following by Tom Mahon is a first hand account of fruit picking
Look, it's one of those things where you'll find completely different accounts from everyone. I had a cracking time picking fruit. I did it for nearly 5 months on my second stint and I got a second visa for my troubles.
The quality and availability of work across Australia varies greatly from season to season. Weather of course plays a big part so too market conditions. Some years the market price for produce is so low that the growers would have to pay more to harvest their crop than they would get back at sale.
If the weather has been too cold or too hot, or theres been too much rain or not enough, or frosts or ....... well, you could go on and on but delays in starting harvest is as frustrating for everyone involved in organising workers, as it is for those of you ready to start work.
However, there are working hostels in most fruit picking areas of Australia and they arrange work and transport. From my experience these hostels are the best bet to get you started.
I've worked in QLD, NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and WA......
Now, this isn't gospel (before anyone accuses me of 'telling it how it is'), but for my tip, I'd say go to southern Tasmania, NSW, VIC, SA and/or southern WA between December and April. During the rest of the year - head north to the tropics in QLD, NT and northern WA.
In Western Australia a two and a half hour drive south from the capital city of Perth will bring you to Donnybrook and the well organised Workstay called Brooklodge. There is usually some sort of work happening in and around the Donnybrook area from about the end of October each year through to about the end of May. Donnybrook has been relying on working holiday backpackers since 1980 and employ's 100's each year through Brooklodge. Brooklodge
south and near the coast is the wine grape growing region of Margaret
River. This area is also a world famous surfing region and a great
place to combine work with the local surf culture.
With specific regard to TAS, there's a very good working hostel, run by a British lady called Jayne.
She's very well connected and runs the hostel primarily as a working hostel. If there's work, she WILL find you it. There will be work, especially between the months stated.
The area is stunning. Tasmania is stunning anyway. You're close to the port village of Cygnet, on the edge of the Huon River. 40 minutes by bus to Hobart - the state capital. A great base for exploring the south of Tasmania. Wallabies, Roos and Devils aplenty.
There's upwards of 100 backpackers here when the season's in full swing (she's closed between May and mid October), and Jayne gets you all to work in her minibuses.
From January, another good place to go is north of Adelaide in SA. There's a hostel that can offer farm work all year round. The owner's got about 5 or 6 minibuses and a load of cars that he gives to you to get to work. He sorts work out for everyone and has contacts within an hour's drive radius of the hostel.
You'll hear mixed reports of ALL working hostels, because lots of backpackers don't live in the real world when it comes to things like this. You need to drop your expectations a bit. You're not going to get a shiny hostel with TV lounges and cafe/bar. You're on a working hostel. The owners try their very best to get work for everyone - it's how they exist.
Sometimes there's a pecking order for jobs, which is good. The 'good' jobs quite often go to the folks who've been there the longest, which is only fair. You'll be in that position if you hang around long enough.
The amount of clever shits who roll up at these hostels and lay down the law to the owners about what they want, when they want it and how much money they expect to be paid and all sorts of other conditions, is unbelievable. The owners know the situation - trust them. And they're the experts on their locality - not you.
Be very mindful of the fact that ALL of Australia has been locked in a severe drought for 6 years until recently. It peaked in 2007, and this year is set to be a make-or-break year for many farmers, vineyards, etc. They've been struggling just to stay afloat in the southern states - the last thing they want is a bunch of folks working for them who don't really want to work, but just want to qualify for their second visa. Things aren't so bad up in the tropics, but they've still received less rain than they're used to.
If you're not prepared to work - it's not for you. However, I think it's very wrong to say that all of the work is backbreaking - you could easily land a cushy job on a tractor or doing crop/vine maintenance, etc, but be prepared to go through a few not-so-good jobs before you find a decent one.
