Thinking about doing farm work in Australia? Wait til you read this honest experience from British backpacker, Lianne Gabby. We must admit, this eye opening story about farm work in Australia – including so many tips and insights – is something all backpackers in Australia need to read.
In our Expat Story Of the Month, Lianne swapped her career as a professional cheerleader in Hertfordshire to embark on a Working Holiday Visa in Australia in 2018. She has since completed so much farm work, she’s successfully been granted her second year and third year Working Holiday Visas.
Having done the dreaded farm work myself, I can concur that farm work in Australia isn’t great at all. But, like Lianne mentions in this post, it certainly is character building and a fantastic opportunity all backpackers should embrace. After I personally did just 90 days farm work to gain my Second Working Holiday Visa, I learnt I could literally do any job and know it would never be as bad as farm work ever again.
Make sure you follow Lianne’s epic backpacking adventures around Australia at @liannegabbey on Instagram and via her brilliant blog Go With Gabbs.
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I originally came to Sydney in 2017 for a month’s holiday over Christmas to visit friends who were on the Working Holiday Visa. I instantly fell in love with Sydney and had an overwhelming feeling of being home, despite having no ties or reason to feel this way.
Landing back in the UK at Heathrow Airport a month later and bursting into tears on arrival, I summed up I was moving to Australia without question. I finally arrived Down Under in February 2018 on a 417 Working Holiday Visa.
I had no expectations or plans for Australia other than getting back to Sydney as quickly as I could. The only firm goal for the year was to complete farm work so I could obtain my Second Year Working Holiday Visa.
Making The Hard Decision To Leave My Career Behind
I was a competitive Cheerleading Coach in England. I worked for a Premiership level sporting RFU Rugby Club, within their sports foundation for five years straight out of university. Essentially, I was given the opportunity to build my dream job from scratch with the creative freedom and support, without any limitations in development.
Deciding to move to Australia meant I was leaving behind the dream job and all I had built – a competitive cheerleading programme with 300 athletes, a family team of coaches, schools coaching services & a sporting events performance company. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. But now, I am so soulfully happy I left to live this life instead.
How I Prepared For My Move To Australia
I decided to give myself seven months to the end of my work season & pre-season (school timetable) before I jumped on that plane to Australia. Experiencing Sydney and the Australian lifestyle really woke something up inside of me in terms of travel & quality of life.
I can’t ever see myself continuing to live my English life and that daily grind lifestyle again.
I decided to travel to South East Asia for five months before moving to Australia. This made the ‘big move’ less daunting and more of a destination I would settle for a longer period of time.
Luckily, I was living back with my parents before travelling, so preparing to leave really only involved saving and selling before packing up and getting on the first flight.
Telling Friends & Family About Moving To Australia
My friends were surprised it took so long for me to reach the idea! Considering I would make the most of 6 weeks school holidays and Christmas breaks to travel by myself or with friends each year for extended periods of time. Family and friends were excited for me, but most of them had gone travelling at the age of 20 – 21.
At 25 years of age, I felt like time was running out before adult life had to set in, so it was now or never. I keep promising my family I’ll be home soon. But it has been 2.5 years since I’ve been back to the UK and I only keep finding ways to extend my Australian Visa. I was supposed to go home in May 2020 for a month…. but then COVID happened.
How I Saved £10,000 To Travel
I returned from the Sydney holiday in the January, and saved until September of that year. I worked three jobs, all within the cheerleading and dance industry. In all honesty, it was brutal, I was exhausted, had no social life and a very different person to whom I am today. But, all I had in the back of my mind was Australia and travel and it was so, so worth it.
Here are some money saving tips for Australia
I made my own lunches & coffee at work (it’s shocking how much you can save!)
Weekly & monthly budgets & tracking – seeing everything laid out, lets you visually see where your money goes.
I stopped buying new clothes from January to August. The only clothes I bought were those for travelling and that was a small budget before I left.
I did car boot sales and sold my belongings and clothes on Ebay selling. This bargain frenzy world really sets you up for experience with world markets and haggling + make you some more money for travels.
I became the designated driver/taxi for friends on nights out. They much preferred paying me less money than an Uber or extortionate London Taxi home, but still more than enough to cover petrol used.
In the end, I left the UK with £10,000! I decided to spend £6,000 to travel Asia, and save £4,000 to set myself up in Australia. Travelling Asia on that kinda money made me feel like a queen – it could have been done a lot cheaper!
