Picking Fruit in Australia
Working Holiday Visa advice for fruit pickers
I saved a good amount of money while I was picking fruit (primarily apples) in Australia. The cash provided for 3 months of surfing and FIFA World Cup action in South Africa. Those were some of the best days of my life. I paid for them with long hard hours in the apple orchards of southern Queensland, Australia.
The work is physically demanding; at first its a bit torturous. Once your body gets used to the long days, you can just crank them out without to much body-ache. It's important to stick out the first two weeks; these will be the hardest. I was earning more and more each week. By the end I was making just under $1,000 AUD a week. Best of all, I save probably 80% of it. You can do it too. I've written this little guide as an aid; an aid that I wish I would have had before going into the orchards.
First, it really helps to have a goal to work towards. I knew I had a deadline of a non-refundable trip to South Africa coming up. In Africa I wouldn't have any income and I definitely didn't want to go broke there. This goal helped me push through some cold wet 10 hour days picking fruit. It also helped me push on when I had more than $4,000 AUD in the bank and didn't really need to work anymore.
Second you want to be prepared before you get to the orchards. Buy some sacrificial cloths from the salvation army or other second hand clothing store (Australians call them "op shops.") You want to get long sleeved pants and shirts. Don't pay more the $5 AUD for a shirt or more than $10 AUD for pants. Both will be destroyed by the time you exit the orchard. Buy thick. durable, tough cloths. I literally turned my cloths into scraps while picking fruit. At the end I cut some up for rags and threw the rest in the trash (Australians call trash "rubbish.") You need to protect yourself: while in the orchard focus on self preservation.
Get a pair of excellent shoes! Plenty of fruit pickers end up suffering from blisters and falls from wearing crappy shoes. I had a pair of Merrell waterproof hiking shoes. These shoes were worth their weight in gold in the orchards. I'd suggest these over a pair of heavy duty work boots. Merrells are especially nice because they are tough. They might cost four times as much as a cheap crap pair of shoes, but they could last 5-6 times as long and they are far more comfortable and safe to wear.
Once you have good shoes and a uniform of sacrificial cloths you are ready to start work. Use the Harvest Trail guide that the Australian Government puts out. It will tell you where the harvests are and give you the phone numbers for the work agencies in harvest towns.
It's very important to delight the people in these work agencies. Make them happy to work with you, be polite and be happy when talking to them. They put up with a bunch of nonsense from pretty regular people. If you make them happy, they can hook you up with the high paying jobs that don't suck really suck.
There are jobs harvesting fruit that really suck. I started by cutting broccoli. I don't recommend this to my worst enemy. My back was so sore, my feet were starting to rot and I had blisters from sunburns. If you get a job doing something really crappy, stick it out at first so the people at the work agency don't think your a quitter. If you can last 2 weeks at a crappy job, then they will get you a better one when you come back to them.
Above all else, its important to keep a positive attitude! Keep your employer laughing or at least smiling. If you can do this they won't be so prone to telling you to work harder or telling you to "bugger off." Not only will it help you with your employer, it will help you with your fellow orchard slaves. Making friends with the other workers helps the day go by without a bit of discomfort.
While working in the orchards I made some really great friends. An Estonian friend and I discussed the ancient Greek philosophy. My friend from Belgium and I spent days contemplating the the all important subject of who is better: Chuck Norris or Stephen Segal. I made friends with some lovely girls from Sweden, Germany, Canada and France. I often ate meals using my hands with a group of Indian computer science engineers working over summer to finish their degrees.
Every Saturday night we had a big bomb fire and drank lots of wine. Almost everyone had the day off on Sunday. Saturday nights were big awesome parties. Everyone was happy to have a good time and stay up all night after a long hard week of work. We had a really great community.
It was a hard time but it was an excellent time. Have fun!