For my part, I picked all kinds of fruit and veg, thinned apples, worked in a cherry factory, drove other workers to their farms (that counts too), etc. My best job was undoubtedly picking cherries in Tasmania - I got a good orchard, that was having a good year and I was making just over $300 a day some days. That's unbelievable, really. I found that southern Tasmania generally offered up plenty of decent work. Don't go there expecting to earn $300 a day, though. You might get the dreaded strawberry job to start with if you go to the hostel I mentioned. Not great money, but it keeps you ticking 'til Jayne gets you something else.
My worst job was picking grapes, where I bust my gut in 42 degrees for 10 hours and got $30. The owner of the vineyard was a lovely chap, though, and he was being crippled by the drought. He was getting nothing from the winery for his grapes, so he couldn't pay us much. He paid us out of his and his wife's life savings
In other areas, like WA, I found that grape picking was very lucrative and I was earning over $200 a day. Different grapes/fruit/veg, different areas, different farms - they're all pretty unique. It's wrong to say 'cherries pay well' or 'grapes pay shit', simply because it's different everywhere you go, for all sorts of different reasons. When I was earning $300 a day picking cherries in Tasmania, there were guys from the hostel working in another cherry orchard a mile away earning less than $80 a day - the pay rate was different and the fruit wasn't as good.
Anyways, there are good farm jobs and bad farm jobs in every state. It takes a bit of moving around to find something you like and that's worth your while doing.
Remember your manners, be prepared to work, and remember that if you stay put, the better jobs will come to you, because the hostel owner will trust you.
That said - don't be a fool. There are farmers out there who will exploit you and take the piss. You'll learn very quickly, so simply move on. Hostel owners aren't so bad, in that they need you as much as you need them, but they may tell you that they've got plenty of work on, only for there to be none when you actually show up. Do your research first.
The Harvest Trail Website
I've found that actually applying for the jobs through the agencies and regional harvest offices that advertise on that website is a bit shit, more often than not. I'd say use that website to get an idea of where to find work at a particular time of year, go there, then find a working hostel nearby and let them find you work. It's easier than it sounds, and after a while you'll likely become very adept at sniffing out work and other working hostels. You'll gather intelligence on where's good to go from fellow fruit pickers, see. The Aussie and Kiwi 'career' fruit pickers you'll find on farms all over Oz can be invaluable sources of information. Use them. Well, ask the ones that aren't too grumpy.
Like I said, there's good and bad everywhere. You'll find where the good jobs are and where the better work generally is found and you'll also meet other backpackers who'll tell you about their experiences elsewhere, and so on. There's also those Aussie and Kiwi 'career fruit pickers' I mentioned, who basically travel all over Oz, all year round. They've got the low-down on all things fruit, so listen to them. Basically put - there's no better substitute than getting out there and finding out for yourself. And it can be loads of fun.
One important thing to remember - the hostels can't guarantee to find work for everyone at the hostel every day. They're still probably your best bet for finding consistent work, though. You'll generally find that they'll draw up a roster in the evening, so you know what you're doing. You may well find yourself in a fairly stable job, but things change. Be patient and be prepared to not have work every now and then. BE REALISTIC. Work comes in all the time - you might find that on a day off, a farmer calls up in need and next thing you know you've got a job. This happened a lot to me in SA.
Don't forget, you can always find your own work too - your own car would help here. Working hostel owners may knock a bit off rent if you have your own job, because they factor fuel costs into their room rates. Furthermore, you could even find yourself getting paid a fuel allowance by the hostel owner if you agree to take people to work with you in your own car. They can be reasonable people, although there are some bum ones out there too.
And then there's the 'live on' farms, where you pitch a tent on the actual farm, or live in their accommodation. Some orchards for example, will have their own hostel accommodation where you can stay during their picking season. Some are even fully catered and you get meals and a packed lunch included in your rent. Other options are caravan parks and camping rounds, which vary greatly, but often have arrangements with farmers, etc.
It can be great fun and you could find that you'll have some of your best travel experiences while fruit picking. Sometimes the worked sucked, and yes, sometimes we had to work at 4am, but that meant an early finish, so we all got pissed by the pool at the hostel and soaked up the 40 degree rays for the rest of the afternoon! Another perk there was that everyone was picking different things, so in the hostel's food cupboard there was a communal shelf that was loaded with all sorts of fruit and veg that folks brought home from work.
