If you didn’t know already, a requirement needed to apply for an Australian Second Working Holiday Visa is the fulfilment of 3 months specified work in a designated region. This interesting little clause was created with the intention of aiding economic growth in the primary sector by offering cheap labor to some of the countries lesser-visited communities. I’ve been in Australia for over two years now and was wise enough to undergo the task as soon as I’d arrived, but I’ve met many who’ve missed the opportunity and have had to lie to Immigration in order to be approved by either forging the necessary documents or bribing crooked farmers. Although I’m slightly bitter that they’ve managed to get away with it, a part of me pities them for missing out on a vital part of the Australian Working Holiday experience. Out of those I’ve met who have fulfilled the requirements for the visa, only a small percentage have done so through anything outside of WWOOF’ing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) or paid agricultural work. I did mine through the latter. I had romanticized the idea of farming long before my arrival, expecting to find a degree of content in the humble life. I dreamt of hunting stories from the outback, roaring thunderstorms that crept over the vast ranges and good hard work rewarded each night with an ice-cold beer and hearty meal under the stars.
The adventure began on May 5th, 2013 after a ten-hour bus journey up north to Bundaberg, a small town famed for it’s rum production and not a whole lot more. All there was to offer were a handful of backwater bars filled with morose individuals, one nightclub teeming with rednecks and desperate singles, and a few well-kitted gyms that had been seized by steroid addicted teenagers. Despite the unappealing aspects of this odd little community, there was plenty of work as long as you knew where to look.
The town was silent when the bus pulled up, exactly what one would expect after a tedious journey passing through nothing but bush land. It wasn’t long after sunset the dimly streets were empty as I wandered alone. It took a while for me to find my bearings, but when I had, I made for the town center a little further on from the station. The tranquility of evening was diminishing with each step as a faint hum of music could be heard in the distance. I walked to the beat until I found a dingy pub at the corner of town and in thick green letters the words ‘The Grand Hotel’ were written along a yellow stonewall. I knew I had found my place when I looked up at the veranda. Swarms of backpackers had gathered on the walkway, pumping out music from their rooms as they passed around cups of goon and hand rolled cigarettes, all of them welcoming me in as I passed through the hallways hoping to check-in. Unfortunately reception was closed for the night, but with encouragement from the other guests I found a place on the floor and waited until morning for the manager to come back, spending one of the better nights of my life partying with a new group of friends until that time.
A week passed by and I had established myself as both a long-term guest and a welcomed addition to the friendly group of backpackers. Having paid my dues, I was put to work on a Zucchini farm a little outside of town that paid $2.50 for every bucket load of fruit that you picked. Considering myself a hard worker, I was optimistic about the pay per bucket scheme and believed I could easily earn a decent wage from it. The bus would leave at 5am the following day, dropping us off just before sunrise and returning for pick-up at 3pm. For the first time in a week I stayed off the booze in order to get a decent nights rest.
‘Zucchinis!’ An obnoxious voice shouted out over and over again, rounding us up for the hard days work ahead. The rain came crashing down on to the gravel-floored car park as we waited in darkness, finding shelter under some old abandoned farmyard machinery. I realised this wasn’t going to be at all like I’d expected when the first farmer jumped out of his expensive white range rover and began shouting racist commands to some of the Asian and Italian workers. From that point on everything turned around. My high hopes of the humble life had vanished in an instant as I witnessed the exploitation of foreign workers by ignorant morons. The supervisors used intimidation to keep us going, and often resorted to threats of violence or deportation to any of those who would step out of line. You were lucky to pick more than 5 buckets a day, and out of those 5 the crooked owners would always deduct 1 or 2 on whim, claiming that they contained rotten fruit. I lasted a week, and although the treatment of workers improved with each new job I started, the work was often terribly painful, poorly paid or there’d be at least one person who’d have it in for you. I did everything from sorting chopped chilies to building a house with psychopathic criminals to restoring the irrigation system on a macadamia farm.
Outside of work, my positive perspective of the town also began diminish. I had witnessed my first stabbing, been harassed by ice heads and endured countless bedbug infestations. But despite this, I don’t regret a single day I was there. It was all part of a surreal experience I couldn’t forget, and those that survived it all with me o make it all bearable are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. When it was all over, I came out much wiser and would still recommend it to anyone considering visiting, but not without a full thorough warning first.