When someone mentions going to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) an automatic thought would go out to the horrific stories of doing farm work. Why would people want to do this hard labor? Is farm work really that bad? Is it dangerous? Well, in this blogpost I will tell you about my personal farm work experience which happened to be everything but horrific!
As probably many backpackers (like you) I always said I would never do farm work in my life. Also I had heard all the horror stories about backpackers working long hours in the burning sun without even getting paid or even worse abused. But of course something had changed my mind and that was the fact that I had fallen in love with an Australian girl who lived a one and half hour drive inland from Melbourne in the middle of nowhere, Bendigo.
The reason I started thinking of applying for farm work was the same why almost all backpackers seek to do this work; to get a second year Working Holiday Visa so I could stay another year in Australia. In order to get this you would have to work for 88days in a specified sector (agriculture, mining, construction,…). And thus with the wonderful help of my Australian crush and her family I had found an apple farm who offered me to help them during picking and pruning season. The owner, Trevor, was very welcoming and friendly and helped me out whenever I had questions about the orchard in Harcourt, Victoria.
It was a beautiful apple orchard with a lot of different varieties such as Pink Lady, Gala and Fuji. Every morning I experienced the most beautiful sunrises with loud screaming cockatoos flying over and waking up and yes myself. At dawn the kangaroos came out of nowhere and started hopping around the orchard. Does this sound unpleasant to you?
I spent about four months working on this apple orchard to complete my 88 days. Luck was very very much by my side as I had the ability to live at the house of my girlfriend at that time who even allowed me to use her car until I was able to get my own. For this I am still grateful because not only did I have a great time after my working hours and in the weekends, it also made it possible to save up some money to buy my own Van in the end.
So should I say my farm work wasn’t tough and tiring? No, obviously it is hard labor to pick apples, carry them around in your pouch and climbing ladders up and down nine hours a day. But as a physical therapist I was used to long working hours and using my physical fitness. Nonetheless, all the work was very do-able and above all it had something meditative to it. Being outside in nature, climbing trees, picking and every once in a while having a bite of a freshly picked apple gave me a sense of calmness. It did get boring from time to time always doing the same thing over and over again, but you know why you are doing this and it does give you a fulfilling feeling at the end of the day.
My co-workers were mostly Vietnamese or Malaysian and thus there was always a bit of a language barrier. In the end we sorted this out by me teaching them English while they would teach me some Vietnamese words. We all had to work hard to get our four crates each a day and because of their experience they taught me everything. Which apple to pick, how to pick and how not to pick, how to put the apples in the crate and even driving a tractor.
Yes, apple picking is not just picking it is a real skill and you have to pick the right color otherwise the owner would not get his money when he tries to sell his apples! Also when pruning you should be careful not to cut of the wrong branch because otherwise the tree might not give any apples the following season. I found this very fascinating and learned a lot about managing an orchard and what apple cultivation is all about.
So to conclude, I honestly loved my farm work experienced. I really enjoyed the co-workers, the owners friendliness and just being outside in nature all day every day. The apples were probably the best apples I ate in my whole life and I actually got to know much more about them and what to look at when I’d go shopping for Pink Ladies next time. Additionally being able to live in and experience a real Australian household really made this an unforgettable period in my life.