Ah farm work…the backpackers’ worst enemy! It doesn’t have to be if you go and work on some Margaret River farms.
Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be. The 88 days of required regional work to gain your second year working holiday visa for Australia can be some of the worst days of your entire trip. Luckily, I am here to tell you that they can also be some of the best. I have experienced both sides of the coin.
How not to do it
In July 2015, I embarked on my first stint of regional work in Renmark, South Australia. This small rural town that lies on the Murray River, is close to Mildura where I think most of the farm work horror stories I have heard originate from.
Living in a motor home, with my two best buddies we began our journey. We found jobs as fruit pickers for a large contractor down there and got straight to work. We were picking mandarins, oranges and lemons. DON’T PICK LEMONS WHATEVER YOU DO.
Across our two-month stint there, we averaged $13 an hour and earned as low as $4 an hour picking lemons. DON’T PICK LEMONS. Before you assume that we were crap at our jobs, we were actually one of the faster crews of pickers. There were some absolute machines that managed to make minimum wage, but they were definitely the minority. The stories we got from other backpackers we worked with were all the same: long, hard days of work, while barely earning enough money to live off.
We thought we were being smart by staying in our motorhome and free camping to save money but the truth is after months on the road, followed by working and living together, we started to miss socialising with other people as well.
When looking back on the two months we spent fruit picking in South Australia all I can think about, is how crap it was, and how miserable we were – and I say that as someone who always has a glass half full. It was rubbish from day one until the glorious day we finished two months later.
After a couple more months on the road with my friends it was time to knuckle down and finish my regional work somewhere. Luckily, I had a friend from Western Australia who sold me on the idea of going over west and exploring. I hopped on a flight to Perth, took a bus down to Dunsborough and checked into my new home at the Dunsborough Beachouse YHA.
The best place to complete your farm work
I knew from the moment I arrived at this obscenely perfect place that things were going to be different. The hostel, located right on the beach, has a huge garden, beach volleyball court, pizza oven and basketball court with blue water as the scenic backdrop to top it off. My sort of place.
I still believe the best way to find farm work when you arrive is through talking to the people who are already working there. When I arrived, I spoke to anyone that would listen and found out that the main regional jobs here were picking avocados and working in the vineyards.
After just a few days of job hunting, I managed to get a job as a wire lifter on one of the margaret river farms, as one of the other people at the hostel was leaving, having completed their 88 days. The next few months were spent power-walking up and down rows and rows of vineyards lifting wires to stop the vines from flopping over. That was pretty much it. I started work at 5am most days to beat the heat, but I was usually back in the hostel by noon, meaning I could have some lunch and spend the rest of my day at the beach.
The work wasn’t particularly interesting but it was fairly easy and kept me in great shape. I also managed to make great money with an average of $29 an hour over the course of my 3 months working there. That in itself should tell you the whole story. I only needed a few weeks to finish off my regional work but I enjoyed it so much that I stayed on to finish the season. Then the next year I went back and worked for the same company in my second year, just because the money was good, the job was decent, and they treated me really well.
In my second year I also picked avocados and made over $30 an hour. Friends of mine who worked there on cherrypickers (a machine with an extendable arm to pick fruit) made even more than this. I only mention this to show that I went from the same job as a picker making $13 out east to making over $30 out west. And also to show that it had nothing to do with my picking ability, it is down to being paid a fair wage for your hard work. God bless Margaret River farms.
As well as having a decent job, I was also staying in a truly great hostel. The Dunsborough Beachouse YHA has become my second home and will always be a special place. It seems to attract very like-minded, adventurous people, who really enjoy a chilled out atmosphere. The friends I’ve met here are amongst the best people I have ever met, and we still meet up across the globe with our next reunion in Finland, later this year. Cheesy as it sounds, it is the people you meet that really make a place unforgettable.
The entire Margaret River Region is actually the perfect adult playground. Read all about why we love this specific region here. We can’t think of many better places to come and live, never mind doing so while you complete your regional work.
Doing your regional work in the Margaret River Region just seems to tick all the boxes. You will be paid fairly for your hard work (we haven’t heard any horror stories from here), well treated by your employers, live in an amazing beachfront hostel and meet some of the most amazing people ever. What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head over west. The journey over is absolutely worth it.
Top tips to find farm work in Dunsborough
1. Find a great working hostel. They will make every effort to find you decent farm work. The longer you stay and work, the longer you stay in the hostel – so it’s a win-win. We strongly recommend Dunsborough Beachouse YHA.
2. Look for your regional work in an area that offers much more than just a chance to complete your 88 days. We absolutely loved living in the Margaret River region.
3. Talk to people you meet travelling. Avoid the places you hear horror stories about and listen when people tell you about great places. Chatting to people helps you find out about available work and have an in when someone is leaving.
4. Go in the right season. The main seasons here are for avocados and vineyards. The avocado season typically runs from August until early January. The vineyard work typically runs year round except for June.
5. Be proactive. Contact some agencies by yourself. The major avocado farm in the area is called Jasper Farm. The major vineyard contractors are Riverace and AHA.