What’s it like to work on a farm during a working holiday in Australia? By now I have been working three months on a little family-run farm in the Lockyer Valley in Southern Queensland. A day in my farmlife

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It’s 7:15am when I receive my daily wake up call from my smartphone. After a quick shower I enjoy my brekky on the balcony of Grantham’s Farmworkers Lodge. The Farmworkers Lodge is nicely situated on top of a hill in the Lockyer Valley, overlooking the farmlands and forrests surrounding. The sun warms my face on this chilly September morning. It’s only 9 degrees Celcius. Around midday we should get 28 degrees, according to my weather app. The winter passed without a day dropping below zero.

The Farmworkers Lodge is nicely situated on top of a hill in the Lockyer Valley, overlooking the farmlands and forrests surrounding

It won’t take long before Harry shows up and like always he’s wearing his colourfull hoodie. Harry is my only colleague who’s also a backpacker. He’s staying in the same lodge. Every morning at 8 o’clock we meet at the balcony to travel together to work.

By now we’ve both been working a couple of months on the Bare Essentials farm in the Lockyer Valley in Southern Queensland. Harry just completed his 88 days of farmwork, which grants him a second year working holiday visa. We both work in the Shed. As shed workers we’re mostly washing and packing fresh produce, but occasionally we help the workers on the field with planting, weeding and picking or moving pipes. Today will be Harry’s last day on the farm.

Harry just completed his 88 days of farmwork, which grants him a second year working holiday visa

My old white horse, a Nissan X-Trail T30 II 4-wheel drive with 169 horsepower, is awaiting us at the parking in front of the lodge. Triple M‘s slogan “Good times & great country” followed by Knockin’ Boots from Luke Bryan sounds from the speakers when we drive downhill from the lodge to the mainroad. In front of us, a troop of Kangaroos nervously jumps out of our way. Eventually they acrobaticly slip through a fence bordering the road and a farm.

Grantham Farmworkers Lodge view on Grantham
The route downhill from Grantham Farmworkers Lodge to the main road

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Like on most days, we start questioning which and how many produce we’re going to wash and pack today and how much time it’s gonna take us. “Yesterday we had lots of shallots, so for today I think we get parsly and spinach” Harry Says. “I bet on coriander, but I hope you’re right and we get parsley” I say. Curly parsly is our favorite produce as it’s the quickest to wash and pack. On the other hand we like to work long days, so we make good money. We only earn the minimum wage for casual farmwork, 23,98 Australian Dollars per hour gross (2019). After tax (15%) and superannuation contribution about 20 dollars net is left. Both coming from Europe, were salaries are generally lower, we’re quite happy with our Australian income. Did you know that Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world (2019)?

We only earn the minimum wage for casual farmwork, 23,98 Australian Dollars per hour gross (2019).

We can’t stop laughing when a Toyota Hilux with numberplate SHALLOT suddenly appears in front of us. Would it be a sign? In Australia you can personalise your numberplate. We’ve seen a lot of funny ones. If you’re lunatic, why not buy yourself a bright pink plate with the text LUNATIC?! The pricetag of this joke? $3295 Australian Dollars. Well… then you’re indeed LUNATIC!

It’s 8:30am when we arrive at the farm. We have relaxed working hours compared to many others who stay at the farmworkers lodge. Most backpackers seem to start at 7:00am. On our farm the pickers start at 7 as well, but because the harvest won’t arrive before 9 in the shed, Harry and I can start a bit later.

I greet the lizard in the Shed while we walk up to the computer, “Good morning, how are you today?”. He opens his eyes grumpily and I can hear him thinking, “Why did you wake me up?”. The lizard is hibernating between the blue painted beams of a wooden pallet. We think it might be an Australian Water Dragon. He moved here in the beginning of the winter. Like Harry, it might be his last day as temperatures rise now spring has arrived.

The lizard is hibernating between the blue painted beams of a wooden pallet

The grumpy Australian Water Dragon is hybernating between the blue beams of a wooden pallet in the shed.
The grumpy Australian Water Dragon is hybernating between the blue beams of a wooden pallet in the shed.

On a sheet next to the computer we find what produce needs to be packed. It’s going to be shallots again. Damn it, it was a sign! I don’t like shallots. They are slimy and smelly. On top of that I’m clumsy in using the hedge shear to cut-off the tops, so these are my least favorites. Besides shallots we’ll do continental parsley today. Eventually we might also help with planting in the afternoon.