The more money you can set yourself up with in Australia, the better! Although that double dollar mindset exchange rate from British pound to dollars is very exciting for the first month or two you are here. Then you realise its a stupid mindset that lets you burn through money and you need to starting thinking in dollars!
Why I Came To Australia On A 417 Working Holiday Visa
As a British citizen, I could apply for a 417 Working Holiday Visa, which is the most popular visa for backpackers to be able to travel around Australia and work. This Australian visa gives you one year of travel and working rights for Australia. It also allows you to extend the visa for an additional Second Year Working Holiday Visa on the requirement of completing three months of regional farm work in Australia.
Additionally, the Australian government have now introduced a Third Year Working Holiday Visa, if you complete six months of regional farm work in your second year too. It was pretty straight forward and all applied for and completed on the Australian Immigration government website. The visa cost around 280 GBP and took a few days to be granted. They ask that you have $2,000 of savings in your bank account to establish your eligibility to afford to live in Australia.
How I Got A Second Working Holiday Visa
The whole process you would think would be rather straightforward. Arrive, travel, live in a city for a bit and then head off to ‘The Farm’. However, the reality of trying to secure regional farm work, surviving and completing it, it’s actually very hard.
Also, for future reference, everyone on a Working Holiday Visa will refer to “the farm” as if it’s some magical place that all WHV’s 1st years go together, to secure their second year.
In reality, “the farm” is just the general name for any regional farm work you may do across any Australian state. Throw in the horror stories (that genuinely have a lot of truth in them), rumour mill of cheating the system, how many hours is full hours and the changing of rules each year, it gets complicated.
To achieve a second year working holiday visa, you are required to complete 88 days (3 shortest calendar months) of regional farm work in Australia in your first year visa.
Getting A Third Year Visa
To achieve the third-year visa extension, you are required to complete 6 months of regional farm work. Farm work can be completed all in one time period, with one employer – or you can break it up and do it in various regional areas (postcode approved on the Government website) over the course of your first year or second year.
However, I would leave a comfortable five months to complete your 2nd-year visa and an extra two months for your six months farming, as it can be a tough and difficult task to complete within the supposed timeframe for various reasons. Reasons such as late starting seasons, extreme weather (no you don’t get paid for days off, sick pay or being rained off) & reasons like farmers not working you for two weeks whilst they wait for the prices of pumpkins to pick back up.
Visas can come through instantly like in my case, or they can take up to four months. Many of my friends have entered into their next visa on a bridging visa, whilst still awaiting a grant acknowledgement.
Finding Office Jobs In Australia
I initially had a job offer in Australia to continue with my cheerleading coaching career. However, I wanted to do something completely different, and just enjoy doing a 9-5 job so I could actually enjoy myself.
The 417 Working Holiday Visa only allows you to work for one company for up to 6 months each visa year, which means you are only really eligible for temporary or contractual jobs. If you have a potential sponsor skill set, this could be an entirely different visa. Initially, I took low-level admin jobs, working for the NSW Fire Brigade Union & various other office temp jobs. Since then I have worked in blue-collar executive admin roles in Sydney & Perth.
To find work, check out the recruitment companies across Australia by using job search platforms like Seek & Indeed. Aussie work ethic is a bit of a shock when coming from London working environments. Brits tend to feel guilty for calling in sick when genuinely ill (or at least in my case) and the whole live to work mindset really exists.
Whereas in Australia, they work to live and their lives are for living – work only enables their lifestyles. Majority of the office jobs I have had in Australia have been very relaxed. A task related to work in Australia would be expected to take a few hours. Compared to the UK, this same task would take me 30 minutes to an hour max (with distractions). My friends and I coined the term “Aussie Busy”, where you go around telling everyone how busy you are, thinking your really busy and in reality, if you just did the job straight away, you wouldn’t be busy at all.
Aussies also love an early finish! I also have never known a country to have so many public holidays, or be so inclusive to every religious holiday, celebration or national event (Melbourne Cup springs to mind) to get out of work and improve workplace culture. It’s a way of working that the UK could really get on board with. Everyone is generally a lot happier.
My Farm Work Experience
Let me start by saying, farm work in Australia was probably the biggest mental and physical challenge I have ever had to experience to secure any visa. But, it’s both humbling and character building at the same time. You learn your limits and how good you have it sometimes.
