australia · queensland · Travel

Finally Feeling Like We’re Living the Backpacker’s Dream in Australia – A Nice Place to Work, Live and Spend our Free Time.

I am now writing on Wednesday 21st June, we have been working at the new apple farm for two months now, the contrast between this farm and S******’s is staggering. For one, the supervisors actually know what they’re doing, they make intelligent decisions based on experience and not on rage like our previous supervisor did.  I have found the supervisors to be firm but fair – pickers are expected to pick between 3-4 bins per day depending on the condition of the trees.

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We arrived at this new orchard near the start of the Pink Lady apple season around two months ago, it’s now the Thursday 6th July and the last of the Sun Downer apples have just been picked, these are the last apples of the year to be picked at the farm and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the last apples to be picked in the whole of Australia as it’s really late for picking any apples. We’re around 50 days into our 88 days of farm work, when we initially arrived in Australia we thought we would do the farm work, get our 88 days and get to the city as soon as we could, with the first farm we started working on we thought we wouldn’t even be able to last for the 88 days, however, since coming to the new farm we want to stay for as long as we can; we’re surrounded by beautiful nature, we’re paid fairly, the working conditions are good and we get on with all of our supervisors.

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When we first got the jobs at this farm we were told that they were currently preparing a sharehouse for us, and although we were really happy living at the Summit hostel we were prepared to move into a sharehouse if it meant we would have a better chance at longer term employment – we had heard horror stories from other backpackers about sharehouses on various farms in Australia, they talked of houses infested with mould, rats, cockroaches, etc. When we first saw the sharehouse we were pleasantly surprised, it was clean, had a modern bathroom, hot water, a nice living area with a big television and a fully equipped kitchen, we all couldn’t wait to move in and two months down the line we are still all really happy with our living arrangements. The sharehouse is owned by one of the family members and her husband who regularly make sure everything in the house is working fine and if we ever have any issues they’re quick to resolve it for us, they always make sure we have enough water and enough firewood which we all really appreciate. Since moving into the share-house we all decided that we would like to stay past picking season so we spoke to one of our supervisors and asked if it would be possible to stay for pruning season and he said we could stay but only on the condition that we stayed for the full three month period, this was fine for all of us although Larissa, Julian and Yotam all have to leave a week or so before the season finishes, Becky and I are actually hoping we can stay working at the farm past pruning season.

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When we first moved from the Summit hostel there were five of us, Alena (a young backpacker from Munich), Julian and Larissa (the German couple we originally met at our previous hostel who moved with us to the Summit after we all quit S******’s orchard), Yotam (an Israeli backpacker and experienced fruit picker whom we also met at the previous hostel), and Becky and I. Originally Alena was a little uncertain about moving to the share-house since the friends she had originally travelled with were remaining at The Summit since they had found jobs at another farm, Alena originally tried to get a job with them on their farm but she was told by the farm owners that they are only taking males on for picking season, our friend Paula also had a similar experience at the same farm when she went to enquire about jobs, she told us she was basically laughed out of the building. It’s seems fairly common for farmers to only take certain genders for particular roles, at one nearby farm all of the male workers were let go at the end of picking season and only the females were able to stay on for pruning season, we have found that most of the packing shed roles (excluding those that involve heavy lifting) are reserved for females, and some farms like the one I previously mentioned will only take on males for fruit picking.

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Quite recently the work has been a little sporadic, some days we have been strip picking Sun Downer apples, on other days we have been colour picking Pink Ladies, we have done a few days packing in the shed while we have been waiting for the sun to colour the apples a little more. We have actually performed a third pick of the Pink Lady apples because it has taken such a long time for some of them to obtain the right amount of colour, this has mostly been to do with the fact the trees have too many branches at the moment which has been leaving some of the apples in the shade for most of the day, as a result we have been going around the orchards and removing some of the more obtrusive branches from the trees, to do this some of the male backpackers hold the branches while the supervisors use a chainsaw to remove the branch as close to the trunk as possible, it’s important to support the branch so that the branch doesn’t fall before the cut is complete as this would result in bark being stripped from the trunk, once the branch is removed is placed at the side of the row so that they can be put into a wood chipper at a later date, after the cut has been made the female backpackers will apply a thick layer of green seal to the wound, this is a pretty viscous paint with anti-fungal properties, this is essentially a wound dressing for the tree that will prevent fungal infections and protect the tree after the branches have been removed, just like humans need wounds dressing trees do too. Removing the large branches from the trees isn’t something that is done every year but every few as far as I am aware, they really take a systematic approach to fruit picking and tree maintenance at this farm, it has made me gain a real appreciation of the work that goes into putting fruit on the supermarket shelves. It has been really interesting for Becky and I to learn about all of the processes at the orchard, from the correct way to pick apples without damaging the trees to how the trees should be pruned to ensure the right amount of apples are grown on the trees, that they grow to the right size and in the right places, and that the apples receive the desired amount of sunlight. We’ve picked the apples, we’ve cut the trees, we’re currently pruning the trees and we’re hoping that we’re able to stay for thinning – I don’t know about everyone else but I would like to return to this farm next year to see how all of the hard work everyone has put in pays off. The past few weeks have been a bit of a transition, we finished cutting all of the big branches in all of the orchards that needed it doing, the girls and Yotam are currently being trained up in how to correctly prune, meanwhile Julian and I have been at home, our boss tried to give us some work removing the geranium plants from the new orchards so they don’t starve the new trees of nutrients, water and space – Julian and I managed a day and three hours due to our bodies just giving up, we still managed to do a whole orchard and part of another in that time but the constant strain of pulling these plants out of the ground gave me quite a lot of knee and hip pain and gave Julian a fair bit of back pain (I lock my back and lift with my legs which is why I think it affected me the way it did). It sounds silly that we were both basically incapacitated as a result of pulling plants out of the ground but a lot of these plants had root systems which extended around three foot under the surface and they gripped the ground like small trees, some were easy and popped out with one hand while others took all of my strength and five minutes trying to get them out, there were a few which none of us were able to remove, it felt as though I had been dead-lifting 150kg for 8 hours, when I woke up the following morning I struggled to even get out of bed, Yotam and another guy had to continue with the remaining orchard, Yotam said the next day that he was feeling pretty broken but when they were working on the orchard if there was a plant that was seemingly too hard to get out of the ground they would just bend it over, I think I was too committed and put in all my effort to getting every single plant out of the ground. After this experience I now have a most loathed plant, the geranium. Julian and I told the supervisor that we couldn’t go on, my legs were screaming and my hands and fingers were so red and swollen they looked like five sausages attached to a pie. This is my second full day off now and my legs are still sore although I am pretty eager to get back to work, there is only so much sitting around the house I can do, I went for a hike up a hill about a mile away from our house, we call it the mountain but none of us have managed to find a path up to it until yesterday, I have mentioned it before but the wildlife around here is absolutely amazing, my favourite sound is that of the Kookaburra ‘laugh’, we’ve seen scorpions, various spiders, an echidna (egg laying mammal which looks like a cross between a porcupine and a hedgehog), black cockatoos, kangaroos, a possum, wallaroos and quite a lot more – I think most people fear the Australian wilderness but I quite regularly wander into the bush to look for the various creatures that inhabit it, turning over small rocks to find spiders and scorpions before replacing them and moving on to leave them in peace, I really love it out here. So time for a little review score of the farm we’re working on, The Summit Backpacker’s and now that we’re in a sharehouse I may as well review that too.

