When you come to Australia on a working holiday visa (Subclass 417), it is expected that you do 88 days of regional work, farm work or fruit picking, in order to get signed off for a second year to continue working and travelling in Australia.
I wanted to title this post something catchy, a click-bait-y title like “5 REASONS NOT TO DO YOUR FARM WORK IN AUSTRALIA!” But I want this to be a true and authentic account of my last few months. If you find your reasoning buried in my story then great, and please comment your experiences too.
This is why I chose not to do my farm work or fruit picking for my second year:
When I came to Australia I didn’t expect to face such an old fashioned way of thinking. It’s hard to just accept this culture at face value when the rest of the world is fighting so hard to irradiate this kind of negative behaviour. Australia feels like the spoilt child brother of England, left with too much freedom and wealth to know what to do with, and no constructive direction. The result is a country stuck in the past discriminating heavily against foreigners, women, and even the original rightful population.
As well as the employment struggle, Australia is challenging morally, and seems to be very outdated in its racial views, with its homophobia; still obnoxiously outspoken in cafes, on the street, in the workplace. Wherever you go you come across people speaking out against gay rights or the aboriginal communities or ‘pommy’ travellers. That word does my absolute head in, makes me sound like a flipping Pomeranian. And it’s even worse because that’s just how we are treated.
Attempting to integrate was difficult. I should have seen how badly the British have attempted to integrate with the locals since the beginning, how conflicted they seem to be; worshipping British royalty but denying their own people, young travellers following in their footsteps.
“We’re all convicts here, but we made a good country in the end…shame about all those Muslims though.” – a resident of the campsite I lived at in Queensland, on more than one occasion… “Too many slanty eyes up in Cairns, I prefer Townsville.”
It doesn’t matter what qualifications you have, how many years of experience, what your profession is back home, if you’re on that working holiday visa you’re a backpacker and you will work a backpacker job, which usually comes in the form of badly paid, casual bar work, a shifty deal you found on Gumtree or manual labour. I think my main issue with work is that as entitles as it sounds, I have invested far too much time and money into college and university, and worked far too much already, to be treated like an idiot.
Before I came here I spent hours and hours and so much hard-earned money on creating a stunning resume and portfolio in hopes of finding a position in an Australian graphic design studio, and custom wrote and mailed dozens of letters to the best creative designers I could find, to have pretty much zero response. I have spoken to many other backpackers who have had the same problem; designers, yoga instructors, chefs, you name it. The working holiday visa restricts you to a maximum of six months with the same company, and there is no value in temporary things it seems, so no-one wants to hire you, making it very difficult to work and travel.
I have given my entire savings and inheritance to Australia, and it’s not that I expect some kind of gratitude or good karma in return, but I also didn’t expect to feel this scammed.
A lot of people we have encountered here appear so secluded and oblivious to the progression of the rest of the world. It is like being stuck in the 80s (and not really in a good way). Maybe I should have been stronger and said something to the couple in the coffee shop when they were ignorantly discussing the inconvenience of gay marriage, as if it affected their lives in any way. Maybe I should have said something to the man unnecessarily prodding the cattle in his truck on the way to the slaughterhouse, maybe I should have said more to the owner of the buffalo camp when they ignored our requests to be paid for the work that we had done and the time we spent at their camp, while they generally treated us with very little respect, or even acknowledgement at all.
Seriously, if you get a job offer from a buffalo catching camp in Arnhemland called Bishops Bore, do not take it. I’ll write a review later on, they are not good people and it’s not at all worth the trouble.
Despite the negatives, I have learned a lot from coming here. Even within the safety of a Westernised country there are challenges and trials of strength you wouldn’t expect from a trip to Australia. You’ll find out how others really feel, even if it’s not what they’re saying. And you’ll find out how you really feel, even if it’s not what you’re saying. You’ll feed yourself hopeful stories of seeing what no-one else will see, you’ll feed yourself the over-marketed scenarios of surfing and skydiving, seeing the great barrier reef before it all dies.
You’ll spend all your savings and more on this so-called adventure, and you’ll be grateful for it. You’ll make stupid decisions to do your farm work for just enough money to stay on the farm or in the hostel until the end of your 88 days and hope they sign off your second year and don’t take too much advantage in the process. You’ll do it all just so you can buy yourself another year to play over this struggle all over again.
By doing this I have realised (or rather solidified the fact) that this world owes me absolutely nothing. In a heartbeat you can end up with nothing, regardless of any effort you’ve spent or good karma you think you’re owed. All of a sudden you will be alone with no money and you’ll have to hold yourself up against everything else trying to hold you down. This is the strength I have grown from being here, and because of this I do not regret this trip at all. Honestly, being in Australia has fostered a lot of negativity in me too, be that because of the personal decisions I have made or from external influences. As much as I reject the idea that travel will fix your flaws and naturally create a better version of yourself, I am looking forward to finding the space to evolve in a more positive, or at least new and fresh, setting.
Going to Australia feels a bit like giving money to an addict, you may have good intentions but it just ends up feeling like a waste of your time and energy. I’m guessing your goal for coming to this beautiful country is not to be treated like trash by idiotic country types the world left behind thirty years ago. There are so many horror stories of people doing their regional work; we are all telling our stories of abuse, harassment, (often sexual), terrible work conditions and terrible people. Not that I ever think it is the victims fault for putting themselves in the situation of abuse, but listen to advice you are given. There are other ways to gain access to Australia, don’t put yourself in a compromising situation just to be allowed your second year working holiday visa.
Everyone loves the idea of Australia being an exotic land to find freedom and fairy-tales, but for whatever reasons I have regrettably not found these things in the last year and I will be happy to move on, if a little sad to say goodbye to other backpackers and the pockets of positivity I did manage to find along the way. All that being said, there are many good people within these borders and amazing things to see. There is hope tucked behind train stations in arty workshops and in poets and local bands and hidden down painted alleyways and in secret bars, in amazing Italian food and espresso martinis. Also Australian coffee is pretty damn good. I wish I could convey the immense beauty of this land, the things I have learnt, the sights I have seen, the experiences I have encountered. There is a certain despair in not being able to share all of this, only the ability to tell others to just…come here. But that never works; it is a request only ever met with expressions of limited finances, time restraints, family commitments, work… No-one ever has this on their ‘realistic priorities’ list, so the best I can do is write. The traffic lights sound like lightsabers, car parks have lights to show which spaces are taken, there are ice cream parlours everywhere and they all have a good selection of dairy free options.
I’m sure people do find happiness and wonder here. I would just recommend experiencing it on a tourist OR work visa instead.