This usually means farm work in some capacity: from fruit picking, to vine pruning, to tree planting.
There is a clear mentality among backpackers that this something to be dreaded. And definitely that it’s something that you should ‘get out of the way’ as quickly as possible. The phrase ’88 days a slave’ is often bandied about.
(Not saying I endorse the phrase, just saying it’s used a lot.)
But my experience has actually challenged that assumption. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have (shock) quite enjoyed myself in the process. It has definitely helped that my employers (at least the west coast ones) have been genuinely great people: kind and honest and fair. And having good people around me has made the experience infinitely better – even on a good day it wouldn’t be as fun without friends.
But I’ve also liked doing the work itself, for what it is.
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I actually like working outdoors
Shock of the century: manual labour jobs can actually be fun!
There is something great about the simplicity of working on a farm. You get up early, do some (usually monotonous) task for 8 or so hours, and then go home again. And repeat.
It’s invigorating to work out in the elements, feel the breeze on your face, and work an ache into your arms. You’re tired at the end of the day, but at least you always feel like you’ve achieved something. Even if that something is “Today I picked 150 kilograms of grapes.”
And for me, farm work has also hammered home an important realisation that has been a long time coming:
I don’t need to wear make up.
This has made my life infinitely better!
(I apologise profusely to all those people over the years who have tried and failed to teach me this. You were totally right).
Working outside forces you to become tougher
The downside of working outdoors is that it ain’t always sunny in Australia.
I worked through the south-western winter, and boy when it rains does it rain.
Before I came to Oz I sort of didn’t really believe that they knew what a winter was. I dismissed my Aussie friends who told me that yep, it does get cold here – thinking that they probably meant it got cold enough to need to wear a jumper out or something.
But nope. It gets cold. And there ain’t no cold colder than a 7am frost when you have to use your bare hands to pick grapes off a vine.
Through the wind and the frost and the rain, we worked it all because we wanted to get our farm days signed off. And while I wasn’t always thrilled at the sound of rain drumming on the roof when I struggled out of bed, I went to work anyway.
I think it’s a good life lesson to continue to do things despite challenging external circumstances.
It has got me fit and healthy
A perk of the job if you will. No office job can boast this beneficial side effect. I’ve spent the past three months being up and about for the whole working day, and I am definitely a fan.
I’ve taken full advantage of the outdoor lifestyle to sort out my diet (bye bye 2 minute noodles), and give my liver a much needed rest. After several months of boozing in Melbourne and down the east coast, it was certainly a welcome change.
(At times I’ve also used the outdoor lifestyle as an excuse to eat junk and do no exercise whatsoever, but there are always those down days…)
It’s given me time and space to learn and pursue new things
This is a very personal point, but I’ve used the time I’ve spent farming to my advantage. There’s not a whole lot to do in rural Australia (when you also want to save money), so I’ve been putting my evenings to good use.
It’s not always made me the most sociable person, but I am truly grateful to have had the time and space to do this.
More generally though, the time you spend working on a farm can easily turn into something similarly useful.
It’s easy to spend the evenings sprawled on the couch in the telly room, I know. But you can still do that while also devoting a couple of hours a day to something else. Learn a new language or do an online course; write something; read something.
The hours on the farm have also been a good excuse to listen to a whole lot of podcasts. Eight hours in a working day provides a lot of opportunity to learn new stuff – whether it’s about the habits and strategies of highly successful people, or a little bit of coffee break Spanish!
(Admittedly I’ve also listened to several series of My Dad Wrote a Porno, which has at times made me look a bit deranged, bursting out with laughter at seemingly random intervals…)
I’ve saved up a shit load of money…
A transparently economic point, but farm work can actually be quite lucrative.
Of course, everyone is searching for those golden unicorns (the mythical hourly paid farm job), but even picking fruit can work out pretty good money if you just work hard.
Or at least, if you work hard and figure out how to work with the system.
And again, as most farm jobs are out in the sticks, it’s pretty easy to save up. There aren’t too many expensive cocktail bars in rural Donnybrook, WA. The biggest expenditure I’ve had has been the weekly trip to our favourite coffee shop in the next town over.
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I’ve seen it as an opportunity to bank some serious dollar for my next stint of travel. And that’s some pretty good motivation to work hard.
Now of course I fully accept that regional work is not many people’s favourite Australia experience. There are a lot of times when people are stuck in poorly-paying jobs, with pretty dire conditions. There is undeniably a downside to the fact that when needs must, people have to settle for a job that is not worth their while in order to get the sought-after second year.
And yes, the country does have a lot else to offer. I would be lying if I said that I preferred Donnybrook to Melbourne.
But, that being said, I think a change of mindset can also be helpful.
Seeing farm work as an opportunity rather than a drag has made this three months absolutely fly by. I have been lucky to find a good job that I enjoy, but there are upsides to many farm jobs. Whether it’s meeting new people, getting the opportunity to learn about a new industry, or being able to listen to music, audiobooks or podcasts all day, it’s definitely not all bad.
I just wanted to share this story to add a sprinkle of positivity into what is often a very negative space. Farm work can be fun!
You just need a dash of luck, a positive attitude, and some good people around you.