Sometimes they’re easy to obtain, sometimes they’re an enigma which need plenty of chasing, and sometimes they’re not required and you can waltz straight off the plane without a care in the world! I’m pretty good with forward-planning and organisation as my Thailand visa was extended well before i packed my toothbrush, my Indonesian border-run was ready for me to sprint and Australia’s tourist visa was in the bag before i was on the plane. However, this Second-Year Working Holiday Visa (WHV II) for Australia is a painfully slow process which is requiring hard graft and has become a sincere royal pain in my ass… and now in my shoulders and biceps.
To get an Australian WHV II, one needs to complete 3 months (88 days) of ‘specified work’ in a regional area of Oz. The work (listed on the government website) includes harvesting or packing fruit/veg, trimming and pruning vines, the processing of fruit/veg/dairy products. Also a range of construction, mine work and pearl diving… yeah, right. The most accessible for me and other backpackers is the fruit-picking and farming option, which i thought would be a stroll in the park: find a farmer chewing on a piece of straw, work my days wandering the fields and orchards, catch up on reading and writing, generally getting down-time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Things just aren’t that simple though.
The devastating Queensland floods destroyed countless crops and farmland in Australia causing fruit and vegetables to rise drastically in price, and harvest jobs few and far between. Travellers flooded down to New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania for harvest work, competing with Austalians who professionaly pick for a living. Corrupt working hostels were in their element by promising harvest work through contracts with farmers, but making you pay upfront for weeks of accomodation regardless whether a job existed for you.
But i had a back-up plan. I guessed that by the time i had quit my waitressing job in Melbourne for the fields, i wouldn’t have found a harvesting job. Apples and pears were on the cusp of ripening and berries had been picked already in Victoria so when my self-imposed date to flee to the country rolled around, i signed up to WWOOF – Willing Workers Of Organic Farmers.
$60 got me one years membership and insurance (incase i get harvested by a tractor by mistake), and a thick book containing WWOOF host details in all areas of Oz. The deal is that you phone them, see if they need work done, toddle off to their property where they provide accomodation and food in exchange for 4 – 6 hours work. And as long as they have a special code next to their name in the WWOOF book, the work you do for them counts towards your visa even though it is not paid labour. This scheme focuses on ‘exchange of culture and venturing off Australia’s beaten tourist track’, i focused on ‘I will do anything in order to get that visa a.s.a.p.’
After a couple of weeks of WWOOFing around, it finaly became a case of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. A friend of a friend’s father’s friend blah blah blah managed to wrangle me a spot on a team of apple pickers at a respectable orchard an hour and a half train ride from Melbourne: Warragul. Close enough to go back every weekend, far enough to feel like a whole different world. And damn, it’s a completely different Australia out there in comparison to the sun, surf and babes of the East coast.
My silver-lining is that i’m getting around the state of Victoria and seeing more of Australia. Seeing places i would have never had known existed if i wasn’t at the mercy of immigration and having to pick like my Australian life depended on it… But it’s pretty annoying having to uproot my Melbourne life which was slowly coming together. I’d adjusted to the city, found my favourite cafes, bars, cinema, shops, etc. I’d gotten used to missing my English friends and family, and once again i’m off and now i’m stuck in the middle of nowhere missing my Aussie friends and family.
Word of advice: if you suspect you want to stay in Oz for a long period of time, get your ‘specified work’ done as early as you can. Then kick back and enjoy two full years without a care in immigration. However, i sure have some weirdo farming tales to share now…