I also have learnt a lot about myself in terms of mental strength. Honestly, every single farm work job is shit – it’s just finding the shit you are willing to put up with & can endure. Or, if you are really strange, like some of my friends, dare I say, you find a farm work job that you enjoy. But my god is it worth it to stay another year here in Australia? Especially now with COVID? It will be the best, worst experience that you will never want to repeat, unless you are going for your 3rd year like I did. In that case, good luck.
In my first year, I spent three of the longest weeks of my life, bent over at the waist, breaking my back, hand planting acre upon acre of single rows of pumpkin seeds.
After not being able to stand up straight, being fed up of being supervised by a 14-year-old Aussie lad in a ute, shouting at us to plant faster, dragging 120 plant trays up and down, I purposely got myself fired.
I only got myself fired as opposed to quitting because if you get fired from a job, you get put back at the top of the work waiting list at the working hostel (which organises jobs). As opposed to quitting, you get placed at the bottom (these lists could be 15 people long and take weeks of waiting for a job to come up).
The area that I did both my 3 & 6-month stints of farming in Queensland – The Burdekin, Northern Queensland specialises in mainly capsicums (peppers for us Brits), pumpkins, melons, sugar cane & mangos.
The Worst Farm Job I Have Ever Had
The worst job out of all of farming 1000% is capsicum picking. Bent over all day, picking knee height capsicum in the blazing sun, takes some kind of mental & physical warrior mode to survive it.
The job I ended up doing for a huge total of 9 months, was working in a huge packing shed. My job consisted of aimlessly standing in one place, for an unknown period of time each day, usually minimum 12 hours, with no music, talking or concept of time, picking up and putting down capsicums on a rotating conveyor belt style linear table.
I can confidently say, I am the quickest melon packer in the entirety of Australia and could tell you every defect of any capsicum across any Aussie supermarket. This makes buying capsicums a really sore spot, considering we used to get them for free. Melons are completely removed from my future consumable food list.
Regional Farm Work In Australia Tips
Navigating farm work in Australia and trying to set yourself up for life on “the farm” can be a minefield. Initially, I hadn’t a clue where to start, who to get in contact with, how to organise it and where to even go. I was lucky in that I had friends that had done regional work before. So after speaking with them, I had a general idea of where to go and how to go about it.
Choose an area of Australia that is in harvest for the time of year you wish to complete farming.
The 88th Day app is good for locating different areas and types of fruit picking, regional work.
Pick an area in season and google working hostels for that area, and pick up the phone and speak to the owner.
Use Instagram to search for working hostels and message people who have posted pictures about their experience & the current situation at the hostel/farming area.
Ask questions like: – Is there current work? How many hours a week average? – Is there a waiting list – if so how many people are on it and how long is the wait – What type of work is there, is it hourly or piece rate? All of the above, are options that could work.
Talking to those brave souls who have done it will either help you or scare the shit out of you.
Two Types Of Farm Work In Australia To Consider
There are mainly two types of far work in Australia: hourly and piece rate. Avoid piece-rate like the plague, there is enough hourly work (minimum $20 an hour) to go around. This is even more true with Covid times – there are not enough working holidaymakers to do the work.
This year 2021 onwards, the agricultural sector will be in a lot of trouble. Equally, the majority of Australians will not do these agricultural jobs.
At the end of our season in Northern Queensland (Nov-Dec 2020), farmers were paying us a minimum of $30 an hour with up to 5K bonus incentives to stay until the end of the season. This was purely due to the shortage of workers. Hopefully, this will make the farmers think about their treatment of WHV workers & establish better working conditions and rights once international borders re-open and they have a large influx of workers.
In terms of what you need to bring to the farm – the majority of it can be bought in Kmart – boots, high vis and gym gear. Most importantly a hat if you are in the fields, a large 5L water bottle or esky & some wired headphones if you are allowed music.
Living Costs In Australia
Australia is an expensive country to live in. However, the minimum wage is a lot higher and the level of pay is generally better than back home in the UK. I honestly found rent a lot cheaper too in comparison to London. Especially when you compare it to how much money you have after rent, it’s nice to be left with quite a bit.
Once you get into the mindset of earn in $ spend in $ its a lot more manageable. Especially when you stop comparing it to GBP to justify cheapness – “$12 cocktail… that’s only 7GBP – I will have seven!” you end up with no money, very fast with that mindset!
