88 Days; a Lesson in Patience

The Australian working holiday visa… *sigh*

For anyone that doesn’t know…

When you apply for a working holiday visa in Australia you only get 1 year. If you want another year you have to be willing to work 88 days in agriculture and/or another government chosen field to apply for your second year.

This is usually the kind of work that Australians don’t want to do, for many reasons.

I’ve been putting off writing about this because I thought it might seem extremely negative, but a friend of mine, a truly awesome chic I met on the herb farm, Lori was brave enough to share her experience… so I’m going to do the same!

Now, her blog article is full of useful info regarding how to get work, where to search & what not. Mine isn’t. 
 Check out her blog! Give it a good read! It rings true!  

The Dark Side of Australia’s Working Holiday Visa by Lori ^_^

Things discussed on Lori’s blog post:

I wish people had warned me about these things so I could be better mentally prepared:

  • Be prepared to feel outcast, mistreated, and unappreciated
  • Don’t forget your farm town does not represent all of Australia
  • Take care of your body (I got carpal tunnel) & what is Workcover

And I wish I knew these things before I started the job:

  • Know your RIGHTS!
  • Keep up to date with TAXES and laws
  • Contractor versus casual positions
  • How to get a job!

I’m only going to relay my personal experiences of farm work, not as useful but hopefully amusing.
It’s mainly a response to Lori’s first bullet point. 

This is for anyone whose considering doing the working holiday visa in Australia, anyone whose interested in what we’ve been up to, for all those who tell us “you’re constantly on holiday”, oh and anyone that’s interested in equal pay, adequate working conditions and discrimination.

Have you ever noticed that your brain always tends to forget the crappy bits of traveling or a job. You tend to look back at an experience with fond nostalgia that pastes over the hours you spent wishing you were elsewhere. That’s what I think is happening to me. Now we have left the herb farm I think about all the good aspects; the other backpackers (awesome friends), the free food, cheap rent, amazing pay & the smell of rosemary or the rush of adrenaline hacking through leaves with a machete.  


However, rewind to the start, clear the rose dust from that nostalgic looking glass & remember all those nasty little things that plagued our day to day.

December 2015: The Beginning!

We landed into Coolangatta, Gold Coast from KL Malaysia, within 3 days we had sorted out our bank accounts, bought a car and were ready to earn some cash. We drove over to Stanthorpe as the nice mechanic that sold us the car told us that most backpackers go there for work.  He wasn’t wrong. 

When we got there, I could already tell that something was a little off.  Now Stanthorpe is a lovely town don’t get me wrong and the majority of people I met and spoke to were really nice but there was always an air of “us and them”, “locals and backpackers”, like it was an underlying battle. We were welcome but only a few of us at a time. As long as there weren’t too many of us it was okay. 

I’ve heard this kind of thing before. A few foreigners is seen as a novelty, exotic. But too many and locals can perceive it as a threat.  “They’re taking over the place!” 

I used to live in a part of Sheffield covered in international stores, halal butchers, Polish bars, Chinese takeaways & shisha cafes. My family/friends would joke that we were the only English people living on the street!  They forget Seán is Irish! It never bothered me though. Although it was always said as a joke, my parents had lived through the changing demographic of this area and you could tell there was uncertainty and caution in their voices. 

I’d never been on the receiving end of this until now. Of course when I visited Sean’s place in Northern Ireland I would sometimes get odd looks that said “You’re not from round ere?!” But in Stanthorpe this felt like I was part of a larger society that was all being tarnished with the same brush. “Bloody backpackers!”

I overheard conversations about there not being enough jobs for locals, that backpackers had no manners and we should all speak English etc. Now Australian English is not English English. I remember my Japanese coworkers looking at me to translate orders from the boss. I just shrugged.  No idea what that man was taking about! Lucky enough I remember the words and could ask, I usually repeated back to him what I thought he said just to make sure I got it right.  

I took me a few days to realise that ute meant utility vehicle and a chipper is a hoe.

Anyway I digress.

Our first job: Strawberries.

We’re in Stanthorpe, wander to the recruitment centre and we had a job the next day. Strawberry picking.  We were just happy to have a job so we didn’t question it. It was the longest 6 days ever.  It was piece rate, which means it was pay per tray. The amount you earnt per tray varied day to day depending on the farmer.  So pay was rubbish for us. Usually a days pay on hourly rate is $150-180 depending on your hours. The most I earnt pickling strawberries a day was $60. And you can’t pick when it’s raining. And omg the flies. The flies!!

Now the farmer was fine but our supervisor was a certified asshat. He decided immediately he didn’t like us because we asked too many questions. ADVICE: become Manuel from Fawlty Towers or Jon Snow. You know nothing! People in power DON’T like to be questioned. 

