Farm Work: Everything You Need to Know About Your 88 Days.

So you’re in Australia. You may have been here a month, you may have been here 6 months. You have decided the thought of going home after one year just isn’t going to happen. The thought scares you. It scares you more than thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life. All you know is you need one more year in Australia, I mean you haven’t even been to Alice Springs yet!

Here I am, 78 days into my 88.

Please call me ‘Becca Huxley: Queen of the Strawberries, Snapper of Ginger, Slayer of Sweet Potatoes, Chief of the Cherry Tomatoes’. I’m basically a fully fledged farmer.

I therefore feel I can impart some vital very real information onto you about said farm work.

Farm work has been on my news feeds a lot lately on  mainly the negative side, and I wish I  had more information before starting.

What’s it like? What jobs are there? Is it that bad? The pay is decent though, right?

Don’t worry, there are some farmers that are absolute babes, who really do care about backpackers, you just need to find the right ones.

Firstly here is a brief run down of what you need to do to get your second year visa from the very picky Australian government,  click here for more info!

You must:

  • have completed three months (or 88 days) of specified work in regional Australia while on your first Working Holiday visa.
  • be aged between 18 and 30 years (inclusive) at the time of applying
  • be applying no more than 12 months before you intend to travel to Australia, if applying from outside Australia
  • will not be accompanied by dependent children at any time during your stay in Australia
  • be outside Australia when the visa is granted, if applying from outside Australia
  • be in Australia when the visa is granted, if applying from in Australia
  • hold a passport for a country or region participating with Australia in the Working Holiday program.

You can look up exact specified work online as well as all the postcodes that meet the requirements.

From the 31st of August 2015 you will also be required to provide payslips demonstrating your farm meets the minimum required rate.

This was to stop backpackers being exploited, not getting paid, or not getting visa days signed off (it doesn’t feel it, but it was put in place to benefit us…). In the past you could get farm work easily, you could work for 2 months and get 88 days signed off if you got on with the farmer.  It does however now mean that WOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) does not count towards your visa days either, which sucks!

Always make sure whatever farm you go to provides payslips, pays tax as well as pays into your Superannuation, basically is the real deal.

The Season.

Firstly, look up what is in season.

In different states in Australia different things grow due to the weather. I am in Queensland, Bundaberg to be exact, where the season is pretty much all year round.

Here everything grows from strawberries, passion fruit and lemons, to sweet potatoes, ginger and zucchinis. You can even prune trees for a living.

Once you know what you want to do you can pick where to go.

Or, like us, just go to Bundaberg where there’s mostly always something in season.

One thing I’d wish I’d looked into is the start and end of strawberry season, if I’d have known I would have come earlier to get my time in straight away instead of switching about farms due to the season ending.

You can really be messed around, if like now there is a change in season, a lot of people have been out of work due to it.

A final tip on seasons, you do not want to do your farm work in the height of summer. I have done the majority of mine in winter, it is now spring, it is 30 degrees every day out in the open. This makes work extremely hard, so plan around the weather.

Unless of course you love pouring with sweat in the middle of a tomato field trying your best to pick as many cherry tomatoes by the bucket that you can…

Working Hostels.

Once you’ve found your area look up a working hostel.

A working hostel is a prison ‘special’ hostel, it’s unlike any other hostel you’ll ever stay at. You pay rent to stay there, usually a bit  a lot more than you would for a  normal hostel, in turn they find you your farm work.  

It’s one of the easier ways to get your farm work.

Of course it’s not without it’s issues, some people pay all this rent ($203 a week) to not work for weeks at a time. Others (like me) are lucky and get to start straight away.

Be prepared to wait and waste time.

We have done our time farm work in Bundaberg in a working hostel called East Bundy Backpackers. I would recommend coming here out of all the other hostels in the area. Just be prepared for the no alcohol in the hostel, high rent and a fair few rules.

Now a major positive of farm work (there isn’t many so bare with me) is the friends you make at a working hostel.

They are unlike any other. You are in a situation you have never been in (I think), and will absolutely may never be in again, and you are all in it together. You therefore create bonds like no other, and friendships for life.

I mean if picking strawberries for 9 hours a day doesn’t bring people together, what the hell will?!

Now you are all checked into your working hostel and are making friends, here are some home truths about living with 100 other people. Yes I said 100.

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There is only one kitchen, the kitchen is hectic. Hectic is an understatement. 

Be prepared to change your original cooking plans due to how busy it is, to eat earlier than usual, and to run around like a mad person trying to cook your pasta.

There are only so many showers and toilets. I think you can figure that one out.

