It’s probably the question that every single working-holiday-visa-in-Australia-backpacker asks themselves. To fruit pick or not to fruit pick? To be eligible for a second year of a working holiday in Australia, the humble backpacker has to complete either three months or 88 days of “regional work” which mostly means fruit picking. To quote WWOOF, this disadvantages anybody who isn’t a twenty something, very fit, strong, white male. But doesn’t that sum up most of life? I’ll save that (rhetorical) question another blog post!
I had actually initially dismissed the idea of fruit picking because
1. Three months is a long time
2. It’s fruit picking…who would want to do that?
3. I was only going for one year and then back to the UK for uni (or an access course and then uni to be precise)
However, my mum started researching it which meant I had a look. The idea of a second year definitely interested me, as I worry that one year might not be enough if I want to both see all the main sights, and settle somewhere for a longer time to really make good friendships and enjoy the lifestyle. And what if it takes me nearly a year to find that place I want to settle?? My worried little mind was soothed by the idea of more time.
What really clinched it for me was finding out that your second year doesn’t have to follow your first. You can postpone it right up until your 31st birthday. Perfect! That would give me the freedom to either stay on if I wanted to, or come back and get trained up in Occupational Therapy, before going back out again in a few years.
The next step was more research. I read all the blog posts I could find about people’s experiences and noted that there weren’t many, and the most weren’t particularly positive. Tales of back breaking work, huge spiders, and tyrannical bosses certainly planted seeds of doubt. Lack of toilets at the farm, 12 hour days and weeks without work didn’t sound appealing either. My mum was naturally concerned, but being stubborn as I am, I told her that I’d already made up my mind. (And unlike when I insisted I would go for the cheaper flight – and then didn’t – and that I would fly to Australia just three days after returning from holiday – and then reconsidered – I really meant it)!
The place I decided on was Coffs Harbour. Mum had sent me a document from the government harvest website listing all the fruit picking places in Australia. Spotting the dot on the east coast, I scrolled to the page for Coffs Harbour. Here they grow bananas, blueberries, avacados, stone fruit, coffee and macadamia nuts. I also found a working hostel called Aussitel that offers free transfers to airports/train stations and free surf board, scuba gear and more to use! Since further research, I’ve only heard brilliant things about them which is a nice change from looking for a hostel in Brisbane!
I decided to start my trip with the fruit picking, because it would help me get to know lots of people, and also mean there’d be no frantic rush at the end to get in my 88 days. It also means that if I like somewhere I go, I can stay there with no worries about time running out, and still needing to fit in fruit picking. Also, as I’m going in September it hopefully wont be too hot for the most part…
One thing to note about the three months is that it has to be consecutive. So, if you go away for a few days (for example to a taylor swift concert), you can then only count the days you work; and to get the visa you need to work 88 days. This works out as more than three months. In contrast, if you work the three months in one go, your weekends count despite having them free. Definitely the better option!
My problem is that I’m going to see Taylor in Melbourne on the 12th of December, so that only just gives me three months – I really need to start working as soon as I arrive in Coffs. This is a point of great nerves for me; what if I just run out of time? What if it rains so we can’t pick (that’s a thing – nobody can pick if the fruit is wet) and that day then doesn’t count towards my 3 months? What if I can’t find work?
I contacted all the churches in Coffs Harbour to find out about their young adult things, and also ask about fruit picking. I needed to know if it was going to be as bad as everybody else had said! They all replied, and two referred me to the same girl called Spliv. She lives in Coffs and also picks fruit at a local farm! Perfect 🙂 We’ve exchanged a couple of emails so far, and she gave me the contact details of the farm she works at in Corindi. I’ve sent them an application form, so hopefully I’ll be able to get a job with them, as Spliv says it’s nice place to work. If I could have a job lined up already, that would be amazing!
So, after my three days in Brisbane I’ll be taking the train down to Coffs Harbour for three months of fruit picking. Hopefully I’ll be working at Costas berry farm in Corindi in the week, and surfing all weekend. Not to mention getting involved with the young adult group and church. I know that it’s going to be really hard work, and I’m anything but fit, but it’s a challenge which I plan to rise to. I’m stubborn – I can do this! And everyday I’ll get stronger. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – these words have stuck with me when thinking about fruit picking; and there is a lot to be gained.