Without planning too, I have usually worked for six months, then travelled for three, then worked again. On average you can easily spend $1000 a week when living in a city like Sydney, including rent, bills and travel. If you are in a high earning job, it is very easy to meet all your weekly bills and living money obligations and allows you to save a significant amount on top of this.
Weekly pay is also something I love! If you blow your budget for the week, it’s only super noodles until the next payday in a few days time. Australia is an amazing country when you have money and when you can benefit from exploring it with money. I have also been so broke whilst here and its no fun at all. So if anything, make sure you have the money behind you whilst in Australia and have some reserves in an account back home, just in case.
I moved to Australia by myself. However, looking back, if I had moved straight from the UK to Australia alone, I think I would have probably lasted a week or two before flying home.
Thankfully, my choice to travel South East Asia first really set me up for arriving in Australia without realising it. I made friends for life in South East Asia and a lot of my friendship groups in Australia, even to this day, all stem from people I met, and people they met travelling across Asia.
The “backpacking working holiday circle” is really really small in Australia. Eventually, everyone knows someone you’ve met along the way or is a friend of a friend.
It’s more 3 degree’s of separation as opposed to six down under.
I think I have also met more Irish and Welsh people in Australia than I ever have in the collective of my twenty-seven years in the UK. The weird phenomenon that wherever you go in the world, regardless of country, you make friends with people from your own country – is no different in Australia. However, living in hostels opens you up to meeting and befriending people from many different countries.
Farm work in Australia is a big happy multicultural family. The Italians will always be cooking up a carb heaven storm, the Argentinians will forever be on the BBQ & the French will sadly, most of the time, be blaring techno music. Just as those from Great Britain and Ireland will most likely be on the piss given the chance.
People on “the farm” will become your family, being the most dysfunctional extended family you will experience.
Your friends in this group of people will be friends for life and farming bonds you like no other. You’ve seen each other at the weakest & least glamorous moment of your lives. Something about being in a shit situation together creates friendships that last. The only two benefits of doing 6 months farming is that you will gain another set of amazing friends in Australia and you get a third year to explore it all together!
The majority of my friends all started out as backpackers and the longer I have been in Australia the smaller you realise it is. Everyone knows everyone through someone on a Working Holiday Visa. The longer I’ve been in Australia the more my friendship group has changed to people with PR & Sponsored Visas, that started on a WHV too. The only Australians I can class as my friends are those I have worked with & met through joining clubs or gyms. Plus the very interesting, one of a kind Australian locals I met on the farm!
My Favourite Place In Australia
It’s really hard to not fall in love with Australia. Queensland as a whole is incredible and an hour up the road looks and feels completely different from the last place I visited. Sydney again offers a one of a kind experience.
But, my favourite place has been Cape Tribulation & The Daintree Rainforest in Tropical North Queensland. Just the knowledge of how old it is and that it will be standing long after we are here is magical. It’s a complete escape from anything I’ve experienced in Australia yet. I do think though, that Western Australia might change that opinion… I hopefully, will find out soon when I explore it.
Next Steps For Backpacking In Australia
I’ve now moved to Perth, which wasn’t my original plan, but because of COVID, I’ve learnt to go with the flow with planning. My original plan after farming was to move back to Sydney. However, with COVID restrictions in place and having lived a relatively Covid free life in Queensland the past 9 months, going into restrictions wasn’t an option. However, in the four hours that I explored Perth before being forced into sudden quarantine, I actually loved it!
Once I am out of quarantine, living in Perth for the next four months might make me re-assess Sydney living as a whole. The aim is to get a job, live the city life in Perth for a bit whilst saving and doing local exploration & travels.
I’m currently planning a trip up to WA into the Northern Territory in May with a big group of friends which I can’t wait for! Going home is not an option for me, at all. If I cant secure a very rich Australian husband, a sponsored job or some visa miracle extension, I will be going on a Student Visa. Hopefully then securing a training sponsored visa by an employer, or at least giving me more time to bag a man!
My one piece of advice is to take the step to do something scary or out of your comfort zone! Good experiences and lessons can only come from it.
Big thank you to Lianne for her incredible story insights and tips for any past, current and future backpackers in Australia. If you would like to become a future Expat Story Of The Month, simply fill out out Expat Story Form.