On a sheet next to the computer we find what produce needs to be packed

In the meantime Liam, the farmer’s son, prepared the shed so we can start straight away. First the shallots need to be washed and sleeved, before we can pack them into bins and boxes. We wash them in a specifically designed and enginereed fresh produce washing machine. I’m assigned to load the shallots in the machine. After they are washed, Harry and Liam sleeve and pack them into bins and boxes. As a finishing touch we cut of the tops of the shallots with a hedge shear so they look neat on the shelves. It takes us 3 hours to finish the shallots.

The shallots need to be washed and sleeved, before we can pack them into bins and boxes

Once I picked shallots and I got a picture of it!

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After finishing the shallots it’s time to enjoy our well deserved smoko! Some of the pickers join us today. Fizzy drinks and bags of chips appear on the table to complement our healthy farmlife. We have a great and diverse team on the farm. Many left their home country to build a life in Australia. Some study at the University of Queensland. Most of them are Asian, coming from countries like Indonesia, India and Korea. Harry and I are the only backpackers working on the farm.

Fizzy drinks and bags of chips appear on the table to complement our healthy farmlife

Smoko at the farm
Enjoying our Smoko in the new Lunchroom. Clockwise Bart, Julianti, Igbal, Kiki, Jani and me (Robin).
Our boots patiently wait outside while we are enjoying our smoko.

After lunch we continue our work in the Shed. Two full pallets of parsley are awaiting us. The packing process of parsley is bit different then that of the shallots. We don’t put the parsley trough the washing machine, but they go straight into the washtub. After being washed and sleeved they are packed into boxes. Together with Bart I’m washing and sleeving, while Harry packs and stacks the boxes. The latter is remarkable as Harry is the smallest among us. The boxes are stacked twice his own height, yet he easily manages to put even the last boxes on top.

Shed worker is a dirty job and it’s hard work, but hey, we somewhat like it! We need to reach our KPI. Thousands of bunches of produce pass through the shed every day. That means we need to work fast and efficient to get it all done. Furthermore we need to take the hccp rules and workforce laws into account. Even though we need to work hard, the work atmosphere is relaxed. We’re blessed with nice colleagues with a positive attitude that keep up the good vibes.

Shed worker is a dirty job and it’s hard work, but hey, we somewhat like it!

Harry and Bart are washing and packing in the shed

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We finish the day with planting parsley. Planting parsley is done from a special planting unit that is attached to the back of a tractor. The young parsley plants are stacked on a rack. Four of my colleagues sit in a row on a bench in front of the parsley. It’s their task to put the plants in rotating tubes. They need to keep up with the speed of the rotation. The parsley then slides through the tubes and is pushed into the ground by a mechanism underneath. This result in a field full of neatly alligned rows of parsley.

Planting parsley is done from a special planting unit that is attached to the back of a tractor

Most of us love to plant because it’s an easy job which doesn’t require much physical effort, except for the one who needs to walk behind the tractor to fix faillures. My job. It’s a real challenge to keep up with the speed of the tractor while continuesly stooping down to fix-up failed plantings.

Most of us love to plant because it’s an easy job which doesn’t require much physical effort, except for the one who needs to walk behind the tractor to fix faillures.

Brendan, the farmer, explains to Harry how to plant parsley

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It’s about 5 o’clock when we’re finished with planting. We clean the shed and go home. Well… that would happen if it was a normal day, but because today is Harry’s last day, the farmer’s family organised a little surprise. The family has a little spa on the farm and WE ARE INVITED for a HOT TUB PARTY with an AUSSIE BARBIE (bbq)!!! Not much later we’re enjoying our cold and well deserved beers in the wild bubbling water of the jacuzzi. The view over the farmlands surrounding is gorgeous.

The family has a little spa on the farm and WE ARE INVITED for a HOT TUB PARTY with an AUSSIE BARBIE (bbq)!!!

In the meantime Brendan, the manager of the farm, prepares the meat on the barbecue. What would an Aussie barbie be without kangaroo steak and emu sausages?

When the sun disappears behind the mountains, it’s time to sit down at the table. The roos and emu’s taste surprisingly good. Harry discovers his favorite Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue saus. Besides there is coleslaw and potatosalad. We finish with some good swiss chocolate. Then it’s time to bring a last toast on Harry. “Harry, what did you like most during your days on the farm”, I ask? “The people… and the shallots”, he replies with a smile. Harry’s 88 days are done! Will mine be next?

Enjoying the hottub after a busy day at the farm
Relaxing in the hot tub after a busy day at the farm. From left to right, Liam, Bart, Harry and me (Robin).