On 2nd November 2018 we left the farm that we had called home for nearly 6 months. The reason we were working on a farm for 88 days was to be eligible for a second year in Australia.
You may or may not know that in Australia, there is the option to extend your Working Holiday Visa by a further 12 months. All you have to do is complete 88 days regional work with employers registered in most postcodes. Sounds simple right?
Most people work doing fruit picking though there are other jobs that you can do.
I will publish a post at another time about finding a job, but in this post, I wanted to talk about my personal experience of the 88 days. I wanted to show you that not all experiences of the 88 days are horror stories.
I was terrified to start the farm work because of the things I had heard.
Unfortunately, most backpackers do have negative experiences of farm work in Australia due to exploitation, lack of regulations and an unfair reporting system when you are being unfairly (and illegally) treated.
There is a lot wrong with the system and there are so many farms being investigated by the Ombudsman but unfortunately it is that widespread that it’s hard to find a legitimate farm who treat you fairly and don’t disregard your basic human rights.
I completed my 88 days in the same place the whole way through. This is easier, but not compulsory. It was near Noosa, QLD and was a Ginger Farm. I was in the factory for my entire time working there.
There was a couple of share-houses where almost all of the backpackers would live. We had a better deal than most farm-workers but the share houses aren’t always ideal. The landlord told everyone that you can’t work at the farm unless you live in the share-house.
We were in a nice 6-bedroom house, split into 3 areas. Each 2 bedrooms had a mini living room. The house also had a large open-planned kitchen, dining, living room with a pool table that could also be used as a ping-pong table. We had mostly a good group the whole time we lived there. Every now & again there’d be someone who broke the peace but no major house divides or tension. It was a mix of couples, existing friends & singles.
We went on holiday halfway through our farm-work and a few days before we were flying home we rang the landlord asking if there was space for us to move back in or if we had to find somewhere else to live. He told us that there would be space but then filled the house that day (but didn’t tell us). We then received a text just before we left for the airport to fly back saying ‘hope you enjoyed Bali, house is full’. Instead of giving us 5 days to find somewhere to live (the day he knew there would be no space), he waited until we were about to go to the airport and then have a 6 hour flight and not arriving in Brisbane until near midnight on the Tuesday night and had to be in Noosa on Wednesday night to start back at work on Thursday morning. He gave us 1 day notice to find a new home to live in for 3 months knowing that for most of that day we would be travelling without internet or mobile data. He was the worst part of our whole farm experience.
We ended up staying in an Airbnb for a week and a half in Mt Coolum until we could move into a new share-house. We shared the new share-house with a lady and her 2 young daughters every other week and alone in between. It was only an extra 5-minute drive to work but closer to the beach, river, shops & library. We paid the same amount per week in rent as in the old share-house and this was a lot better for us. We also kept our jobs so the ‘you must live here to work’ wasn’t 100% accurate.
When I first started in the factory, the main job was to wash, sort & pack the ginger ready for orders. There were 2 areas that I used to work in predominantly and that was the washer & trimming.
Over time, I also worked on the harvester and then just before my halfway point, we started cutting the seeds for new season. When the seed season finished, we went back to just using the washer, trimming & the harvester.
The job itself is not something I would have personally chosen to do if it wasn’t for wanting to earn the second-year visa however, I actually enjoyed being there. The locals that worked there were characters, mostly with big personalities and there were a few in particular that I really loved.
The work was repetitive and often boring but some would find little ways to entertain themselves and others for a few minutes at a time. Sometimes, it was dirty jokes or inappropriately shaped pieces of ginger, dancing along to the radio or winding someone up.
I ended up actually doing 95, 7 more than the 88 days required. I suppose that means it can’t have been that bad, right?
Friends or Foes
A lot of the backpackers ended up feeling more like family than friends. Couples, singles & friends, everyone found the people who they matched with but even overall, there was almost always a good vibe. I honestly believe I’ve made some great friends for life from sharing our trials and triumphs over the time we lived and worked together.
Now, because of the Ginger Factory, I have friends that were born in France, Germany, Northern Ireland, Japan, Argentina, Italy, Australia & more.
It was quite an intense situation looking back on the share-house. There were between 14 to 20 people not only working together all day but then sharing the car ride home and then living together. Eating dinner together, cleaning up dishes together (those who did……) and drinking together. We were literally together practically 24/7.
