A Working Holiday in Australia
Picking Grapes and Cultural Immersion
By Judy Van Rhijn
Vineyards in South Australia.
Those from Canada, the U.K., and parts of Europe and Asia who wish to work in Australia are eligible for the Working Holiday Maker Scheme. For U.S. passport holders to be eligible for a working visa they must be between 18 and 30 years of age.
With permission to work granted, the traveler faces the same decision I did: What sort of work and where? I wanted to avoid resort work and cities, preferring physical work in the countryside. I didn't want to climb ladders for apples or oranges. I didn't want to scrabble on the ground for macadamia nuts or small crops. Grapepicking sounded attractive. It would also mean spending time in one of the winegrowing areas.
Just north of Sydney lies the Hunter Valley. Its grapepicking season starts in the height of summer, December to January which coincides with the longer summer holiday (so students can make the most of their work visa) but also with sizzling sunny days. In Australia the summer slogan is "Slip, slop, slap." Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat!
Your consolation at the end of a long, hot working day will be the many good restaurants and retreats along the Hunter River. On the weekends you can enjoy fantastic beaches at nearby Newcastle or escape to the cooler temperatures of the Barrington Tops or Wollemi
My next stop was the beautiful Barossa Valley in South Australia. The vintage starts there in February after the worst of the heat is over and continues into autumn. Although the weather was my first consideration, I might just as well have chosen the area for its beauty and culture.
The Barossa was settled in 1842 by pioneers from Silesia, a wine-growing region of Germany. They built their Lutheran churches of pale stone with tall spires. They also built small stone cottages and furnished them with distinctively plain furniture and housewares that are now eagerly sought by collectors. The valley itself is lined with bleached hills that overlook a grid of vines and pasture. Patches of shadow and sunlight pass over fields dotted with golden shocks of hay. Many of the winery buildings have peaks and turrets resembling German castles.
We worked all day from Monday to Friday, unless the heat became extreme or the rain too heavy. There were two stops for "smoko" under the gum trees during which we ate sandwiches and drank water in companionable silence. At the end of the day I was filthy and exhausted. My back ached so badly at first I thought I'd cracked a disc. It took until the middle of the third week for my backache to disappear. My speed picked up until I reached the $100-a-day mark.
Besides visiting the wineries, I browsed through the antique stores and relaxed at German-style cafes. Then I hiked in the rocky ridges of the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park and located the lost town of Hoffnungstahl. I also attended many of the events and ceremonies associated with the vintage: wine shows, jazz evenings, and gourmet weekends abound.
As a worker, I felt part of all the celebrations and not merely a visitor. The locals were welcoming and there was camaraderie amongst the ever-changing teams of pickers. By the end of the season I had more physical strength and stamina than I've ever had in my life. More importantly, I had enjoyed beauty and ceremony, friendship and fun. As I drifted up and over the valley in a balloon and saw the leaves turning to autumn gold, I felt replenished in every way.