When Chris and I decided to do farm work in order to earn a second year visa in Australia, it was not without strife. It was hard finding a farm. Once we decided on a place and went there, we didn’t realise we would end up waiting a whole month until we actually started work. We were pretty stuck. We had no money to leave, so we had no choice but to stay and wait. And unlike so many others, we weren’t even sure if we wanted a second year in Australia. We knew we both wanted to go home. I knew I wanted to go to India and become a yoga teacher, and Chris wanted to go to Uni. But we had committed. We thought we may as well get the visa and then we have the option to stay, and we can earn and save some money in the mean time.
At first, we weren’t earning much, but we were convinced we would soon be earning more and would be able to start saving. But that day never came. And as the weeks rolled into months, I became worried we wouldn’t save at all. Was it worth being here? Should we take a risk and leave?
But last week, that decision was made for us. It was a Monday. We were midway through a block of raspberries, picking the fruit delicately off the stalks and throwing it into the buckets strapped to our waist. A man walked down my row and informed us that there was not that much fruit at the moment. The farm needed to reduce the picking crews. As such, that would be our last day. We were to fill out a termination form at the end of the shift.
We were done. Finito. We had waited for what felt like an eternity for that job, only to have it taken from us. Yet strangely, I was relieved. We had been looking for an excuse deep down to go back to Melbourne, but could never feasibly justify it. Now we could. And lets face it, no one enjoys farm work. Now never again would I have to pick berries, or end up with an endless amount of thorns in my fingertips. I was relieved, yet a little angry that this could happen. We had only completed 30 out of 88 days of farm work, so a second year would now never happen. And I was angry that we could just be laid off like that. As casual staff, we were disposable.
When we got back to our hostel that day, we found out that everyone else at the hostel, who had been working at the same farm in different crews, had also been laid off. There was an odd mood about the place. Everyone had lost their jobs, their income, and their stability just like that.
It got me thinking, is doing your farm work even worth it?
I have heard people who say that they loved doing their farm work, that it was one of the best times of their lives. They made their best friends doing regional work. They loved it so much they stayed for 6 months. I’ve also met people that have made an eye-popping, jaw-dropping amount of money whilst doing their farm work, or people who simply get paid a decent hourly wage and get to work many hours, so in turn can easily save. Its true, people do have positive experiences and a lot of it is based on where you go and the people you meet, and of course, luck.
But the people I come across who have these incredible experiences are few and far between.
There are the farmers that lie about pay, about work, and about signing you off. The farmers who pay you a disgustingly low amount. The farms where the work is so incredibly difficult and back breaking.
Thankfully, the dodgy farmers out there are losing their ability to exploit backpackers in Australia on a working holiday. Very recently, a new law came in which stated that backpackers would only be able to get their second year if they had payslips from their farm and that everything was by the books. This stops backpackers getting very little money cash in hand from dodgy farmers looking to cut costs. But it doesn’t mean that farm work is plain sailing.
I worked for a very legitimate farm. We got paid weekly into our bank accounts. We received payslips. We received superannuation. Despite this, we were still only paid per punnet of raspberries, rather than hourly, meaning it was incredibly hard to earn more than an average of $12 an hour unless you had been there for a long time. And on top of this, as casual employees, we could still be laid off at the drop of a hat. And we were. For many others in our position, the search for farm work would begin yet again, so that people could complete their 88 days.
88 days is rarely 88 days though. Theres the time it takes to find work and to start work. And if you lose your job, you will need to take time to find more work. What should take 3 months can easily take 6. It is not only myself who has had this sort of experience. I know of some people who went to do farm work back in March. Now, in September, they still have not completed their 88 days simply because they’ve been messed about by farms so much and have to do so much waiting around. All of this time, money, and effort, just for a second year.
Some people may say that it’s not ‘just’ a second year. Its a whole other 12 months to live, work and travel in Australia. And I totally get that. I know when I have to leave Australia I will be gutted. I have absolutely fallen in love with this country. I love the weather, the lifestyle, the culture. I’ve made amazing friends here. Every day I fall in love with this place a little bit more. But the truth is unless you have a specific skill or trade, it can be hard to find a ‘proper’ job here. Jobs for backpackers, aside from farm work, orientate around hospitality work – which can be great, but can also be unreliable with poor pay – or Sales in some form, which is again great if you have a knack for it, but a struggle if not as it is very target driven and often commission based. Most jobs for backpackers are casual, so just like the farm I worked for, you could lose your job at any time and won’t be paid for sick days. If you are just here to travel and earn some cash this isn’t a problem, but I personally don’t think I can stay in a country for so long without the opportunity to make good money and/or work in something I feel passionate about and want to pursue. A lot of this will depend on the type of person you are and where you’re at in your life, but I can’t help but feel like there is so much more of the world to explore. A second year in Australia is wonderful, but is it worth all the agro that comes with farm work?
I was disappointed with my farm work experience. I’m glad I did it and I don’t regret it at all. I met fantastic people, learnt a lot, and did something which was so outside of my usual experiences which I believe is character building. But everything I was promised did not happen. I saved no money. Not because I wasn’t trying, but because I was being paid such a small amount. I did not get a second year visa because I had to leave before I even got that opportunity. The job itself was repetitive, boring, and stifling. I was stung by thorns and by bees. I was living in a dorm room in a hostel with a noisy bar next door. For me, going and trying to find more farm work after that experience seemed ridiculous. I just wanted to make the most of the time I had left in Australia.
The day after we lost our jobs, we got in our car and drove the 900 miles back to Melbourne. Right now I’m living in a real house, typing this from my double bed in my own room. No, I won’t get to stay here next year, but at least I get to enjoy the rest of my time in Australia in my favourite city, with people I love, drinking fantastic coffee and going to incredible club nights. I’d choose a few months well spent, then another year without any certainty or stability any day.