It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the travel diary front, but I’ve been working on some other blog stuff in the mean time. In case you missed them, I wrote a Gap Year Gift Guide and a Guide to Australian Working Holidays (pretty proud of that one!). I’ve also added an email subscriber box (exciting), so if you’re interested in hearing updates and announcements from Bohemiance, you can add your email in the box at the top!
But anyway, what’s been going on?
A few beers in Byron
Well, the last couple of weeks have been a bit different from the weeks before. First of all, we spent an awesome week in Byron Bay, the hippie capital of the East Coast (which I loved, surprise surprise). It was very overpriced, very hipster, with artisan coffee and vintage shops and organic free-range gluten-free vegan juice bars on every corner.
It was awesome.
We stayed in Nomads for the first few days, part of a chain of hostels across Oz, and something of a party hostel. We got a room all to ourselves (yesssss!) and proceeded to join in with all the prescribed activities that come along with big party hostels (beer/goon pong, free barbecue, nights out, movie nights etc). Most of the time in those first few days was pretty much spent lounging around – laying on the beach, laying in bed, laying in front of the TV all day watching America make a terrible terrible decision about who to elect as president… and so on.
After those first few days, the entirety of Byron Bay’s hostels got mysteriously fully booked for the weekend. Luckily the Canadians had an Air Bnb booked out with some RAAF guys they had met in Darwin, which they graciously let us crash in for a few days.
The sofa was very comfy.
The apartment also had an oven (!!!), free wifi, free washing facilities, and a balcony, so it was a pretty magical few days in the life of a backpacker.
That long weekend was unsurprisingly spent drinking a lot of beer, going out, being hungover, and eating delicious oven-cooked food. We didn’t leave the apartment much (why would we, when we had everything we could possibly need?!), except for a quick swim in the sea in the mornings, and perhaps a shopping trip during the day.
It was great to meet some real-life Australians (you’d be surprised at how few of those you meet along the backpacker trail) and have a bit of luxury in our lives for a while. But sadly, it had to come to an end, and before we knew it we were packing up and on the move once more. The boys had to go back to work to fix some planes or whatever it is they do, and we had to move on from Byron.
This was the first point in the trip where our aims have differed substantially. The Canadians were looking now for some long-term work; Phea and I were looking for something to do for a month before we were due in Melbourne for Christmas, and Annie was off home, back to the UK (boo cry). In the end, the others went back up to Surfers’ Paradise, and I decided to carry on south, seeing as I didn’t love Surfers’ all that much.
Now fast forward a couple of weeks. Annie is home, doing all the fun things that there are to do when home, like wearing a coat, sleeping in a room without five other strangers, and buying food that isn’t at least 200% more expensive than necessary. Phea and Hill are living it up in Surfers, with what seems like about three jobs each (which looks really fun). Allie and Emma have flown to Adelaide, to explore a new city and find a job. As for me? I got only one stop south on the Greyhound before I found a place I liked and ended up pausing here for a while.
A New Home in Coff’s Harbour
I’m staying in a place called Coff’s Harbour, in a wonderful hostel called Aussitel. When I arrived, the owner Gary didn’t just pick me up from the bus stop – he took me on a little guided tour of Coff’s, and we went up to the lookout where you can see the harbour, the jetty and the mountains the other side. I instantly decided that I loved it, and I’ve been staying here ever since.
Gary and Cherie, who own and run the place, are an older Aussie couple, who are standing in as everyone’s substitute mum and dad. They make you feel welcome as soon as you arrive; they know everyone’s names and dole out advice and wisdom in equal measure. There’s an activity every morning and evening here: anything from hanging out on the beach or paddle boarding on the creek, to trips further afield, spotting kangaroos or taking a look at the rainforest.
Another appeal of staying here was the promise of a quick-start farming job. If I want to stay in Australia for a second year (which I’m on the fence about at the moment), I have to complete 88 days of farm work during my first year here. Everyone I’ve met has told me that it’s definitely a good idea to get that out of the way as soon as humanly possible, so I thought: what a great opportunity! I have a month with not much planned, I’m in a place that I really like – what do I have to lose by doing a few weeks’ hard manual labour?
Well, nothing. Except it hasn’t worked out like that.
Gary warned me when I first arrived that the farmers round here (and possibly all over Australia?) treat backpackers pretty badly. They are mean and they have no loyalty and they pay terribly.
Turns out this is all true.