You want to go to sleep early on a Saturday night as you have to get up at 5 am for work? Good luck mate!

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All this aside, you get (oddly) used to it, and it becomes your normal way of life.

Now I don’t know any different. I mean living with with 100 odd people for 88 days, all working together, partying together on weekends and chilling in the week is normal, right?

The Farm Work.

Here comes the juicy part, the part you’ve all been waiting for, the farm work.

The reality of farm work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Like I said I picked and packed strawberries.

Due to the season ending there, I then snapped ginger, then I vined and planted sweet potatoes and now I pick cherry tomatoes.

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Realistically unless you’re lucky you will get put on many different farms to get your days.

You can do either 13 weeks on one farm, or 88 individual days. The 88 days takes a life time a lot longer. So the ideal situation is to get on a farm for the full 13 weeks. I was on one farm for 10 weeks, until it closed down, since then I’ve been out of work and in various different jobs. It can get very frustrating, but it’s something you have to get over.

Your average day.

Usually starting anywhere between 6-8 am,  mostly on the earlier side.

After awaking bleary eyed along with 100 other people, you tiredly make breakfast and all get herded onto various buses.

You get to your farm, you begin a 9 hour day of constant picking, planting, basically manual labour. Your back will hurt in places you didn’t know it could hurt. You will ache all over. Then the sun comes out, who knew you could possible hate that supposed ‘glorious’ Australian weather you have been constantly bragging to your friends back home about.

Then smoko arrives (morning break), unless you’re on contract in which case you decide on your break because as you get told ‘time is money’, if you take a break you aren’t making ANY money. Thanks for reminding me.

Then follows another backbreaking few hours of labour, lunch time offers some slight rest as you inhale whatever food you could be bothered to make the night previous. Before you battle mentally and physically through the final few hours of the sweat induced day that has become your ‘Australian dream’.

Mentally? Oh yes mentally my friends. Who knew you could think about life so much whilst picking strawberries. Well now, I do. I have questioned my entire life plans (I have none, that makes it easier to question), questioned my sanity at agreeing to do farm work, questioned who I am as a person. Yes it got deep. So be prepared, by the end of your first week you’ll be a broken person. But, it gets better.

Finally it’s back to the hostel to eat, sleep, repeat.

It may sounds like I’m painting a dismal picture, but that’s the reality.

The pay?

Well if you’re lucky, you’ll be put on an hourly paid job, you’ll be looking at $19-22 an hour. If you’re unlucky it’s contract. What have I mainly been on? Contract, of course.

So right now on cherry tomatoes it’s $4.50 a bucket on a day where there’s loads of tomatoes, on a day where there is less it is $7. Either way I am only earning around $70 a day. This is just a reality check to those who think they will always make a lot on farm work. This is the real cherry tomato life I am living!

Each farm job is different, each farmer is different.

But be prepared to go in there and work your hardest. If not, you will get fired, no questions asked.

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I learnt valuable lessons, not to answer back, do exactly as you are told, and try your best and the farmer will usually help you and in turn you get on with them.

I ended up getting on with my farmers, but it wasn’t easy, I struggled to pack fast and got tired but carried on regardless, after a while you pick it up, you really do.

Farm work is hard, it is tiring, it is work that you entirely do not want to do. Some people get lucky and love their work, most don’t.

Too many people I met however just gave up after 2 days, decided it was too hard, and that is my number one piece of advice.

Farm work is isn’t meant to be fun, you are there for a reason. You want need to come back to Australia and enjoy another amazing year, keep that in mind always. Have something that will motivate you on those days when you just want to give up and never want to see another strawberry again.

I used Melbourne. My love for Melbourne and the need to come back. My friends here have also played a huge part in motivating me, and I am so grateful for that.

On the days where I am so over it, and can’t stop complaining, they listen, bitch with me, then tell me it’ll be over soon.

So I now have 10 days left.

I am so close.

You will always be counting down. That never changes.

Farm work has been one of the most challenging things I have done.

I have had times where I have wanted to cry (and if you know me, I am not a crier). I have had times where I have had some of the funniest moments in Australia. I have proved to myself that I can do a job I wouldn’t usually do, and get better, and make money. I have made some life long friends. I have sat in my bunk bed and hated life. I will now and always be a #strawberrygirlforlife. It has been a truly unique once in a life time experience.

So do you still want to do your farm work?

Last day strawberry picking.

‘Til next time.

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Becca

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2 Comments

    • Thank you for taking the time to read! Yes I didn’t know much to start with so I wish I had something of detail to read and that’s why I had to write a guide!

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