The farm

The work = 5/5

The supervisors = 5/5

Being treated with respect and made to feel safe at work = 5/5

Earning potential = 5/5

Job security = 5/5

Overall =25/25

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Honestly, I can’t praise this place enough – I don’t know whether it’s because we had such a shocking experience on the last farm but we both really like it here and I think people and companies deserve credit when it is well deserved. I think everyone who works here is treated with respect and are treated fairly, we’ve never had a problem with our wages, and we all have a laugh with our supervisors. Don’t get me wrong, you really have to work for your money and you have to work to a high standard for all jobs you are doing but if you do that then everyone is happy.  From what I have seen the company is pretty well run, there is a give and take relationship with the backpackers, if you’re continuously shit at your job then you’ll be fired but if you’re good then you’ll get a good wage and stable employment. It’s no secret that there are companies in Australia who exploit backpackers, but this is definitely not one of them. Becky and I are really happy here.

Hostel (The Summit)

Living quarters = 5/5

Cooking facilities = 5/5

Cleanliness = 5/5

How good is the hostel for work = 3/5

Lifestyle at the hostel = 5/5

Overall = 23/25

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The Summit hostel is a fairly recently acquired business being run by a really nice couple, Ben and Penny. From the moment we first spoke to the owners we knew we would have a good experience here, they picked us up from town when we never had a car and did their best to make sure we all got put in a dorm room together. Our room was really nice and cozy, the beds were comfortable, everything was clean and the rooms were nice and warm both day and night (it gets quite cool up there of a night since it is at around 1000m elevation).

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There’s a big field at the back of the hostel which is perfect for playing sports or just relaxing when the sun is out. The kitchen is big and there is plenty of equipment for everybody to cook, the kitchen is always cleaned each day so it’s almost always clean when you come to use it, some guests occasionally left the kitchen a bit messy but this is something you will experience at every hostel and Ben and Penny made sure it was always spotless the following day. Each week after you pay rent you are given a code which entitles you to 2gb of WiFi which I think is enough for most people, however if you want more you can purchase more at reception or get more WiFi in exchange for helping out around the hostel. Although most of the people at the hostel are working on farms there is currently no guaranteed work if you come to the hostel so it is a good idea to already have a job lined up, however, if farmers have work and contact the hostel then Ben or Penny will pass the job onto the guests without work, this happened to us one day and it really helped us get a bit of money when we were running low. Now, the Summit is pretty far away from most things, all major shops are around a 20-minute drive away in Stanthorpe so it’s a good idea to have a car, but they do have some rental cars which you can use if they have one available. The atmosphere at the Summit is pretty sweet and I think anybody who stays there will have a nice time and always feel welcome providing you play by the rules and don’t take the piss, the owners are super nice and very helpful.  I can’t recommend the Summit hostel enough, it is a really good place to stay.

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The field at the back of the summit, great for sitting out in the sun, playing some sports or sitting around the fire pit of a nighttime with a few beers.

Our overall situation is pretty much perfect as far as I am concerned, we’re being paid by the hour, we have fairly consistent work weather permitting, we have a nice share-house to live in with nice housemates and we’re finally able to start saving money.  For backpackers coming to Australia in search of regional work to earn some money for travel and allow them to obtain their second year visa, it almost feels like the pursuit of the Australian dream, the problem is that you can also find yourself living the Australian nightmare, working 40 hours a week only to earn enough money for rent and food. I feel like we’ve finally found ourselves living the Australian dream, we’re earning minimum wage and have a nice place to live, I feel really fortunate to be in this position.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, stay tuned for more, and if you find yourself looking for a place to stay in Thulimbah (near Stanthorpe) then check out The Summit Backpacker’s.

Cheers

Matt

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