He was on a complete power trip and was ridiculously racist. I actually witnessed him taking trays off non english speaking workers telling them the trays were shit and they wouldn’t get paid for them. Then he would hand them over to his girlfriend that worked there. He made some Korean chic cry because she had no idea what was going on. We helped her find a backpacker that could translate for her and report it to the recruitment agency.

After that our paperwork went missing and he told us constantly that we wouldn’t get paid for the day if we didn’t work longer. Usually until he said we could leave. We usually finished at 12 o’clock and one day he wanted us to stay and work until 3 o’clock but most of us had ran out of water, it was blisteringly hot and there was no water on site. Screw that noise. We left, before Seán got chance to teach him what a hurling stick was. 

Onto the next job: Cabbage cutting. 

In a small team of 5 to 8 people depending on what was going on we walked through paddocks cutting cabbages being followed by a boom on a tractor. The way this works is you cut the cabbage and turn around to put it on the conveyor belt that follows you. The rule is if you’re not cutting fast enough it will knock you over. Fun hey?

Getting to wield a machete was fun and our Mexican supervisor didn’t care if we talked as long as we got the job done. Most of the time our conversations revolved around language and culture anyway. 1 English (me), my Irish, an Italian backpacking couple our age and the senior mexican couple that were our supervisors made for interesting conversation. And the Australians that worked there were nice, pretty chilled out and interested in where we were from. The two Taiwanese girls in the factory were rarely seen but always had smiles on their faces and knew their way around the machinery. Which was handy if something went wrong. 

The machinery was pretty old. The only drama I had was when I had to stack crates on the back of the tractor. No one told me the floor had fallen in so obviously I fell through the hole. I laughed it off but it bloody hurt. If the tractor would have been moving I might have broken my leg. Be careful folks! Look where you’re going!

****

Cabbages can be cut in the rain too although if it gets muddy it’s sometimes called off. This was hourly rate. This job was ok, back breaking though. You’re constantly bending down and the cabbages are really heavy so you end up getting pins and needles or carpal tunnel really quick. Within a week I was waking up with a numb fuzzy hand. Jose (Mexican supervisor) told us he had lost most the feeling in his thumb. Yikes!

This place was fine until the boss’s father came to work.  It would be a good day if he wasn’t around. If he was he just spread bad juju. He was mean, impatient and reckless. We weren’t allowed to talk when he was there and according to him we were doing everything wrong. Some of his rules were ridiculous. He just put everyone in a bad mood. We got by though. 

March 2016

Moving on: Herb & Salad Farm.

The only reason we took this job was because the cabbage job left us 29 days short for our second year visa sign off. We cut everything a little too fast.

The farmer of the salad farm asked us if we could stay 3 months minimum and we agreed because, well, we like money. 

This was another hourly rate job. I was to be a supervisor with another girl. We were responsible for the other workers, contracters, managing the herbs and filling orders, occasionally harvesting salad. Seán was basically a handy man alongside another guy, they drove most of the vehicles, ran irrigation and dug holes and stuff. 

The first 3 months were fine, we all got on fairly well with the exception of one moody Australian supervisor (see a pattern here?)

Just one of those types of people that has to do one better than everyone else and well, let’s just say it, talk shit. He was just ill educated about so many things but had ridiculously loud opinions about them anyway. If something happened to put him in a bad mood he would take it out on one of us. When he was in a good mood he was lovely and almost a pleasure to work with!

There seems to be a running theme about Australian supervisors asserting their power over backpackers. Always checking what we we’re up to. Maybe they really don’t trust us at all. Maybe they had a few to many backpackers that just stood around the paddock and did nothing all day but I can assure you we were good workers! Especially the Estonian Couple. They got shit done! Fast and efficiently! 

The thing that annoyed me the most; if we were getting on with a job and he decided he was bored, he would come over from the otherside of the paddock, proceed to yell at us and tell us whatever we were doing was wrong. Even though we were doing exactly what we had been told to do by the boss. 
Too many times we would be doing a job, get told to do it differently, then the boss would come over and ask us what the hell we were doing. Then we had to change what we doing all over again only for the supervisor to yell at us again. Communication fellas please.

It got so much worse when the lettuce started. An Australian woman had been employed to run the packing shed for the new lettace we were growing.  That was it. That was her job was and yet she overstepped her bounds constantly.  

It felt like anyone else except the boss was completely underneath her.  She got several workers fired and chose her team based on favourites rather than skill. She mentioned to us that she thought all Asians ate dog and only came to Australia to take the money back to their poor countries.  Also, Australia is the only country to drive on the left. We thought she was joking. Nope. 

