My first and worst experience of farm work in Australia.

The photo speaks a million words.

Where do I begin.. After an incredible 2 weeks in Sydney for Christmas, it was quickly followed by 2 weeks in hell. We picked up a friend in Orange who was in the same boat as us. We were all looking to get our 88 days done early so we could score our second year. First stop, Hillston NSW. The worst mistake we could have made. As this was our first farm we had no idea what to expect. We went in and spoke to the farm manager and he wanted a $140 bond upfront which we were all reluctant to pay, but being short on cash we all paid it as well as a weeks worth of rent. By this point, we were all panicking because we had to borrow money from friends/family. Feeling very low at this point we got into our room and just tried to stay positive as we were starting work tomorrow! As we all knew it was going to be a long day and an early start we decided to make dinner and our lunch for tomorrow early. Good thinking we thought, but no we got into the kitchen and there was no cooking utensils and a lack of kitchen appliances. We did the best we could and headed to bed to get an early night. 5 AM we’re up and raring to go. gloves, hat, water lets do this! we followed another car down to the farm through thick orange dirt. We arrived and were given our kangaroo bags for the fruit we were going to pick, which were oranges. As we walk down the row we all notice hundreds of spiders hanging from the trees, above the trees, everywhere we all just gave each other a look as if to say ‘this isn’t for us’. Lynchy decided orange picking wasn’t for him and decided to sit in the car. Myself and my boyfriend Ben decided even though we were not happy about it we’d give it a go. I lasted 3 hours because I had a breakdown and started crying and gave up. At this point my legs were covered in mosquito bites and there were flies all over me. I was a broken woman so I joined Lynchy in the car and we thought about our next move. I then dragged Ben away an hour later and we drove back. Between us we had done about 8 hours work and had earned $35 each which was barely enough for a nights rent. Together we all made a few phone calls to various different working hostels to see if they could take on 3 broken backpackers. Luckily we got a break in Mildura but first we had to try and get out money back from this hostel. Unfortunately, they refused to give us our $140 bond back but refunded our rent. At this point we were all $140 down and fed up but we headed for Mildura.

After reading horror stories about Mildura and farmers not paying backpackers and various other issues we didn’t get our hopes up. We arrive at Mildura city backpackers, the house was nice and there was only 8 of us in the house which was great and again we started work the next day. The farm was an hours drive away which seemed a bit drastic but it was work so we couldn’t complain. We met with the main farmer and he was really nice. He wanted us to tape buds onto stems. He paid us hourly for our first day but then said it would go to piece rate after that which was 35c per stem which wasn’t much at all. Unfortunately, we were not suitable for the job and he said he didn’t have the time to train us. We were a little downhearted but understood where the farmer was coming from. He made us do other work around the farm for the rest of the day so we got a full days pay which was really nice. We get back to the hostel and let them know we need other work and the reply we got was that they would look for more work for us. A few days passed and nothing so I took a quick look on Gumtree. I found an ad for maintaining almond trees. I gave the farmer a call and he said we could start tomorrow which was great. We got to the farm and he explained what we had to do which was, cut the rope from the tree, pull out the supporting wooden stake and reposition it in the ground and then re-tie the tree to the stake. Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? We lasted two days and earned $120 which compared to the oranges wasn’t that bad but we were working i40-degreeee heat with no shade and earning 35c per tree. Between 5 of us we managed to do 1200 trees in that time. The hostel manager then said that he still didn’t have any work for us so decided to leave.
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By pure luck we came across a working hostel called ‘One Life Live It House’ which was incredible. as soon as we walked in we all just looked at each other and smiled. We could definitely see ourselves doing our 88 days here. This is where it gets sexist. I was put on an orange farm with about 5 other girls. Again I was earning $40 a day for 6 hours work. Whereas my boyfriend was put on a watermelon farm earning $22 an hour. The work that was offered to me was always piece rate which you just can’t earn any money from doing and I had rent and food to pay for and I didn’t want to rely on my boyfriend. He was offered various jobs that were all hourly paid at least $20 or more. I know women are not always as capable as men to do various jobs but these farmers were not even willing to give the girls a go. Which is disgusting. I’m fit and strong and more than capable to do anything my boyfriend can do. After having an amazing week at the hostel, partying and meeting some amazing people/animals we decided to leave because of the work. As a three we just decided we no longer wanted our second year. The boys didn’t want it because they thought it was unfair on me and the work was really hard in the heat. And I didn’t want my second year because the work was sexist and there was no way I could live earning that little. Before our 2 weeks in Sydney over Christmas we were in Cairns working various casual jobs. This being our best option we drove 34 hours to Cairns. A road trip I will never forget but that’s a whole other story. After 3 days on the road and picking up another friend from the tablelands who has a fruit picking horror story of his own we finally arrived. Two weeks on brings us to now and we are all settled getting loads of work. Although some of the clients don’t want girls working for them I push and say to them just give me a go if you don’t think I can do the work send me home so they give me a trial and to this day I have never been sent home from a job. Which just proves women can do jobs just as good as men!

AVOID MILDURA AND HILLSTON!

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One comment

  1. I’ve been in the backpacker industry for over 10 years running work teams in SA and I’ve heard the same types of stories about those regions over and over again. Backpackers take notice of these posts and be cautious ask around and speak to other fellow backpackers. Whenever anyone has been concerned I’ve given them one of the backpackers working already numbers so they can double check and feel more comfortable . Good luck keep safe and don’t be afraid to move on after such a bad experience. Always aim for hourly paid work and be careful of promises made for piece rate

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