As you may or may not already know – to extend a 12 month Holiday Working Visa to 24 months, you must first qualify to do so. In order to do this, you need to complete 3 months (or 88 days) of specified work within your first year, and this must be in a regional area of Australia. It can be hard work looking for farming work, depending which time of year you are hoping to complete the 88 days – so you need to be consistent and motivated throughout your job search. More than 40,000 Brits applied for a WHV last year – so the competition for finding farm work is relatively high throughout the year. There are many hostels located around rural parts of Australia that actually help you secure your farm work – so do your research before you set off! I was recommended TWO working hostels – Banana Barracks located in Tully, and Childers Eco-Lodge located in Childers, QLD. After doing my research, I knew that I wanted to be paid per hour rather than piece rate. (Piece rate is where you are paid upon how much work you do, for example, how many crates of oranges you fill. The pay can be low, where as hourly pay is relatively high.)
Me and Rick promised each other that we would begin our farming work within the first month of being in Australia – and so we did!
After 3 beautiful weeks of exploring Brisbane City and (some of!) the Gold Coast, it was time to begin working!
So, here we are!
Hello Childers Eco-Lodge!
It was an absolute whirl wind to be honest with you. One minute we had a lovely beach apartment in the Gold Coast, and the next day we were on (what was meant to be) a 4.5 hour train journey towards Howard!
We had contacted Banana Barracks numerous times but they were fully booked. Luckily, Childers Ecolodge were happy to have us the very next day! The reviews were amazing and we knew that Ecolodge only deals with farms who pay their workers a fair hourly pay – so we couldn’t have been happier. We packed up all of our stuff and planned our route back up the coast!
After 1 hour on the Tilt Train, (a Queensland rail line which takes you directly to Howard and then a short 20 minute taxi ride onwards into Childers) a bush fire started on the track, damaging the over head wires meaning we had to wait for replacement coaches to drive from Brisbane to Nambour. We were then put onto the coaches for a further 2 hour ride to drop us off at the next train station past the bush fire – and then we were finally onto our final 3.5 hours into our station, Howard! If it wasn’t for that bush fire it wouldn’t have been as long – but would you expect anything less in Australia?! 😀
A lot of people pay for coaches to transport them into this area of Australia – someone staying in the same hostel as us actually spent 9 hours on a coach just to reach Childers! I was shocked that not many people had actually heard of the Tilt Train which takes you directly to Howard which is only 20 minutes from our Lodge. Not only is it a much faster option but also CHEAPER – our tickets cost a total of $158 for the two of us (£93 total) which is amazing for a 4.5 hour journey! Extremely comfortable with curtains, onboard food menu, bar, wifi, films, electricity sockets, you name it. If like us, you’re travelling heavy – then it is absolutely worth it.
Eventually, we had arrived! We were greeted by the owners of the lodge, Rhys and his wife Vanessa – it was all very smooth and we were in our room very quickly. We were asked if we wanted to start some temporary farm work the next day – to which we obviously said yes… after all, we are not here for a holiday, (Sadly!) but we were later informed that the farm was having a day off to spray the fruit, which was nice – giving us time to settle in to our surroundings.
When we booked our stay at Ecolodge, we were told that hourly paid farm work was not guaranteed at the minute as it is their quiet season. So we were fully aware of the consequences of possibly having to wait weeks, even months for that kind of work to arrive. We began on a tomato farm paying piece rate to ease us in and prepare us for what may lay ahead… (at this point, we didn’t know what that was, but we knew it would be something similar!)
We were picking tomatoes for all of 5 days – and to be honest, it was ok!
Our first day was a long one. We were up at 4.30am to leave at 5.30, to begin working at 6am sharp! We finished at 2.30pm – which may sound like an early finish to most; but picking cherry tomatoes for 8.5 hours is a bit of a chore! We were told that it was one of the longest days that they had performed in a while – meaning that not all days were as long as that, which was fine by us!
So, what was picking tomatoes really like?!
