If you’re considering quitting the city and hitting the road in search of adventures in regional Australia, seasonal work provides the perfect way to go. And with Australia’s vast landmass and simultaneous different climates, the thriving harvest industry offers plentiful work, a reliable income and endless opportunities for meeting other like-minded travellers. From harvesting oranges in Berri to picking berries in Orange, the harvest trail is ripe with opportunity. You’re likely to work closely with other travellers in an environment that fosters close relations – in often stunning outdoor settings. Add to that the recent expansion of the Working Holiday Maker scheme (any WHM visa holder can extend their visa by another 12 months, providing they complete three months in seasonal work) and you can see why travellers are hitting the harvest trail.
When to go
There are crops to be harvested all year round in Oz, but keep in mind that different regions are active at different times. Before you hit the road, think about where you want to go so you don’t wind up in your preferred location at low season.
Riverland Region: Berri, Barmera and Loxton
* Dried Fruits: January-March * Grapes and Peaches: February-April * Oranges: late May-August * Pruning vines and stone trees: June-September * Apricots: October-January * Stone fruit: October-January
Murray River Region: Mildura and Red Cliffs
* Pruning vines: June-August * Citrus fruits: June-December * Stone fruit: October-January
* Bananas and paw paws: All year
* Bananas: All year
* Avocados: March-September * Capsicums and zucchinis: April-July * Tomatoes: All year * Beans and corn: July-February * Mangoes, lychees and melon: December-March * Rockmelon: July-December For a more comprehensive overview of the fruit picking seasons, log onto the government run Harvest Trail website http://www.jobsearch.gov.au/harvesttrail. Here you will find an extensive list of jobs, harvest locations, working conditions, transport and accommodation (you can even download a National Harvest Guide from this website complete with suggested trails and dates for ‘chasing the sun’ around Australia, or details about how to work your way from Adelaide to Cairns). Ph: 1800 062 332.
CONDITIONS AND PHYSICAL FITNESS
Despite the romantic notion of wide, open spaces and fertile fields laden with ripe crops, harvest work is generally hard work and requires a good level of fitness. The hours can be long with early starts and mid afternoon finishes to maximise the cooler part of the day. Expect to feel sore at the end of the day, every day. Generally you will work in a team (often these are made solely of other roving travellers, which makes for a great way to meet friends and swap information about travelling Down Under), and your work will be checked by a supervisor. You will most likely break for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea and you will need to supply your own food and drink. And be warned, most of the fruit harvesting is done in hot and sweaty conditions. Daily activities might include climbing up and down ladders, bending over (if you are working with a ground crop) and carrying heavy bags and bins. It is likely you will be on your feet most of the day. Generally employers are honest and fair but there will always be a few Mr Burns’. Avoid difficulties by establishing your working hours, conditions and wages before you start.
Harvest work is paid either by the hour or by the quantity of the crop you bring in (this is usually measured in bins). In Australia, a bin is like a skip and holds between 400-500kg. Pay rates will vary according to the value of the crop and the ability of the individual worker, but as a guide you can earn in the vicinity of $300 per week after tax – according to the Australian Tour and Information Centre (http://www.tourinfocentre.com.au/). Experienced pickers can earn twice this amount and in some jobs you can choose to work seven days a week. Also, as this is work in regional areas your expenditure is likely to be limited to your basics such as food and accommodation and maybe the odd six-pack. All up you’ll find it much easier to save than in the city.
CAN I GET A VISA EXTENSION?
Since 1 November 2005, travellers holding WHM visas have been able to apply for a second year in Australia providing they complete three months’ seasonal work in regional Australia. At the time of application for the second visa, the applicant must be aged between 18 and 30 years (inclusive). Seasonal work is defined by the department of Immigration as: ‘Any type of work that is seasonal in nature or that is undertaken as the employee of a primary producer, including plant and animal cultivation, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling.’ Regional Australia is defined as: ‘Any area except Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, the NSW Central Coast, Brisbane, The Gold Coast, Perth, Melbourne and the ACT.’ Visit the Immigration Department’s website, to check specific postcodes to ensure the area in which you plan to work is classified as part of ‘regional Australia’.
VOLUNTEER WORK AND WWOOFING
Work does not need to be paid work in order to count towards the three months stipulated for your second visa. Work undertaken as a volunteer or through the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) scheme can also count towards your eligibility. Wwoofing offers a good opportunity to stay with Australian families and help out in exchange for food and somewhere to rest your weary head. Ann and David Craber have been hosting wwoofers for three years. So what exactly do wwoofers do? ‘It’s varied,’ says Ann, who lives in rural Victoria. ‘We’re not a real farm, just 3.5 acres in the Dandenongs. We grow herbs, fruit and veggies. There are 20 chooks, 15 ducks, a couple of geese and a turkey. Wwoofers clean out the duck coup and feed the chooks. We’ve also got three alpacas, so they might need to move them. Because the alpacas nip, it can be intimidating at first, but it’s fun.’
APPLYING FOR A SECOND WHM VISA
Unlike the first WHM visa, you can apply for your second from within Australia. In order to prove the three months’ seasonal work you must fill out a WHM visa employment verification form (form 1263 in government speak). You can download this on line or collect it from a Department of Immigration (DIMIA) office. Make sure you get this form before you begin any harvest work as all employers must sign it. In addition, the undertaking of seasonal work can be proven with pay slips, group certificates, tax returns and employer references. Be aware that the work can be accumulative, so it’s not necessary to stay with the one job for a period of three months. But be warned, when applying for a second WHV you will need to undertake a medical examination for which you will need to pay a fee. Applications can be made on the DIMIA website and cost $180. * For more information visit http://www.immi.gov.au/.
James, 22, Fruit Picker Who are you? James Britten, 22, from Essex. What job did you have at home? I was a lab technician. How long have you been doing harvest work? I’ve done about four months out here in the sticks now. What other jobs have you done in Oz? I spent six months in Sydney and Brisbane working as a telemarketer. I was the annoying foreigner that calls at all sorts of bad times, it wasn’t pretty, but fun nonetheless. Why harvest work? I want a second year visa. Plus I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t normally meet on the regular tourist route. I came here from a small town and dreamt of meeting internationals. I didn’t in Sydney and Brisbane but I’m making up for lost time now. Where have you worked and what have you picked? I’m currently in Bundaberg picking cherry tomatoes. I’ve picked pears, apples, grapes, plums, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, broccolini, cabbage and mandarins. Fruit picking has taken me all over Australia, from South Australia’s Barossa Valley through to NSW, along the Murray River in Victoria and now I’m in Queensland. How many hours do you work? You’re pretty much looking at five to six days a week, 7/8am to 4/5pm, in my experience. How much do you earn? When I worked hourly, which I highly recommend, I worked for $15 an hour. What are the perks? Meeting new people and being out in the sun and with the wildlife, even the spiders. Bad points? Sometimes you find yourself working really long hours for low pay. Would you recommend it to other backpackers? Yeah! Get involved, You meet some curious folk (from ex-convicts to current convicts in hiding), and really inspirational people too. You’ll see all the weird and wonderful parts of Australia, it’s bonding with true nature. I wouldn’t erase this part of my trip for any amount of money. Any interesting stories to tell about harvest work? I met a really strange Aussie guy in Gayndah who told us quite openly of how he had sex with his cousin in some redneck Texan town when he went to visit. Then he said, in front of everybody, ‘but it wasn’t my fault!’