88 days a slave/88 days of new experiences: you choose!

Yes, you’ve got it in one, Australia has surpassed all my expectations; idyllic, adventurous, and beautiful, with a lifestyle like no other. This is the very reason why so many expats will do anything to elongate their stay in this wonderful country. In order to stay in Australia there are numerous pathways to choose from. The most popular being regional farm work. Most of us try our hand at farm work in return for getting that highly sought after second year working holiday visa. In order to be granted a second year in this wonderful country you need to complete 88 days or three consecutive months of specified regional work. This work falls under many categories;

Construction

Mining

Fishing and Pearling

Felling trees

Plant and animal cultivation

Often backpackers choose farm work, horticulture work and fruit picking. Working your butt off day in and day out is relentless, hard work and sometimes monotonous, however, its another new experience, another chink to add to the chain. Yes, ok, we’ve all heard the horror stories, dodgy farmers, crazy co workers, unliveable conditions and unsigned paperwork. That said there are so many ways in which you can make sure your second year regional work placement is one to remember. ’88 days a slave’, a backpacker term loosely associated with 88 days farm work required to obtain the second year visa. Find yourself a good reliable farm and your experience will be the complete polar opposite – 88 days of new experiences.

In May 2018 I left home in Ireland to return to New South Whales, Australia, in order to commence my days of slavery! Luckily I had a friend working on the same farm as I was extremely homesick and lonely. This, however, was short lived. After time I bonded with the family as if they were my own. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel so welcome. They’ve given me so many new experiences, memories and a unique farming opportunity. Despite the harsh drought conditions (not ideal for a crop farm) Trevor’s passion for farming oozed out and began to seep into my subconscious. I became interested in learning everything there was to know about crop production and livestock. This was completely different to what I had expected. Truthfully, I’d imagined I’d be counting down the hours every day, heading to bed dreading the wake up call the next morning. This was not the case at all, I was greeted by a loving farmer, his wife and other backpackers. The work was varied between tractor work, clearing land, servicing machinery and cattle work. Each day presented itself with something new. I shared a cosy two bedroom house with a fitness fanatic (jokes aside, Molly kept me motivated)and soon after a German girl Lisa was added to our group of farmers!

By no means was the work easy. We worked long 8/9 hour days, 5/6 days a week. Although, as far as bosses go we did have it pretty cushy. Trevor gave us breaks when needed, we never missed morning tea and we were provided with bottomless coffee.. the good stuff!

For someone who wasn’t an avid coffee drinker I began to enjoy it very quickly. Lisa (Trevor’s wife) provided us with the best sand cake and conversation in town. She also gladly allowed us to dip into her extensive wardrobe for different occasions such as the races. One life long lesson I learnt on the farm is that nothing ever goes to plan, working on a farm machinery will break, tyres will get punctured and accidents will happen. That’s just the way it is. When we weren’t out on the tractors or down the back with the cattle we were in Dubbo having a girly day, enjoying a family dinner by a bonfire, or at another social gathering in the town. During my 88 days on the farm I celebrated three birthdays, one being my own, all of which were very special.

Don’t leave it until the last minute:

For the love of all things Australian, do not leave organising your farm work until the last minute like me. People I’d met had told me time and time again to get organised early but I did not listen. After arriving home in Ireland for my cousins wedding in April I was cutting it very tight in terms of having enough days to complete 88 days regional work. I was extremely lucky to have a friend working on a farm looking to employ more backpackers. I set off back to Australia with a mere 88 days to complete the work and get signed off. Mind you, your 88 days work don’t have to be completed in one continuous block. I’ve known people to spread them out over the course of their first year. While this can result in more freedom over exactly where you want to work it turns into a very lengthy process. If like me you’ve left it until last minute you are most likely wanting to finish your 88 days as soon as possible. If you work a full working week (40 hours or more) many employers will sign you off as working 7 days a week. This varies however, every employer is different.

It’s not particularly hard to find work for backpackers, it just depends on the time of year as jobs are in high demand. The earlier you start looking the better. The worst thing would be to run out of time and end up somewhere you don’t want to be. If you know you want to stay in Australia don’t delay. There are numerous ways of finding farm work. Online facebook groups, gumtree, working hostels and word of mouth. Word of mouth is your strongest weapon when it comes to searching for farm work, talk to people! Get others recommendations, the good, the bad and the ugly. Backpackers by nature all do the same things, take similar routes and form cycles. Communicate with others, decide what you want from farm work, a boozy, tough graft, fruit picking filled three months or a laid back, family style farm or installation of windmills, you name it and you will be able to find it. For many jobs you do have to be relatively flexible, you may need to up and go as soon as you are offered a position.

Experience a different side of Australia:

For me, in terms of choosing where to do farm work was pretty easy. I knew I didn’t want to pick fruit and stay in a working hostel partying the months away, finishing up with no money to my name. I wanted my regional to be something I’d never done before, giving me the chance to learn and experience different things while meeting new people along the way. Everyone’s experience of farm work is completely different. Completing my 88 days farm work was one of the best and worst times of my life! You laugh until your belly hurts, you cry until snot comes dribbling out your nose and then you laugh twice as hard looking back at the times you cried – it’s a whirlwind of emotions. At the end of it all you realise a strength and determination you never knew you had.

Meeting new people:

One of the best things about farm work are the people you meet, you spend so much time together, you become part of one big family. I met some absolute characters. If everyone could have the experience I had they’d be whistling dixie! My favourite days on the farm were the trips to check cattle on the sister farm a few hours away. We would stop for a coffee in the local town and catch up with other farmers and individuals in the community. I’ll never forget one of my first days herding the cattle. I spent more time off the motorbike than on it! If this were to happen at home I surely would have gotten an ear full. Working outside, most employers prefer starting early during the coldest hours of the day. You’ll learn to love seeing the sunrises. On my farm each backpacker had use of a ute to travel to work and town when needed. The farm, land and accomadation surroundings were just sensational. Miles of nothing but land and wildlife. Wild kangaroos, Emus, pigs, crazy insects, surreal star gazing, topped off with sensational sunrise and sunsets. It was hard not to enjoy the outback lifestyle..

Try something new:

Make the most of having a routine on farm work. I used my spare time to work out and get fit for the Melbourne marathon, I started writing as a hobby and began listening to educational podcasts and audiobooks. It’s an experience full of lessons, memories, new skills, fun and tough auld graft.

Save, save, save:

As the majority of farms are located in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest big city and its drinking establishments, you’re likely to save a substantial amount of money that can possibly fund the next leg of your trip. Plus, the crowning glory, a shiny second year visa which will allow you to keep living the dream and keep real life at bay for at least another year.

Play by the rules:

Don’t try and cheat the system. It’s extremely easy to be tempted to use a friends ABN number, I know. Some jammy gits actually get away with it, while others don’t, making things more difficult in the long run. The majority of online ads claiming to provide the documentation are scams and the visa granting authorities are quick to catch on. If they discover that you’ve tried to get your second year visa by illegal means, they will have you on a flight home before you can even mutter the word ‘investigation’.

Farm work is exactly what you make it. Enjoy every moment.