Before returning to blogging about waterfalls and beaches, I want to get honest for a second and spend a few posts talking about the shit bits of this whole experience (and a few redeeming qualities too). First up is work, then family. This post is about the working requirements for extending a 417 visa, and whether or not it’s worth it.
Firstly, if you’re coming from the UK, and you want to stay two years, be prepared to enter the scam that is agricultural work. Yes, you may be aware you’ll have to pick fruit, but were you aware that the farmers partner with local travel agents, making it impossible to get a job unless you pay said travel agents either a portion of your weekly paycheck or a hefty upfront fee? Yes, that’s right, YOU have to pay your employer to do work for them.
On top of this, to save money, farms won’t hire you unless you agree to live on their premises. Sometimes it’s a big farm, and they have a nice hostel set up with real beds, clean water, and sometimes even a bar. NOT all of them. Olly and I showed up at one, fully prepared to work, only to be told we didn’t have a bed, just a double-sized vinyl mat that was somehow supposed to fit on a single-sized bed frame, and hopefully we brought the right sized sheets? The accommodation was literally a shed - you know those corrugated iron things people might keep horses in? The “kitchen” was an outdoor patio with a few gas fired ranges and a fridge marked with the biohazard symbol - one of the girls there said you could feel the pesticides rolling off the lime trees on to your skin all day. The showers and toilets, for which you had to supply your own toilet paper, were open to the elements and set off to the side of the camp with no lighting in between. It was four meters away from a pond filled with snakes and poisonous creepy crawlies.
We ate dinner in a dirty McDonald’s that night, and with a cockroach crawling around in one corner, I dragged that dinner out as long as I possibly could because I was scared to leave a place that was so much nicer and cleaner than what we had to go back to.
To summarise - we had to pay $300 each to be placed at this farm, where we would have been paid the minimum agricultural wage MINUS $160 per week for the privilege of living in this paradise. This farmer was making around $15,000 a month off “accommodation” that had one tap for drinking water about a foot off the ground. You can’t work when it rains (it’s wet season, and has rained every day since Christmas) but you still have to pay for accommodation. Those days when you don’t work also don’t count towards extending your visa, so be prepared for your “three months” to be dragged out much longer! It WILL cost you to enter this horrible system, so plan your funds accordingly (and try to check out the farm in advance - TRUST ME, you will want to stay somewhere with air conditioning).
So, we didn’t end up staying at that farm obviously. Hannah graciously accepted us back and said bluntly, “why don’t you just get normal people jobs?”
So I did. And now here come the perks of working in Australia...
I got a job at a tour booking centre, where as part of my job, I get to try all the local excursions. That’s right, part of my job is to try snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, or riding in a cable car over the Daintree Rainforest. I work part time and get paid more on average per month than I was paid working my Ops job at home. You know, the one that had me crying daily tears of frustration and turning to G&Ts on weekdays? The one that had me balancing literally 10 companies and working through lunch most days, but not being able to save enough money to get out of a hostile living situation?
Yeah, now this is my view from work. I don’t even need coffee anymore.
So, those are a few things to be aware of when planning work on your working holiday. Everyone will of course have their own experience, and I’m sure it differs wildly year-to-year and between the different states of Australia. But regardless of where you go, there’s just the fact that Oz fits the stereotype - it’s hella laid back, and the work is too. This is what makes me more suited to Essex than Cairns. Personally, I quite like a job that stresses me out a little. It means there’s enough people and processes counting on me to facilitate them. I could never work this tour booking center job or live a life this laid back in the long-term. So what’s next? Hopefully finding a middle ground between beautiful boredom and so much stress that I feel dead inside and only a Nespresso machine can revive me.