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Before I arrived in Australia, I had heard about the idea of doing 3 months of farm work in exchange for a 2nd working holiday visa, and I had wholeheartedly rejected the idea. I absolutely knew that it would not suit me, that I would have more fun in the cities and on the tourist trail, and I simply wasn’t interested in sweating it out in outback paddocks picking fruit and being faced with endless near death experiences with spiders and snakes. However, about 8 months into my first year, I realised that I wasn’t quite ready to go home. I expect quite a few people can sympathise with this, and I certainly wished there was more information online about it when I came to this realisation very last minute, with next to no time to sort out this elusive visa. My first piece of advice for you (with absolutely nothing to qualify me to give advice!) is that it would be seriously helpful for you to do your farm work early in your first year! This would mean that you could get it out of the way early, and it would give you more time to find something to suit your skills and preferences. And my second piece of advice is that you may in fact find yourself enjoying your farm work far more than you anticipated, so leave yourself open to this possibility. Since doing mine, I have rarely been off farms and love the new experiences I have had since getting away from the backpacker trail!

When I decided to look for farm work, I started scouring the internet for advice but didn’t manage to find a huge amount apart from the basic information on the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection website (www.border.gov.au/Trav/Visa-1/417-). As I had so little time, I hunted on Gumtree (absolutely the best place to find your farm work unless you can find some through word of mouth) and luckily found a perfect family who wanted help with their special needs son on a farm. As I’m a nurse, this couldn’t have been more ideal, but I know I was very lucky to find it. In order to qualify for the visa, you have to complete 88 days of farm work in one continuous stint (you’re allowed 2 days off a week), or 88 days total at various farms (no days off allowed). I had about 100 days left on my visa when I started looking, and 89 days left when I arrived at the farm, so I was really cutting it fine! The rules have changed since I did my farm work, and now you have to be able to show pay slips for your work, so make sure your job can provide this before you start. The work has to be predominantly farming, but I spent most of my time looking after the farmer’s son, in the knowledge that the family were willing to say I had worked on the farm if questioned. This is a slightly risky move, but one I was willing to take as I was on such a tight schedule. It is also a route a lot of people take if they want to tick off their farm work without having to do fruit picking. Another commonly taken route is to work in an outback pub, but be careful doing this as the pub will need to be able to pay you through a farm’s accounts, so usually this will happen if the owner of the pub has a family member who owns a farm. Just make completely sure that there is a farmer who can vouch for you working on his farm, whatever the real nature of your work!

So, a bit about my first farm experience: this was the first time I had ventured into ‘outback’ Australia, my first time really away from the coasts, and it is a completely different landscape and lifestyle to anything I had experienced before! There was a massive amount of amazing Australian wildlife all around us, and it was commonplace to see kangaroos hopping past the back fence or emus running away when I drove around the farm. I was lucky that the family I moved in with were incredibly welcoming and included me in everything they did, but I suspect that this happens a lot, as Australians are a pretty friendly bunch! We were an hour and a half away from the nearest supermarket, let alone any form of entertainment, so I was relieved to meet a few other backpackers in the area to keep me entertained! The locals were also very used to backpackers and allowed us to be part of their community without difficulty or discrimination. Some of my favourite days were out on the farm: learning to drive huge tractors, fencing, lamb marking, and starting to see a bit of rural life in Australia.

Crucially, since then, I have sought out jobs on farms and tried to delve a bit further into this underappreciated part of Australia which I had heard very little about before I came over. I ended up staying at my first farm job for 4 months, much longer than my visa required, and have since then been employed as a chaser bin driver on a wheat farm in Esperance, and as a farm hand on a cotton farm in Emerald. If I was seeking farm work again, I would seriously consider putting an advert up on Gumtree, rather than just hunting through the listings, as both of my most recent jobs have been found by people contacting me rather than having to ring and email hundreds of employers. Make sure you describe any relevant experience, as well as mentioning if you have your own vehicle, are a capable driver, are used to long hours or working outdoors, and that you are willing to travel for the work. Do not expect to make a fortune doing your farm work, but do expect to be paid fairly. Also, most people are able to save a lot of their money, as there is usually very little to spend your money on in the middle of nowhere!

A word of warning: do not feel that you need to go to one of the working hostels who claim to provide farm work picking and packing fruit if you go and stay with them. I have friends who have done this, and have ended up paying a lot of money for accommodation in the hostels but have not been guaranteed any work and have struggled to make their 88 days, let alone any money.

The best farm job I have had by far was as a chaser bin driver for a harvest. During harvest, long hours are available and if you are a confident driver then the work is easy. Sitting in an air-conditioned tractor for most of the day, seeing stunning views and learning loads about food production is a great opportunity! Just make sure you are prepared to take on jobs you never imagined you would be doing. Most farmers are just looking for willing workers, and as long as you have a positive attitude and are willing to work hard, you’ll be right!

So, to sum up, since starting to work on farms in Australia I have found myself covered in oil and grease, able to carry out some serious mechanics, dealing with animals, seeing stunning scenery, meeting farmers and truckies, being in the middle of nowhere, but finding the kind of contented happiness I was hoping for when I left England! I can only hope that some of you find the huge enjoyment from your farm work that I did!

Key points:

-Work has to be on a proper farm commercially producing either livestock or crops (you can also do some fishing or mining type jobs which I know nothing about, but if this is your thing then I’m sure you can look into it elsewhere!).

-Check the postcode to see if it qualifies, they have a list on the border control website.

-Make sure you will be getting payslips.

-Make sure you are actually in the area you say you are for the whole 88 days. If you get investigated, your bank statements are the best form of evidence that you have! Also make sure you use your bank card to pay for things in the local shop so that it shows up on your statement.

Written by Antonia Brown

If you want to read more about her travels, please visit her blog at antonipodean.tumblr.com