My First Foray into Farming
I rang up one of the farmers (hilariously named Ron) within my first few days here, and was told I could start the next day. Result! So I got up bright and early, dressed in my scruffy farming clothes, and went to wait outside for the bus at 6.40am. No sleep? No problem.
The bus was late, inevitably, but gradually a few more people came out of the hostel, apparently waiting for the same farmer. It got to 7 o’clock and there were about six of us there, waiting. Gary the hostel owner came out with his morning coffee, and told me wryly that the bus normally shows at about 7.20, if it shows at all.
Sure enough, 7.25 and there was the bus: a rickety old thing like a small, beat-up school bus. My impatience evaporated as we climbed aboard: I was about to earn my first money of the trip, what was a forty minute wait in the morning? I said a sunny ‘Good Morning!’ to the driver, and was greeted with a less-than-sunny silence. We trundled along to the farm and all piled out, amidst some grumblings that we had come to the ‘worst farm’ – because it was on a steep hill, and the fruit was less than abundant, apparently.
Never mind, I thought; hopefully this would mean it could only get better from here.
Two of us hadn’t worked there before, and I’d never picked fruit before. We weren’t greeted by the farmer, and I had to yell (politely) to get one of his cronies to come and teach me the technique, and tell me what they wanted us to do. Not off to a great start, but I could shake it off.
It was probably half 8 or 9 o’clock before I started picking, so I had a bit of ground to make up. Still, I was optimistic, so I stuck my headphones in and started piling blueberries into buckets. You wear the buckets attached to a kind of belt round your waist, which is one of the more sweaty and uncomfortable working arrangements I’ve encountered. In general it’s very sweaty work, actually. You’re under the full heat of the sun, with no shade, exerting yourself no small amount to pick those berries, and pick them fast. You have to crouch to get the ones at the bottom of the bush, and physically part the branches to get to the ones in the middle. You’re going as fast as you can because you only make $6 per bucket, and that’s before tax, and each bucket works out at roughly 2.2 kilos each. So it’s hard work.
But hard physical work is not something I mind. I’ve worked as a cleaner before, and that’s hard work; I’ve worked on a farm before, and that’s hard work. It’s not the work that is the problem. It’s all the effort you expend, only to get complaints that you’re picking fruit that is too small, or too soft; that you’re picking too slowly or your fruit is damaged. Don’t shake the bucket, you’ll damage your fruit; don’t pick it out with your hands, because you’ll damage your fruit. Sporadically, the farm cronies will come round and examine what you’ve got in you bucket, and throw away the stuff they consider not good enough.
It’s pretty relentless. And if I’m painting an extreme picture, that’s because it’s accurate. I am a tough person, and I have a very positive attitude towards most things, but I also have a low tolerance for people who are not polite, or friendly, or kind – because it’s so unnecessary. It costs nothing to smile, or make someone feel welcome, and you’ll sure as hell get a better work rate from people who are happy to work for you.
I still went back the next day, or tried to. But the bus didn’t show up. We rang up and they told us there was ‘a problem’, and that there would be no bus the day after, either. I chalked it up to a bad job – fuming that I’d got ready to work for no reason – and enjoyed my days off. Monday was worse. Monday the bus came – and actually on time for once – but set off without me, despite the other girls telling them that I was coming. I was about thirty seconds behind them.
That was a pretty hard day. There I was, ready to work, keen to earn money, happy to put up with the terrible working relationship and tough conditions, yet the lack of consistency, communication and downright honesty had held me back. It sounds daft, I know, but those few days had me almost ready to pack it in and just go somewhere else.
But don’t worry. I did eventually work a couple more days for Ron before deciding that it was hardly even worth the effort, and I’m now awaiting a job on a more reputable farm (thank GOD). Most of the people in the hostel are working for this farm – it’s the biggest producer of blueberries in Australia – and they have a branch in Tasmania too, which I might end up taking advantage of further down the line. I’m being patient, and also taking advantage of this free time I have to start building on my blog (so watch this space!).
It’s actually nice, anyway, spending a bit more time in one place, getting to know the people who live and work here, and feeling a little bit at home. Everyone here is so friendly, and there’s a great sense of community. The only disadvantage of not currently having a job is that pretty much two thirds of the hostel get up at 4.30am, leave by 5, get back between 3 and 5pm and are in bed by about 9 to repeat the whole process.
So hopefully soon I can get my arse into gear, get a job and make some money. Bring it on!
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