Incidentally, you'll hear folks telling you that you can't legally work above certain temperatures. That's true to an extent, but if you want to carry on working, then often the farmers are happy to have you stay. However, sometimes picking is abandoned for the benefit of the crop, not the workers. For example, cherries go soft when the air temperature reaches about 35 degrees, and they get damaged when you handle them. The farmer will pull the plug on the day's picking when it gets to this heat, which is why it's good to start early, because by midday you could have done your 6 or 7 hours anyway.
A rough guide of where to pick and when...
TAS, NSW, VIC, SA, southern WA - Peak picking season runs from mid October to April/May. TAS starts around a month later than the others, but also finishes a month later. Outside of these months, there is still some work in crop maintenance, etc, but nothing like as much as during the picking season.
QLD, NT and northern and central WA - Picking and general farm work can be found all year round in the tropics, although there's less in wet season (Oct to Apr). Some areas are better than others, and cyclones in wet season can occasionally wipe out whole crops across a large area, so bear that in mind. Again, look for the working hostels for a start, and take it from there. Intelligence is good among workers, and you'll be able to trade ideas and tips on where to go as you learn the ropes and speak to other workers.
Oh, and remember to check the post code list on the Aussie immigration website if you're working with a view to getting your second WHV. Not all of Australia is covered under the second WHV scheme, and the last thing you want to do is pick fruit for 3 months, only to find that the area you're in isn't classed as 'rural Australia', as defined by the immigration bods. It happens. This is very important.
Check post codes Here
Read it carefully - don't just assume you're in an eligible area. Often, a matter of miles seperates valid areas from invalid areas, especially up on the east coast of QLD.
PS - Take a set of cutlery with you. Backpackers steal all the cutlery from the working hostels ;)
PPS - Yes, you may well see some creepy crawlies. Some people see more than others, and a lot of that has to do with area, season, etc. I've come across snakes (a bit too close for comfort on one occasion), spiders, insects and lizards, but on the other side of the coin, some folks see very few or none.
Just because you don't see them, doesn't mean they're not there though
You'll be fine.
One last thing... your very first move into fruit picking is the hardest part of all. Once you've done your research on what's being picked and where, and you've phoned up a hostel and booked a bed, you just need to take the plunge. Once you're out there and in the thick of it, you'll just roll with it and you'll quickly find your feet.
Expect to move around a bit to find constant work. That's not always the case, but often you have to go and find the next working hostel when the work in the area you are, dries up.
As for the second visa...
If you're applying for it while still in Oz, then it starts from the day your first WHV expires and ends no later than 24 months after you first arrived in the country.
You may find that you are granted a bridging visa if your first WHV expires while you are waiting for your second one to be processed, in which case your second WHV will still expire exactly 24 months after you first arrived in Oz. Your second WHV does not start when your bridging visa ends. Lots of people make this mistake.
Also, for the second WHV, you have to undergo a medical exam and chest X-ray at a government approved clinic - and you have to pay for it. The second WHV application fee is the same as the first one - approx Â£85.
All medical and WHV application fees included, your second WHV will end up costing you between $450 and $650 (approx Â£200-250). It varies depending on how much the different clinics charge.
If you leave Oz and then plan to return on a second WHV, then the same application rules apply as for the first one. You can be no older than 30 at the time of application, but you can be 30. You can apply for the WHV right up until the day before your 31st birthday. When granted, you've got 12 months to travel to Oz and activate it, so you could actually still get into Oz on a WHV right up until the day before your 32nd birthday. This is the same with the first WHV - so those of you over 30, don't despair!
Hope this helps. . . . ......By Tom Mahon U.K.
Tom, we've been promoting harvest work as a great way to Work Stay
and Play around Australia on a gap year working holiday for a long
time and the way you have described it is really great and we think
it will help new chums to give it a go and make the most of it......
Contact Workstay: firstname.lastname@example.org