Adventures Working Abroad in Australia
Flying by the Seat of Your Pants
|At a job working with trampolines in Australia.
I knew that my next destination was
Australia. I had gone through BUNAC to work abroad
before and had no hesitation about doing so again; it would
mean a lot of independent planning, and I would have to
organize my own job and accommodation—but that was part
of the adventure.
The visa currently costs AUD$420 (US$314) through
BUNAC Work Australia Essentials package on top of the BUNAC
program fee of $549. The visa allows for up to 12 months
of work, with the restriction that you cannot work for more
than six months with one employer. Insurance coverage for
12 months from BUNAC is $672, but you may purchase your
own if you choose,
options, including World
Nomads. BUNAC now offers a Work Australia Ultimate Plus package for $975, which takes care
of many of the details for arrival and work arrangements.
The current BUNAC program recommends
bringing around AUD$5000 (US$3734) as support funds, not that you will
likely end up spending anything near that to get set up
before finding work. I planned this trip with Alexa,
one of my roommates from college. We boarded our Air
Pacific flight in November, timing our arrival to coincide
with the Australian summer.
Flights to Australia commonly offer
free stopovers in one of the Pacific Islands, so take advantage
of this if you can. Air Pacific stopped in Fiji, so
we stayed in the Yasawa Islands for several days before
moving on to Sydney. This meant spending a little extra
money before starting the job hunt, but it was an incredible
and worthwhile experience.
Arrival in Australia
The trip started with a mandatory orientation
in the BUNAC offices. For the first half an hour, we
learned all about the dangers of Australia—the sharks,
spiders, hoop snakes, and drop bears that make it a dangerous
place to visit. Then we were told, “No worries,” and
assured that everything would be fine. Fortunately,
that was to be the case.
At that introductory meeting, Alexa
and I received all the details regarding what we needed
to begin working—a tax file number (similar concept
to the Social Security Number), bank account, and advice
on jobs and accommodations. We arranged to have our
tax file numbers sent to the BUNAC offices, as we did not
have permanent accommodations lined up yet.
We took a few days to figure out the
plan–stay in Sydney? Head up the east coast? Fly
across to Perth? Australia is a huge country, and we
didn’t want to limit ourselves to the big cities. After
a week on Sydney’s Manly Beach, we decided that we
wanted to try something new, and the BUNAC office suggested
of a small coastal town between Sydney and Brisbane that
had some strawberry picking work. The next day, we
were on a Greyhound bus bound for Coffs Harbour.
Work to Live, Not the Other Way
I came into Australia thinking I would
find something casual, but I did not expect what I got. I
left Australia with a number of new jobs to add to my resume: fruit
picker, bartender, hostel cleaner/receptionist, bungee trampoline
operator, and carny (carnival worker). I learned that
on the Australian backpacker trail, it is best not to plan,
because you never know what might come up next. Be
brave and ask for opportunities; be open and do not turn
|Carnival work in Australia.
I did a few bar trials before leaving
Sydney, but most pubs in Australia require an RSA—Responsible
Service of Alcohol certificate. It is a 1-day
course that costs AUD$110, and I was not prepared
to spend that kind of money at the time. Instead,
I officially started working by fruit picking—backbreaking
work, but it requires no experience or qualifications.
The strawberry season wrapped up about
two weeks after we got to Coffs, but the hostel manager
offered us each jobs in exchange for free accommodation. I
got up every morning at six a.m. to clean the kitchen, while
Alexa had to be up by nine to clean the rooms. The
hostel quickly became like home; it was small and friendly,
and people tended to stay for weeks on end, so we all became
like a little transient family. I got my PADI open
water certification, and even overcame my fear of sharks.
Then the Coffs Christmas Carnival came
into town, and I went down to see if there were any jobs
available. The next thing I knew, I was running the Looney
Hoops stand on a nightly basis; half of the carnival
staff seemed to be from Aussitel backpackers.
Not long after that, bungee trampolines
were set up in the local shopping center, and the operator
contacted Aussitel, who passed on the news to backpackers. I
was cleaning the kitchen in the morning (free accommodation),
bouncing on a trampoline during the day ($10/hour), and
working a carnival stall by night ($10/hour). After
about five weeks of this, I had saved up enough money to
make my way to Cairns, on the northeast coast.
Alexa and I bought a 3000km (1800 mile)
greyhound bus pass from STA Travel, which
cost about AU$400 at the time and covered our travel from
Sydney to Carins. We stopped at the Federal Backpackers
in Bundaberg for a week to top up our funds with some more
impromptu fruit picking. The hostel took our details
(including tax file number–you must have a valid work
visa) and arranged jobs for us to start the next day. After
a sweaty week of potatoes, chilies, and aloe vera, we continued
up north to see Fraser Island and sail the Whitsundays.
Once we reached Cairns, I was out of
money but not out of contacts—a friend from Coffs
knew of work at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. First,
I had to take care of legalities; my four months of work
were up, but I was not ready to go home. I made an appointment
at the immigration office in Sydney, and lodged my application
for a tourist visa. A few hours, paperwork, and AU$215 later,
I had a sticker in my passport allowing me to remain in
Oz until the end of May. For three weeks, I lived in
the back of a moving truck with four other backpackers and
worked cash-in-hand at the carnival. It certainly was
not easy and was not always fun, but it was something I
will never forget.
I joined a group of friends from Aussitel
who had bought a car from some other backpackers, and we
drove towards Sydney. From there, we drove to Adelaide
along the Great Ocean Road. From Adelaide, Alexa flew
home and I flew to Perth on a budget Virgin Blue flight.
Then I flew back to Coffs to say goodbye before going back
to the States.
|The 12 Apostles along Great Ocean
An Unexpected Twist
Three days before my scheduled flight
home, I learned that the receptionist at Aussitel was taking
a 3-month holiday. The manager offered me the job. I
spent one day deliberating, one day driving to Brisbane
for another tourist visa, and one day calling friends and
family to say I would be home in August.
I earned $12 an hour and had my own
room behind the reception desk, complete with a small kitchen. It
was a great way to meet people and I was able to do many
of the advertised activities for free: diving, horseback
riding, and surf lessons. The best perk was working
down the road from the Foreshores Café: if you
make it to Coffs, do not leave without getting a banana
smoothie from this place! Deciding to work under the
table can be a risky move; it worked out for me, but I would
advise you to weigh your options before making such a decision.
There are jobs to be found all over
Australia; all you have to do is ask. It was really nice
to have BUNAC’s support in the beginning, but as I
got more comfortable I found that I did not need it anymore.
I usually opt for stability when it comes to my jobs, but
in Australia, it proved to be a great way of seeing the
country. If you are up for a challenge, skip the conventional
office jobs, get to Australia, and see what you can find. Even
if you go home broke, it will pay off in the end.
Lauren Fitzpatrick is
an Indiana University graduate who completed
her MA in Travel Writing at Kingston University in London.