Found yourself travelling Australia with a Working Holiday Visa (417), but don’t think a year is enough time to see the whole of the great nation? Then why not extend your visa by completing 88 days regional work? Like many other backpackers out there you could find a job in order to earn your second year visa. But before you start looking for your regional work, you should think seriously about what you’re about to do, and from someone who’s been there, you need to ask yourself these questions before you consider doing your 88 days.
Do you want to spend another year in Australia?
The fundamental question attached to the 88 days, if you’re not sure you want to spend another year in Australia, there’s probably no point doing regional work. Unless like quite a few people I’ve met you want to gain your second year and wait to activate it, in which case having the option to return to Australia for another year in the future means it would be worth doing regional work.
Of course if you’re tempted by the idea of a second year but not sure what you’re letting yourself into, why not give it a go just to see if it works out.
However in terms of getting a job and planning your travels around your eighty eight days it is best to be sure about what you’re doing, you can do your 88 days in one go, or you can divide it up and do a couple of stints in two or three places, just make sure what you’re doing counts!
What kind of work do I want to do?
Fruit picking, cattle or sheep station work, mining, pearling and construction are the industries you can work in for your regional work. If you’re a guy with experience in construction you’ll probably find it a lot easier to find your regional work, especially after Cyclone Debbie ripped through the East Coast.
For those of us without experience in these industries, the two most popular are fruit picking and station work. It goes without saying that both of these jobs involve hard work, however depending on your personality one may suit you better than the other.
Fruit picking is the most popular and talked about form of regional work for good and bad reasons. If you choose to go into fruit picking for your regional work make sure you do your research, when I looked into fruit picking I wasn’t convinced I’d walk away with my second year visa, so I opted for station work instead. Fruit picking involves picking fruit or vegetables, maintaining plants, pruning and packing, work is described as repetitive and boring. But if you’re a very social person fruit picking may suit you better because it’s likely you’ll stay at a working hostel with lots of other people. In addition to it being ‘more social’ there’s the fact that you work from 7-3 or 6-4 and can go ‘home’ at the end of the day. Though working hostels have pretty varied reputations, the fact that you have a base to return to which is separate from work is a benefit to fruit picking.
Whereas with station work it’s unlikely that you’ll be near a town, or have much time off for that matter. When I worked at a cattle station I was 136km away from the nearest town, and my bosses only went there occasionally. Working on a cattle station will mean working 7 days a week usually, I think some stations have Sunday’s off but mine didn’t, there is always work to do and it needs to be done everyday. As well as this you’ll be working with the same six or seven people everyday for three months, unsurprisingly it is easy to get on top of each other and if you’re a social butterfly, it’s unlikely this job will suit you. There’s also very little distinction between work and down time, time to yourself is usually meal time and bed time, anything you want to do during your free time like using the Internet or reading a book cuts into these times. Station work is intense, but honestly it’s worth it to gain a better understanding of Australian culture, it also pays better than fruit picking, usually.
Pearling may be an option if you find yourself in Broome or Darwin, this work involves living on a pearling vessel, usually three weeks on and one week off. If you fancy something different and can get your sea legs, pearling might be for you. Mining has a similar work cycle and like station work will involve living in outback Australia.
At the end of the day it depends which work suits you best, none of the options are overly exciting, however there are pros and cons to all of them. I personally chose to hold out for station work because some working hostels don’t offer wifi or bedsheets and some even charge for hot showers.
Heading for the outback and taking my chances finding a cattle station worked for me, but it’s up to you what you work you’re prepared to do for your second year visa.
What do I need to do to prepare for my regional work?
Doing research on the type of regional work you want to do will help you massively, I thoroughly researched fruit picking before deciding it wasn’t for me. I read blog posts, watched YouTube videos, read reviews of working hostels, and decided I wasn’t going to risk wasting my time. When I found a job on a cattle station I tried to find out about the nature of the work but found very little, hence why I’ve written so much about my experience. I suspect not much is written about station work because girls are usually employed as domestics, which technically doesn’t count towards the second year visa, however it is likely that you will do some work on the farm that counts as a station hand, I looked after animals and worked in the yards a few times.
