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Job-Hunting in Australia

To Find the Best Working Experiences, "Go Bush"

Farm Work in Australia
The author picks melons with Aussies during the winter in Darwin, Australia.

After three demoralizing weeks job-hunting in Perth, I had decided to continue my search for employment further south. It seemed nothing short of an act of God when I came across an advertisement on a small-town hostel notice board that said “Wanted: Deckhand. No experience necessary.”

Twenty four hours and a crash-course on the characteristics of bottlenose dolphins later, I was barefoot on the deck of a boat with the sun in my face. As I recited facts to tourists, dolphins splashed playfully alongside us, and I was having trouble believing my luck in finding this job when I’d missed out on so many dull ones in Perth.

This was to be the first of many experiences that taught me there are two reasons why the best option when looking for temporary work in Australia is to head out of the main cities. First, the increase in the number of working-holiday visas granted to foreigners over the years has meant that when the majority of working-travelers are lured to work in the cities by the twin temptations of nightlife and higher wages, they find fierce competition for the temporary positions available. They also find a much higher cost of living. This can mean that a planned four weeks of working to save for a trip to the outback can often turn into two months of job-hunting and then working in a job you could have done at home, never having saved enough to move on and see the country you’ve traveled all that way to experience.

Secondly, particularly along the East Coast, the well-worn traveler trail is so crowded that it is possible to move from place to place without ever meeting an Australian, and without actually experiencing any of the things that make the country so unique. By traveling further and finding temporary work in more rural areas, you often get a much deeper experience of the country as you come into closer contact with communities, and learn new skills that you may never have acquired at home. Through taking various jobs in small, usually bizarrely named rural towns as I traveled, I found myself on various occasions trying to reverse a tractor out of a ditch, learning the best way to prune vines in order for better grapes to grow, and serving rum to rowdy sugar cane farmers as they celebrated the cut-out (last day of cane harvest).

Working in places other travelers usually bypass enabled me to become part of local communities. I experienced things at a much more personal level than I would have had I just been passing through.

At different times I was taken out on boats on to the reef and up-river crocodile spotting, received invites to hog-roasts and “bush barbecues,” and partied with an entire small-town rugby team. I also learned a huge amount about Australia and the challenges rural Australians face from the friends I made, many of whom I am still in touch with today.

Temporary work in Australia doesn’t have to be an impediment to your travels; in fact, it can make the difference between just passing through, and truly experiencing the country. It’s just a question of knowing what opportunities are out there, and where to look for them.

Outback Jobs

Employment opportunities on ranches/cattle stations range from Jackaroo/Jillaroo (male/female cowboy) positions, where you learn the basics of cattle rustling, lasso-ing, and horse riding to housekeeping, maintenance work, or rustling up culinary delights as a camp-cook. In addition to learning new skills in the true outback, it provides an experience of how people live when the nearest shop may be a 2-hour helicopter ride away.

Positions are advertised through magazines such as TNT, city agencies, or hostel notice boards. Jack/Jillaroo courses are often held in main cities, where for a fee you can pick up the basics before heading off to work.

Tour and Dive Jobs

If the word “Australia” conjures up images of sparkling seas and multi-colored reefs, employment is possible as a deckhand, dive-instructor, or surf leader. Usually, monetary payment is replaced with the opportunity to learn or improve a skill or gain a qualification, such as a PADI diving certificate, in addition to the provision of room and board. These positions are not often advertised, instead they are generally found through inquiries at dive shops, hostels, tour offices, and even at the harbor-side itself. Opportunities are more numerous on the East Coast, especially around the Barrier Reef, where the tourist season lasts year-round. Hard work and long hours are standard, though for many the opportunity to pursue an activity they love and advance their qualifications in a beautiful environment makes it more than worthwhile.

Fruit-Picking / Farm Work

At the bottom of the list for glamor, and often for pay, farm work is not without its benefits. Australia’s sheer size and varying climate means that at any one time there will be a harvest of something somewhere, and the country has a huge demand for seasonal farm workers to maintain and harvest crops each year. By filling the gaps in the workforce you can guarantee finding work at short notice, with no short supply of hours during the time you are there. Jobs range from picking fruit and pruning vines to laying pipes and driving tractors. Work can be boring, repetitive, and at times downright back-breaking, but the sense of satisfaction from looking back at a field full of fence posts you’ve erected, or the sight of the sun rising over the horizon as you arrive at work in the morning are things that you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Bar Work

The casual work of choice for many travelers is bartending, but it is not easy to land a job unless you can flip, shake, and stir like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. For those with a sense of adventure, however, bar work regularly becomes available in roadhouses, outback resorts, and even mines. Compensation usually includes a room (half or full board) and a wage or pocket money on top.

Often hospitality staff are required to hold certification, known as an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) or RCG (Responsible Conduct of Gambling) before being eligible for employment on licensed premises.

For More Info

Working-Holiday Visa Information

Currently available for one year for U.S., U.K, Canadia citizens, among other nationalities. To check eligibility or to apply, go to BUNAC (www.bunac.org).

Recently amended immigration law means that any traveler on a year’s working-holiday visa who spends three months or more as a farm worker in regional Australia (anywhere outside of the major population centers) is now eligible to apply for a second working-holiday visa, if her or she still meets the original requirements.

Harvest Trail: search for seasonal job opportunities on the following Australian government website: www.jobsearch.gov.au/HarvestTrail. Also look at the “National Harvest Guide” on this site for a complete overview of harvesting seasons by region, as well as for information on housing, transportation, and working conditions.

Worldwide Workers (www.worktravelcompany.com): the largest employment agency for overseas travelers. Agencies in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. One-off payment for membership provides access to all job listings, as well as advice on accommodation, certification, etc.

Newspapers: Weekly or bi-weekly job sections can be useful, though again competition for vacancies tends to be fierce, and the choice fairly restricted.

Visitoz Scheme (www.visitoz.org): Ranch offering Jackaroo/Jillaroo courses; then assists in placing its participants in employment.