The only break we got from each other was when we would go off to our rooms but if you were a single or a group of friends you are potentially sharing with people that wouldn’t necessarily be your first choice.
We were lucky in that when we lived there, it was very laid-back. Most people were couples and those that were single had the same chilled vibe. We were all friends and the maturity of the group was high even though the ages ranged between 21-31. I know that I will still be friends with some of the ginger family in years to come.
Day 1/88: As if my stress wasn’t high enough, my first day wasn’t the smooth ‘let me blend in and learn quickly’ moment that I had hoped for. In true, ‘don’t make a show of yourself despite having your first day in a job you have less than no experience of’ style, I fainted in my first session on my first day. Yes. I actually collapsed before my morning break (which was only 2.5 hours after the start time). It doesn’t end there either. They rang an ambulance because of health and safety, which by the time it arrived, was morning break so everyone who worked there, local & backpacker, saw me on a stretcher with 2 paramedics attaching heart monitors to me to perform an ECG. Way to make a first impression!!
Day 3/88: The boss’ Dad (family business) said ‘you got quite good pretty fast” which is definitely a compliment from him!
Day 19/88: I got to work my first Sunday morning shift. In the farm we were on, this counted as a full day despite not being a full 8 hours – other farms may differ.
Day 20/88: My first go on the Harvester meaning there is another thing I can now do to break up my day and not just trimming and washing.
Day 28/88: Frogs seemed to be everywhere. Dead and alive. Coming through the machines, jumping around the factory, just everywhere. It breaks up the day though, a couple of minutes of excitement is what you live for when you’re doing the same thing for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week!
Day 30/88: The landlord told me that he heard the boss is happy with me so it was a major confidence boost. It must be true too because he wouldn’t have made up something good about me because in his own words “I hate pommies, hahaha”.
Day 31/88: I can’t find my glasses anywhere and now the repetitive work is giving me eye-strain so by the end of the day everything is blurry and I have a dreadful headache. I have to book an eye test and get new ones ASAP.
Day 37/88: It is the start of the seed season and I was the first new backpacker to be trained. It was really easy if you already know which colours are good.
Day 42/88: The quarantined seed factory opened and I was there for day 42 & 43. 8 hours of just cutting seeds. The novelty wears off quickly.
Day 60/88: Got chosen as 1 of 4 to stay behind on the Friday to do an extra job at overtime rate, woop! Anything we worked after 38 hours in a week we got time & a half so loved getting given extra jobs to do to try and get an extra 10 or 15 minutes pay!
Day 75/88: Really fed up. Wanting it to just be over already. Sick. Tired. Bored. The middle of a heatwave. Over it.
Day 88/88: MY LAST NECESSARY DAY!!! Though I cried in session 3 because not everything is kind or fair.
Day 89/88: Blamed for something that wasn’t my fault and cried again. Wondering why I’m still there.
Day 95/88: I’M FINISHED. Our last day. Was a lovely, yet long day. Got a really warm goodbye from the locals and our boss. I’m actually going to miss it. It’s not the job I’d want to do forever, I think everyone knows that, but I’m glad that we did it & I’m glad we were at this farm. Now though, it’s adventure time!
It wasn’t my dream job. It hurt my hands. I cried a fair few times. There were times I wanted to quit. Everything felt sad at one point. I questioned why I was there.
Sometimes I felt under-appreciated. It wasn’t always a positive workplace to live in. I felt inferior on a regular basis. The work was so repetitive that 5 minutes often felt closer to an hour.
I made brilliant friends. I got to live on the Sunshine Coast for 7 months. Millions of memories were made. Our boss was brilliant, kind & fair. I learned resilience.
My self-confidence improved over time. I literally had no experience and I became not only sufficient, but proficient. Our supervisors were sad to see both of us go, not just Jack (despite my inferiority complex convincing me otherwise). I showed myself that I was capable of learning quickly and not just at something academic.
We were all in it together, the glances as you happened to look over at a friend at the same time as they did and pulling a face, knowing you weren’t alone. I’m going to miss that.
Would I do it again? Not straight away but maybe not never! If I needed work quickly, I’d feel happy to ring them and ask for a job. I don’t regret doing the farm work at all. I’d 100% recommend doing it if you are even just considering spending more time in Australia.