Hiya Jo, where are you at the moment? The middle of nowhere! It’s a small town in the Tablelands called Atherton, south-west of Cairns and about 30 minutes from the big farming and coffee town of Mareeba.
And what are you up to? I’m a slave to the agricultural world! I’ve been on various jobs: lime picking, basil picking and working at the Mareeba rodeo. I am currently working on a potato farm which involves me standing on a harvester as it picks the potatoes. I have to discard all the mud and rotten ones.
How did you get the job? I was reading the harvest guide of Queensland and I came across Atherton. One of the things that drew me there is it harvests a large variety of fruit and veg all year round. Now I just have to complete 88 days of work before I can get my soul back!
What’s the pay? It varies from farm-to-farm. Potatoes seem to be the best pay, ranging from $17.80 to $18.50 per hour. The rest of the farms do not pay anything less than around $16.50 and ranges up to $18.00, of course this is before tax. There are a few farms which only pay per bunch/basket, something like 20-30c, so I do not recommend this as it is very hard to earn a minimum day’s wage.
Why do it? To get my second year working holiday visa. Unless you have a secure job offering you sponsorship it is one of the only ways you can extend it by another year.
Have you already seen much of Australia? Well, I came to Atherton straight from spending eight months working in Sydney, but this is my second trip Down Under. I came here on a tourist visa five years ago. That time we started in WA and went up the coast, then flew to Alice Springs and then Melbourne, where we bought a car and drove all the way up the east coast to Cairns, where we flew to Darwin.
What’s best about fruitpicking? Getting paid is a bonus for doing something you have to do to get a visa. Also, a great part of the job is meeting new people. Every different farm I have worked on, I have worked with a different group of backpackers so it is the best way to meet everybody! Also it is interesting to get an insight into the farming world and learn about a whole new different way of life.
And worst? The work is very hard on your back and body in general plus the mornings are early, usually 6am at the latest. Plus, as you are generally based in a small town there is not much else to do when you are not working.
Is it worth it? It depends how much you want the visa. If you do, then it is 110 per cent worth it. If you are just doing it for the money, then I would not necessarily recommend it unless you are really stuck financially or you love farm work.
What do you do when you’re off-duty? Unfortunately there aren’t too many things ‘to do’ here in Atherton. There are nice lakes and viewpoints so if you have a car it is great to check out some nature spots. However, if you don’t have a car then you are maybe a little stuck. There is a big pool here, otherwise, if you get weekends off, you can go to Cairns (there are frequent buses) just for fun and something different.
Any tips? Be prepared to work hard as it is no walk in the park. Bring clothes that you do not mind getting muddy because they will and it won’t wash out; Wear closed shoes that you don’t mind getting ruined; and try and come with a little bit of money, in case you turn up and their is a shortage of work or the weather is bad. Also, have a good attitude. If the farmer doesn’t like you he can easily replace you.