Currently writing from a farm in Dalbeg, QLD, 90 kilometers from the closest small town of Ayr! I am living in the land of no grocery stores, frogs in the toilet, and an outdoor style living area with 30 other backpackers. The past few months have been so uncertain and filled with unexpected plans, it’s been exhausting but it’s important for me to keep a positive attitude towards everything.
After a week in Cairns in early May, I continued to strike out with work. I’m not sure if the busy season just hadn’t picked up yet, or if I was just not in luck with the hospitality market but either way I was hitting a dead end. My experience can pretty much be summed up with one quick interaction I had with a restaurant manager: she said “you seem great but your resume is the 20th I’ve received today”. So I needed to take the hint and make some decisions as the weeks were starting to pass with no changes. I started to take the option of real farm work more seriously and landed on Bundaberg, the notoriously terrible town filled with sketchy working hostels (the middle man) and piece rate jobs (think $2.00 per bucket of tomatoes picked!). I had to weigh my options as a solo female traveler though; it’s not easy to commit to a farm job in the middle of no where if you don’t have a car and it’s also a little nerve wracking to take that type of situation on alone. Bundaberg at least had work and a place to stay with other backpackers. I found one of the major working hostels in town had an opening, submitted my deposit and booked a flight for the following day. I knew that the type of work and location wouldn’t be sustainable for the 3 whole months of work I needed, but since Taylor’s trip was planned for the end of June, I was only looking to complete about 6 weeks of work before then anyways.
Working hostels are simply a place for backpackers to live and get connected with local farms for work, transportation is provided, etc. I arrived into a pretty dismal situation at the hostel; it wasn’t the cleanest or nicest place I’ve ever stayed, and you could tell that a lot of people were struggling with the work as they were not even making enough on a weekly basis to cover rent. You hear horror stories about working hostels charging extortionate rent, having ridiculous rules, screwing people over with work contracts and all that. However, I was lucky to be given a job right away, and started the next morning at 5 AM on a zucchini farm. That day of work was actually terrible. There was no training, the crop was absolute trash, we only worked for about 1.5 hours and waited about 2 hours for the shuttle to pick us up. So I only made about $4 that day haha. Pretty much right away, I realized that this might not even be sustainable for 6 weeks.
My first friend in Bundaberg was an Irish girl in my room named Sinead. She had just arrived the day before me and was in the same boat as far as the expiration on her first year visa. We became fast friends and she helped me get set up for my first day of work. By day 2 or 3 we were both sitting on our computers applying to any farm jobs we could find in Queensland. I met a few other really great people in Bundaberg that week; we all seemed to bond over the shared trauma of how hard farm work actually is and the stress of the uncertainty of it all. I began to hear that some of the farm jobs are paid cash in hand and started to panic that I could possibly be working these days and not even be able to put them towards my visa. It’s really a lot of stress. Luckily, money and time have been on my side so I wasn’t worried about not being able to afford food/rent and didn’t have the concern of not being able to complete my 88 days before my visa expires. About 5-6 days in, I heard back from a farm in Dalbeg (about 15 hours north of Bundaberg) offering me a picking job with an hourly rate— also zucchinis! Turns out Sinead and I had both applied to this one, and we both received offers for work. Since we really had nothing to lose, and the work seemed a lot more stable, we booked an overnight bus to Ayr to arrive in Dalbeg right away.
Luggage and a small bag of groceries in hand, we got picked up in a truck at the bus station by a family member from the farm. This 1 hour drive into the outback was really funny; we had no idea what we were getting into and were truly being driven into the middle of no where. This farm is by far the most remote place I’ve ever lived; it is a family owned farm that employs a team of 30-40 backpackers at a time for the season to pick and pack the crops. We live in an outdoor facility with rooms and a kitchen that feels a bit like glorified camping. There is a small “convenience shop” and “pub” attached to the house, which is really just a room with a few refrigerators that have milk, eggs and pasta. They sell alcohol as well, but the “pub” is just a games room with darts and a pool table. At first I questioned my entire life’s decisions, but somehow you find a way to get used to the place and the frogs in the toilet don’t seem all that bad. The first few days here were pretty rough; Sinead and I didn’t have work for the first 6 days and I couldn’t tell you one thing we did during that time, it is such a blur. But the people here have made all the difference. We were lucky to be part of the first group of backpackers to arrive for the season, so we were all trained and started up working together. The initial group of about 10 of us all got along super well and it somehow made everything seem more comfortable here. More people have come and gone since then, but right now we have nice group of about 30.
We officially started working on May 24th, and have been going strong since. I ended up being placed on the team of packers, and have been spending my days on the tractor packing green and Lebanese zucchinis by size into boxes that are then stacked 96 high per pallet. We recently started with squash too, and that is a different type of sorting and packing. The work is physically challenging (though not as hard as picking, I am lucky) and mentally hard too. The farm has a really high standard and we’ve had to learn how to perform quick and efficiently or else lose risking our positions. It’s been a new type of stress here, but I am thankful to have been able to work for a few weeks and finally feel like I am making progress towards these 88 days. We’ve had fun nights of theme parties and card games. I pick up on the lingo of my new friends from the UK and it makes me laugh. We have so many small inside jokes and sayings and already can’t believe we’ve only (and already) known each other for a month. I’ve been able to catch a ride to town a few times on my off days, and I’ve never tasted a cappuccino so good or been more thankful for a grocery store and veggie burgers.
This week it came time for me to tell the boss about my plans to leave for Taylor’s visit. I think my luck may have started to swing back; I was offered the chance to come back to complete my days after she leaves in early July. The ball is finally in my court and I am happy to feel like I have options now. Come July 6th, I’ll have about 8 weeks of work left to complete before mid-November.
I am really looking forward to this upcoming holiday! We’ll be in Cairns for 5 days of excursions and then will catch a flight to Bali for 8-9 days. I am pumped to finally get to Asia, a huge goal of mine for a while. I already know that 8 days isn’t enough and will be dying to get back, but that can be arranged in the future :). It will be really refreshing to spend time with a friend from home who “gets it”. I feel like Taylor and I have bonded over being of a similar mindset towards this phase of life and it will be helpful to have some conversation about it all and to just let loose and have some fun with a familiar person from home.
If you ever have a question about zucchini farming, I’m your girl!