Try to do as much research as you can, particularly about the job you’re taking and what you need for it to be eligible for the second year visa. For fruit picking this will mean whether you are paid enough for it to count, and if you’re going to a working hostel read the reviews to work out if you’re going to be happy there and if you can trust them. Though it is hard to research station work I would suggest making a serious attempt to understand the nature of the lifestyle, look up Jillaroo Jess or Google Jackaroo in order to find out more. My boss dreaded the arrival of the new boys because he thought they wouldn’t have looked up anything about station work, I on other hand had spent six weeks in Winton and learned a bit about station work from the locals, so I had some idea of what I was getting into.
Whatever job you do will be a bit of a culture shock, so don’t be surprised if you feel completely out of your depth. The best way to combat this is to try and research the job or contact other backpackers who have done their regional work as they can give you a good idea of what it’s like.
What should I do before I start work?
Prepare yourself by researching and also buy any clothes, boots or hats you need for the job.
Buy comfort items and little luxuries. Do not attempt to detox from alcohol or chocolate, whatever your vice may be when you start your regional work. I was going to go without alcohol when I joined the cattle station, but by the end of the first day I was in serious need of a beer. When one of the new boys joined he planned to quit smoking and take a detox from alcohol, I told him before he arrived that I gave him until 6:30pm on his first day before he went back on it, and I was right. The next time we went to town he wrote a list asking for cider and baccy.
Honestly regional work is super hard, and the last thing you want to do when you’re doing something hard is to make it harder on yourself. You’re working your butt off, you deserve a treat. Looking back on my regional work it was nothing short of superhuman working 7 days a week, when you’re working that hard you earned that beer at the end of the day.
Get some sleep, unless you have regular days off, you will not get to sleep in or laze about. Enjoy your free time while you can!
Also download films, books, favourite tv shows or any other form of entertainment you enjoy in your down time, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to download stuff whilst working, and when it’s your down time it’s everyone else’s too so you’ll be fighting for that Internet connection if you have one! Some share houses, working hostels and farms don’t have Internet, so get what you need before you get there!
Do I really want to do this?
If you’re not sure or you’re having second thoughts, let your employers know as soon as possible. No one likes doing this, and I am guilty of ghosting an employer myself, but if you change your mind about the job tell your would-be bosses immediately.
Recruiting backpackers for farm work is just as stressful for the farmers as it is for you. For the backpacker it’s taking a massive risk heading to the middle of nowhere in spite of all the horror stories, in order to gain your second year visa. For the farmers it’s inviting strangers into their home and way of life, to train and to trust them with the responsibilities given to them. Also the farmer has to trust you living in their house, driving their vehicles and tending their farm which is their livelihood, it is just as scary and stressful for them as it is for you.
Whilst working at the station we had two would-be members of staff pull out at the last minute, one on the day she was due to be picked up and the other the day before. It wastes everyone’s time and is massively inconvenient when farms make preparations for a new member of staff only for them not to show up, in one of these cases it was my replacement, which meant I had to train another member of staff to cover my role until they found someone else.
If you take the job and find that it’s not working out don’t be afraid to leave, it is best to make sure you’re in a position to support yourself if you do change your mind. One of the new workers who joined as I left had basically forced themselves to see their 88 days through by spending all their money before hand. This is crazy, make sure you have the means to get out and have a back up plan. If working at the station hadn’t worked out for me, I would have gone to Tully or Innisfail and worked as a banana packer. Make sure you have a back up plan, there is no shame if you can’t handle the work, because it is hard. The girl before me only lasted three days at the station, and the girl before her only lasted a month, it doesn’t suit everyone so don’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself wanting to quit.
Even though I found my regional work hard, it was worthwhile and I would do it again. Although my writing about it may not suggest that I enjoyed the experience and found it massively rewarding, so much so that when I left the farm and my bosses signed the 1263 form I couldn’t believe that was all the experience came down to, a measly piece of paper. At the end of the day, all I can tell you is that regional work is hard, do not expect it to be easy and that it is only 88 days, the three months fly by really quickly and you will learn a lot about yourself.
Good luck and thanks for reading!
Looking for regional work or already done it? Let me know your experience in the comments below, also check out my 88 days category for more posts on farm work and what to expect.