After spending the festive period in Melbourne and Sydney, I was running low on money once again. That and as highlighted in my previous post, I still needed to finish my regional work.
Tim had decided to come with me (he’d already finished his farm work) so we started researching places to go. We looked into Adelaide, Tasmania and various places in Queensland. We loved Queensland and had done our previous farm work in Bowen (north) but didn’t really want to return to the same place if we could help it. We have friends who have done but we had fond memories of our time there so I was concerned the second time around wouldn’t live up to our expectations. That’s when Bundaberg caught our attention. It was still in Queensland but would be somewhere new and best of all, there were farm jobs all year round. We had found that much out through our research, particularly on Harvest Trail.
There were a number of working hostels in Bundaberg but we had our hearts set on East Bundy from day one. The reviews were great, it had double rooms and there was a small pool in the back garden. Initially we had to put our names on a waiting list. That to me was a positive sign – it was obviously very popular.
It was only a few days before we got a phone call with a job offer. The hostel doesn’t usually have people staying there unless they have a job for them and we were in! There was just one problem: we would have to travel there the following day. This is a prime example of being prepared to change your plans as I referred to in my previous post. We immediately booked flights, which cost us a lot more than we could really afford but we would have guaranteed jobs on our arrival.
The plane that took us there was the tiniest I’ve ever seen…it had propellers! I was quite nervous about getting on it but it belonged to a reliable airline – and we were fed despite the fact the flight was only an hour. It explained why the flight was so pricey.
Once we arrived in Bundaberg, we were told we now wouldn’t be starting work until the Monday (two days later). In some ways we were relieved as it meant we had time to settle in to our new surroundings but we’d spent a lot of money to get there as quickly as possible so it was disappointing at the same time.
I had various jobs during my time at East Bundy. Each of them was so different and taught me so much. Here’s a quick summary of my experiences at each.
Capricorn Fresh – basil
This is the job we were brought to Bundaberg for. I was picking basil in greenhouses for the first few hours of my day and packing in the shed for the rest. We started work at 5am which meant leaving the hostel at 4:10am.
My colleagues were friendly but the managers weren’t. On my sixth day of the job, I was forced to pay for cutters to pick the basil (I had been borrowing them but was told I needed my own as I “would be working there for several months”). I wasn’t given any more hours after that day. They took the money for the clippers out of my pay even though I sent them back with a colleague. They also took money out of my pay each week (I was only there for 2). It was a security measure to insure you would stay for 4 months as you get it back as a lump sum at the end…if you last that long. Needless to say I never saw that money again!
I was devastated that I’d essentially been sacked. I have never lost a job in my life and to be laid off from one where I needed no qualifications was quite humiliating. I hated the job but I still got up at 3:30am every minute morning and gave it my all. I wasn’t upset about not having to go back to this farm but the way I’d been treated. I had been miserable there. Still, onwards and upwards!
This was just two weeks of work, weeding a ginger field. The farmers were lovely. We worked 6:30am until 2:30pm each day which was long enough in the heat of the sun. It was painful because we spent most of the day bending over to pull at the weeds so we all had sore backs but I made some great friends while working at this farm. All the girls I was working with were also living at East Bundy Backpackers. The best part of farm work is the people you meet (and of course, making some money).
Akers – sweet potatoes
I’d heard horror stories about how awful the supervisor was at this farm. In all honesty, she did speak to some people quite badly and she yelled at us all collectively to talk less and work faster but I never had a run in with her. We worked from 6am each day and never knew when we were going to finish. It would depend on the number of orders that day.
By the end of my time at Akers, I was getting jobs like weighing the good sweet potatoes and preparing them for collection by the delivery drivers. People chosen for these jobs were generally well liked by the supervisor so I felt very lucky. I was enjoying my time there which I’d never expected. The only issue had been the sporadic hours. The farm had share houses full of backpackers that they would use on a daily basis. They only used working hostels when they needed extra help. That meant I was only getting three or four days of work a week. In my final weeks there, I was being sent out to weed the fields as they didn’t have enough work for me in the packing shed. It meant I got to be out in the sun which was great but we had to wear big hats and long-sleeved shirts to protect ourselves from the rays. No tanning at this farm! After a few weeks the manager at my hostel, Christine, moved me to a new farm where I would have guaranteed hours.
Eden Farms – cucumbers
The catch was that I had to commit three months to the farm to get the job. I thought long and hard about this because I had already spent four months trying to get my farm work done but I needed the money so I went for it. This was one of the best farms I have worked on. It was only three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Fridays) because the season was winding down but the people I worked with were lovely. We had breaks every two hours, which was good for me because I was working on the wrapping machine. It moves past your eyes at speed all day long so the short breaks were much appreciated! We were allowed to take cucumbers home with us whenever we wanted, which was great as a backpacker. Friends who worked on other farms would bring tomatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and melons back to the hostel with them so we were quite a healthy lot at East Bundy!
Leslights- sweet potatoes
After speaking to Christine (the hostel manager) about my concerns with only working three days a week, she found me some hours at another farm for my days off. I’d been really nervous about starting at Leslights because I had heard the owners can be quite abrupt with backpackers. But they were really good to me – they changed their operating days to Tuesday’s and Thursdays so that I (and other Eden employees) could continue to work there on our days off. This meant we had five days of work a week, which was perfect!
We were picking sweet potatoes out in the field which meant we were usually covered in mud by the end of our working day. Then we’d pack what we had picked in the shed. It was early starts (6am) but we were usually finished by 3pm at the latest. By the end of my time at Leslights, I had a great relationship with the owners and they even had beers with us all on my last day at the farm.
Hiscock – sugar cane
This was the loveliest farm of all. I only worked a couple of weekends for the couple who owned it. Myself and a friend from the hostel were sat on the back of a tractor planting sugar cane. We just had to feed the cane into a cutter which would then put the pieces into the ground and cover them over with soil.
It was fast paced but we really enjoyed it. The family was so welcoming. At smoko (break time) we were offered a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits and cakes! None of us wanted to leave. We were only needed for two weekends but have kept in touch with the farmers.
Reflecting on farm work
Going into my regional work I had expected to hate it and don’t get me wrong, there were days when I really disliked what I was doing but I don’t regret it for a second.
It’s taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, to try (almost) anything once, and shown me how to balance my work and private life better. What I mean by that is before I came travelling I lived to work but in Australia I have worked to live. I’ll always give any job I have my all but life really starts once your working day has finished. On days off, we would head to the beach or watering holes, I tried paddle boarding, we mingled with the locals at the pub, fed turtles at the park. We really made the most of the town we were living in and I hope that’s something I’ll take with me wherever I am in the world.