It must have been intimidating for her though. This is a person from a rural background who hadn’t seen much of the world, moved far from home to live and work with strangers from all over the globe. Most of which were well traveled, well educated and spoke more than one language. There was definitely some resentment lurking around.
To our faces everyone was fairly civil, not always, but enough. However, it was this small minded, small town, drama craving mentality (obviously life just wasn’t interesting enough) that caused unnecessary tension.  

Sometimes they didn’t bother to get to know any of us at all, and their preconceptions of the Asian contractors was that they didn’t speak English. They spoke to them like children. When they went to have smoko and lunch she ran her mouth off at the other Australian worker (usually bad mouthing the four of us that lived in the house) she didn’t expect any of the contracters to understand her. However I’d been teaching my two Japanese herb girls how to speak conversational english everyday for months. They understood the nonsense being spread and word got back to us. It was awful.  We were all trying our best, often left alone with jobs & machinery we weren’t experts in and this person was tearing us down, spreading rumours and neggy vibes, often passing them onto our boss and causing so much drama. No one liked her and it was like she made it her mission to make life unbearable. We didn’t let her. When she made someone cry or on the verge of tears we stood up for one another, called bullshit & made sure to laugh it off. It was like a game of mental chess mixed with manual labour. This seemed to put the other supervisor in a constant bad mood so he was best avoided altogether. Everyone else was sound as! The boss’s nephew and the woman’s son were fine. We had hiccups but when you live at work with no escape you’re bound to get on each other’s nerves.

Our farm house parties where we celebrated birthdays, special holidays or just had a cultural exchange evening made it worth it and we ended up staying for 5 months. 

I’ve experienced the most amount of prejudice in my life in Australia and tasted a fair amount of racism. Even if that racism wasn’t directed at me, it stung that those attitudes fuel such unfair and unfortunate treatment towards a large amount of people.  It makes me sad and angry but I’m  guessing that reaction is just what they want.

This isn’t to say it is like this everywhere in Australia, we currently have new jobs in a grain plant in Moree and the attitude is completely different! We feel welcome, valued and everything is about work. No drama so far and I’m hoping it stays like that!

Our story is no way near as bad as others you might hear about. From working holiday backpacker hostels with unsanitary living conditions, being promised work only to wait around spending your cash, unfair dismissals, never getting paid to sexual harrasment and even assault!

We have been lucky that we found jobs where the only bad thing we had to deal with was a bit of verbal diarrhea and a couple of blisters.

We’ve heard some horror stories and we’re lucky this wasn’t one of them.

Ending this on a positive note…

During this farm nonsense I’ve learnt so much even though I didn’t realise had. 

Here’s a few things;

  • There’s no shame in having pride in where you are from! Share your culture, language and customs with others. But make sure you are open to learning about theirs too! Have pride but realise one is not better than another.  Only different.
  • Everyone should celebrate Midsummers Night. Bonus points for bbq.
  • Laugh about your differences! There is so much we can learn from each other! Try not to pass judgment on others but try to get an understanding of what each others world is like! Luckily most backpackers are programmed to have open minds, now you just have to pry the locals open a bit at a time. Like a walnut.
  • A brave Brazilian chic once told me “Everything happens for a reason” I like to take comfort in this. 
  • Do not put your feet in a fire in an attempt to warm them up. This is a bad idea.
  • An unwillingness to be wrong just leads to bitter resentment and hatred. You must admit your mistakes and apologize.
  • Gumi is amazing and another reason I need to go to Japan.
  • Cooking things in a fire is more fun than I thought.
  • Stress gets to everyone and everyone reacts differently. Blow off steam and try to be kind. 
  • “Chat shit. Get banged.”
  • Don’t give anyone a reason not to trust you. Even if they don’t, for no reason whatsoever. That’s their problem. Don’t let them justify their stereotypes. 
  • Know which battles are worth fighting. Don’t waste your time and energy on things that aren’t worth it. You could be doing something else. Like baking cake. 
  • Estonian board games are worth playing. Just don’t get offended!
  • No matter how many nasty people are out to get you there are loads more nice people who are willing to help you out!
  • If a wise old Mexican lady tells you you’re pregnant; you probably are. 
  • Laughter is the best medicine! If you’re starting to feel down, mistreated or unappreciated, remember you are not alone. If you feel it the likelihood another poor backpacker feels the same is pretty high. Have a chat, a laugh and a joke about it. Don’t worry. One day in the future it’ll just be a funny story!
  • Everyone loves cake and pizza. Remember this.Itadakimasu!

P.S 

Here’s a reminder to read Lori’s awesome post!

The Dark Side of Australia’s Working Holiday Visa

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