I wont sit here and say that it was an easy job. Picking tomatoes sounds like an absolute doss, and I know that – but by actually experiencing it myself has shown me that it can be quite tough, particularly in high temperatures, having to work at a fast pace and receiving a very low pay rate!
If it wasn’t for the extremely low pay, we could have probably stuck it out for a little longer than 5 days; but it really was like grafting for peanuts! At first it took a whole hour for us to fill one bucket… and we were paid at $5.43 per bucket. (Yes, $5.43 per bucket!!) But thankfully after our first day, we had sped up and were able to fill 2 buckets an hour – but even still, the pay was very low and they were relatively short days. Our second day on the farm was only a 5 hour day from 6am until 11 – so as you can imagine, if the pay wasn’t low enough already on a full day, it was going to be seriously low on a short day. We were here to save, yet we were only able to earn enough to cover our rent and our food each day!
So, you would begin by collecting 4 buckets each to start you off – and then you would be allocated a row of vines to pick! You would then make your way down your allocated row, picking each and every ripe and nearly ripe tomato… and that would be it! Up until you finished your row, then you would be allocated another row – and you would start all over again. On our first day we were given a briefing by the ‘supervisors’ of what we need to pick/what we need to avoid etc. (Although they each had very different opinions on what was too yellow and what wasn’t, meaning that some pickers were told they were picking wrong by one, but correctly by another! RatherAnnoying.com)
‘Supervisors’ also stop by now and then on your first day to check that you are picking correctly and not just sat on your bucket, eating/talking. (Which in all honesty, we found ourselves doing sometimes. Ha!)
The length of the rows varied throughout the farm – but some were seriously long. To the point where it actually felt like each time you picked your vine and moved along, you were getting no closer to the end of the row. Sometimes I actually had to tell myself to stop looking! The first couple of hours are fine and they go relatively fast – but any more than 3 hours, I found that it became quite demotivating – I hate to say it, but it did. I guess it was mainly because of the amount of work we were doing for the little pay we were receiving – but I think also just generally picking tomatoes for 4+ hours straight genuinely just became tedious. The floor was thick dust and the vines were covered in a spray which turned your hands into a serious shade of TREE. (Browny black with hints of green) – so, if you’re ever to go tomato picking, make sure you arrive with GLOVES. Don’t make the same mistake as us on our first day! The dust was everywhere at the end of the day, even when we blew our nose it came out black. (Disgusting, I know.) But it was all part and parcel of the fruit picking life!
Lastly, tomato picking can be very hard on your back as it involves constant bending down and rummaging through vine for ripe tomatoes. We were seriously sore after our second day, but thankfully by our fourth it wasn’t so bad! I think our backs had got used to it. You really have to make sure that you are bending correctly in order to save any real pain or injury.
All of the above sounds relatively negative, I know. Some days were better than others – and it really is what you make of it I guess… but tomato picking isn’t something that we would rush back into!
We said that we would stick it out until something with a higher pay rate came up – and we were absolutely buzzing when we were told by Rhys that we were going to be working on the Zucchini farm with other friends from our hostel earning a fixed rate of $23.60 an hour! Yes that’s almost $24 an hour to pick and wash a courgette. (It’s really not as easy as I make it sound!)
Ecolodge only really works with farms who pay at a fair hourly rate – so we have a feeling that they like to put people on the tomato farms to start with to ease them into the fruit picking life and also just to see how they get on. Thankfully, we weren’t too bad at picking tomatoes (if I do say so myself…) – which I guess made it a little easier to find well paid farm work.
– You get out what you put in!
Goodbye Tomatoes… and Hello Zucchinis!
We are so happy to now be able to really save some money. We have worked out that we can save roughly between $500-$600 each a week after tax – and over a course of 3 months, this will leave us with a nice amount to play and travel with until we find our actual jobs wherever we choose to settle down!
We decided to upgrade from our comfortable 4 bed dorm, to a lovely little double bed Eco Tent!
We wont be missing the dorm bunk bed too much!