How to survive farm work in Australia

My boyfriend (George) has just finished his farm work in Australia.He carried it out in a town called Merbein living for 3 months at a hostel called One Big Family. They all did adopt the one big family attitude with partying, film nights, bbqs and family cooked meals. 
From the stories he has told me and the photos I have seen, this hostel definitely had a great party scene with fun people who became his friends. I imagined this is all dependant on the people living there at the time you decide to go but I am sure you wouldn’t be unlucky enough to have a hostel full of idiots.

Unfortunately his living conditions were not the best. For the majority of his stay the hostel had a severe bed bug problem. He would sometimes wake to find a bug crawling across his body. Later on during his stay a number of people at the hostel suffered from spider bites that resulted in them having to take antibiotics. Needless to say I was very worried about him when this all began but, after repeated attempts to rid the place of the bugs themselves, the manager decided to get professional fumigators in to sort the issues out. 

It appears as though the fumigation worked and the unwanted creatures were destroyed.

This is definitely something you should try and find out before deciding to live in a working hostel. I have heard a number of stories of this happening and often the owners do nothing to sort it out. Read as many reviews on a place if you can.

Other considerations to take into account is the work you will be doing. The hostel George stayed at found work on various farms in the area. Some places you go to only have one farm and you live and work in one place. At this particular place it sounded as though there was a ranking order. The longer you had been there and the harder you worked the better jobs you were given.

George said that each morning he and many others would pile into a van and be taken to their place of work. A number of stops are made along the way and if you were lucky, on the way back, they would stop off at a Domino’s or a McDonald’s. 

George started off planting vines in vineyards. He said it was tiring work, bending over constantly. He wasn’t a big fan of this job.

Then he got moved to oranges and he quickly learnt that this was worse than the vine planting. They paid him buy the bin so on a good day he would only make $75 but most days it was more like $50, for tiresome work in hot temperatures. I think he described it to me as slave labour.

He found it very frustrating because he was very willing to work hard to fill as many bins as he could but often there was just not enough oranges to pick. He would also come away from a day’s work in the field with cuts all up his arms from the thorns on the orange trees – and of course he saw a few deadly spiders chilling in the trees.

Luckily after a few weeks rostered onto oranges a friend he had made at the hostel recommended him to his boss at the place he was working and he was moved to work in a depot. Here he had to wash and load trucks full of various vegetables and fruits ready to be transported. He also had to generally keep the facility clean and tidy. 

His boss became very fond of him because he could see that he was a hard worker – with working in Michelin kitchens he was used to doing deep cleans so you could say he is a pro cleaner (plus I think he has a little bit of OCD when it comes to cleaning certain things – not in a bad way – I definitely see it as a positive trait in a boyfriend because I know I’d never have to put up with an untidy house haha). 

Here he was paid a regular wage of $18.30 an hour and could therefore manage to save a considerable amount of money.

I think George was quite lucky in terms of managing to escape the orange picking and land himself the job he did. He said he got regular tea breaks and would often be able to chat to his friends whilst he worked.

He did mention that not many girls worked there and the ones that did got paid less – not sure that is fair but I suppose that is just hot farm work is.

He did mention that some of the girls at his hostel managed to get jobs in a small cafe near a farm and that counted as their farm work. – I wouldn’t mind doing that for 3 months but it sounds like at working hostels it is the luck of the draw and depends upon what is available at the time you arrive there.

Another good tip before starting your farm work is to do a bit of research on the different fruit picking seasons. What you do not want to do is start a job at a specific farm and find out that the season ends before your 88 days are up. 

It is also better to carry out the work before or after the summer season because working in fields all day in hot temperatures is not going to be fun. 

Here are George’s top 5 tips:

1. Take plenty of water to work. I would sometimes go through about 5 Litres of water in a day. And put sunscreen on even if you don’t really burn. The ozone layer is thinner over Australia so it can affect your skin dramatically.

2. If fruit picking make sure you take a jumper, no matter how hot it is, or cut the ends off long socks to act as sleeves. Most of the fruit bushes/trees have thorns or brambles on so you end up cutting your arms quite badly. These can lead to infections.

3. It is inevitable you are going to see big spiders and/or snakes. Just try to keep your distance and don’t agitate them.

4. Make sure you take your headphone and a device that plays music. Farm work is incredible dull, especially fruit picking. Or you could use the many hours a week to do something productive like learn another language etc.

5. Try to have fun. It’s a hard one to do but remember the backpackers you’re working with are all in the same boat, and having a laugh can really help make the day go quicker.

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