and didn’t want to ring home in hopes of my parents bailing me out.
I headed north with one intention. Bundaberg. From a previous blog I talked about Maryborough and how visiting the markets there had given me some insight into where I could pick fruit in Australia. I had in fact picked the worst possible place to go. Pulling up in Bundy with around 50 aussie dollars left I went hostel to hostel asking for work. It took me a few days to try them all, in the meantime sleeping in my campervan and eating cans of beans with bread rolls to save my last funds. After a long while a hostel decided to take me in, I’ll ignore putting the name down here as I may slate it quite a bit in paragraphs to come and although I have no reason to hold back; I think it’s best not to speak ill of people if I can avoid it. If I do in my blogs then the name has usually been changed.
The hostel I was staying at was once a police station. Flourishing on their notoriety among backpackers they decided to embrace the idea. Each of the rooms were old cells and printed on the duvet cover and pillow I was given was a man behind bars. I mean surely there was some warning signs about this place, I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was led to my room which could hold 12 people, 10 beds were occupied so I made my bed on the top bunk above Tammy. My other roommates consisted of 10 women creating an interesting dynamic. All of them fantastic characters with not enough space in this blog to talk on them all. Together we lived, farmed and went out drinking along with many others from the hostel.
One of my favourite memories from my room where I spent the next 2 months was bunk surfing. The bunk next to my own would occasionally start to shake back and forth as two people had sex on the bottom bed. This noise would keep the whole room awake and everyone couldn’t help but chuckle. One time as the bed went bac and forth seizing the opportunity I jumped across to the other bed and pretended I was surfing or on a magic carpet. Then one by one as quietly as possible some of my roommates would join me on the top bunk on what was becoming an earthquake simulator. More and more piled onto the top until the bed couldn’t move anymore then slowly from beneath the sheet that covered the bottom bed two heads poked out wondering what was going on and everyone burst out laughing.
I had never been to university but this felt like my first uni experience. Drinking 6 days of the week and struggling to pick fruit hung over. Each morning we would board a bus with no air conditioning and head off for an hour to the farm. To prepare for my hungover state I started making food beforehand. I would cook a huge chicken curry for the whole week and eat it with pasta, rice, bread or anything else I could think of. At this point I was hardly making money and broke my only bowl so would turn up to the bus with a saucepan full of curry for the day. All of us hungover and falling asleep would pile onto the bus and me with my curry still in a saucepan would fall fast asleep with it in my hands somehow never spilling any. I have a lot of photos of me sleeping on the bus…
Drama was common and I remember a time that the hostel owner, annoyed so strongly but people's lack of washing up decided to get a trolley and fill it with all of the pots, pans, bowls, cutlery and hobs leaving us nothing for 2 weeks! But back to the beginning. I have no money left until work begins so I knew I had to get inventive. It was time to make some friends. I headed out to the communal area which had pool tables, a bar, outdoor screen and swimming pool. I joined someone I had met from my room at a big table and began chatting to people. I met Dan, Ella, Polly, Keiran and a few others all of whom I had seen joining the hostel the same night as me. Everyone was new, had no idea what farm work would entail and enjoyed getting to know each other. Stories spread that I had tried to start an aquarium business in England and soon the nickname Stingray followed me round as I went. I’d never had a nickname before. It wasn't long before I would cook for large groups of people, each chipping in some money so I could eat for free in return for preparing it. This is how I survived those first few weeks!
Over time we got to truly know each other and Dan who has become one of my closest friends since. We still speak a lot now and have similar desires to travel the world in an authentic way. For all the conversations I have had with him and other eye opening individuals during my time in farmwork I am grateful. Hostel life became the norm, living together and knowing everyone. Each person within the 150 person hostel knew everyone else, it was a wonderful feeling. We slept together, worked the farms, watched TV, went out drinking, smoked together, headed out on the weekend to beaches together and basically became a family. A group of around 20 of us seemed to form a close bond, all of our activities spent with each other. Life was tricky here and no one would understand who hadn’t done some farm work in Bundy.
The hostel was a nightmare but we made it work together. With 150 people there was 4 working showers for the girls and 3 for the guys. The tiny kitchen we squeezed into only had 4 hobs, 1 of which was broken. So you can really imagine the carnage when everyone came back from a day working in the hot sun and battled to eat or shower before they could relax. My solution was cooking for the whole week late one evening with a bottle of wine and some tunes while I danced around and made myself something.
Drinking was a favourite past time of ours. I spent a lot of time drinking while here although it got a bit repetitive at the end. We would drink at the bar or take bags of goon down to the river on the weekend where hundreds gathered from the local hostels to drink with each other. It was magical. Anywhere with a licensed bar in Australia would stop people keeping alcohol on the premises so we end up using my campervan instead. Opening the boot you could witness an entire bar. The whole hostels boos in one spot. We gathered them all up, headed to the river to drink before going out on the town where we mixed with some of the locals. Bundaberg was an odd place, almost from a pervious time. Sexism was rampant with some jobs being deemed only suitable for men and the best jobs were only given to the prettiest of women.
Going out we would get an interesting mix of people, getting into some spots of trouble on various nights. It would be great fun nonetheless, sometimes we had the whole hostel taking part in karaoke or dancing as a group. One girl taught me how to salsa. The hostel was wild and everyone walked around doing their own thing, it was lord of the flies I’m telling you now. Whether that be stopping people fighting each other, watching people break the law in many ways and walking into the laundry room to find a couple have sex on one of the machines. It was a fun place to be.
Weekends were special. One of the bus drivers had become good friends with a group of us and together we would head to the beach. Here we could lie in the sand, play music or go for a swim. We could recover from the mad weeks we had lived and play football along the beach or head somewhere for food. Later on in my time in Australia I returned to Bundy to visit my friends once more and together we all went to the beach once more. A family reunited.
Before I bring this blog to a close I will talk a little on the farm work. After grabbing the bus hungover in the morning we would head to the farm. To start with and for most of my time in Bundy we picked mandarins. The dynamic reminded me of the film Holes with a similar dynamic. A bossy warden with her angry little helpers. All of the farmers were miserable and made you feel like you could loose your job at any moment. The first day I arrived a big crowd gathered while a farmer showed us how to pick the fruits from the tree. One girl stuck up her hand to say she had forgotten her scissors and was fired on the spot in front of everyone. She sat alone for the whole day until the bus came in the evening. It felt serious to start off with but over time people started having more fun.
We would take breaks in the sun to chat with each other eating fresh mandarins off the tree. Occasionally we would throw them or attempt to juggle. I started off with my partner Kieran and together we struggled to pick a bin of mandarins between the two off us taking home 100 dollars each but soon we had branched out on our own, so fast we could pick a bin and a half a day on our own. Some days we made mega money. Others we just lay sleeping under the shade of trees till our hangover was gone. I can still remember the action it took to get mandarins off the tree, the movements instinctive. We even came up with a mandarin dance to relive our moments on the farm!
The money was good while mandarins lasted but soon the season had died off and it was time to try picking other things. I moved onto tomatoes and found that the farmers kept giving us dead crop. I went from making 200-250 dollars a day to my first week with tomatoes making 13 dollars by the end of it. The work had dried up and I couldn’t take it anymore. It was time for me to leave and start exploring Australia again. Part of me regrets not completing my second year visa but life had begun to feel the same again and that’s not what I wanted out of my travel experience. A good friend of mine at the time Anja was thinking of leaving at the same time so we decided to travel together. We headed off in the camper and began our journey towards Byron Bay. But more of that in the next blog…
In my next blog I will talk about my trip down the coast with Anja and
our time together in Byron Bay!