If you’re planning on doing a working holiday in Australia or are already in the midst of one, chances are that you’ll be dabbling with the idea of farm work in the Australian countryside. After all, working on farms is a great way to experience the rural side of Aussie life, meet some country folk, and even get a year extension on your visa (if you’re on a 417 Working Holiday).
After finishing up on our first farm stay in New South Wales, we took away some valuable lessons from the experience plus plenty of great memories. Here are five in preparing for your farmstay in Oz.
1. Select which work exchange website you’ll use
Not knowing where to start, we first began looking for farm work using Gumtree (Australia’s equivalent to Craigslist), but found that there were barely any jobs advertised. We then discovered work exchange programs, Wwoofing, HelpX and Workaway. Through these programs, you can stay at a farm to work in exchange for food and accommodation.
There’s a sign-up fee for each site so it’s more than likely that you’ll choose just the one, but before signing up for any of these three programs it’s important to know that there are some differences.
Wwoofing’s (World-wide oppurtunities on orgranic farms) unique selling point is that it emphasizes the teaching of organic lifestyles and if you’re interested in sustainable farming then there’s the potential to learn lots. Although Wwoofing is the most famous of the three programs – and has a great reputation – there are two downsides which drew us away from it. To Wwoof you will have to pay a steep AUD$70 for 12 months and despite being a worldwide organisation you will then only be entitled to work in Australia. If you planned on Wwoofing elsewhere, you would have to sign up to another country’s Wwoofing program… I know, right?!
Workaway and HelpX set you up with small farm-stays which aren’t always going to be certified organic or focussed on growing food. They can be equestrian centers, family farms, homestays and everything in between. There’s a variety of jobs available involving gardening and animal work. You can email hosts which have posted ads for workers and arrange a date for when you will work there if all goes smoothly.
At this point you’re probably wondering the difference between the two programs and the only real difference I could discern was the price. HelpX will cost you 20 Euros which roughly works out to $29AUD at the moment for a two year membership as a single member or couple. Workaway on the other hand will cost $29USD ($37AUD) as a single member, or $38USD ($49AUD) as a couple for just one year.
With that in mind, we went for HelpX. As a couple it was far more affordable, and while Workaway’s site looks sleeker and more modern on first impressions, HelpX is easy to navigate and there’s an abundance of hosts.
2. Finding the right farm with the right people is essential
You’re never going to know for sure whether you’ll get along with someone until you meet them in person, however email conversations and phone calls will go far to reveal whether you’re going to be able to work for and live with someone for a fairly long time.
Obviously, if someone sounds personable, upbeat and excited about the prospect of having you stay with them, you’re certainly going to feel more positive about the proposition too. Make sure to send emails back and forth to get a feel for the person but more importantly TALK ON THE PHONE OR SKYPE. I can’t put more emphasis on that. Email is not the tell-all of a person so if you’re going to be staying in their house, you better have a pretty good idea of who they are. You need to have assurances that the people you’ll be staying with are friendly, welcoming and won’t just have you do their labor and treat you like dirt (or make snide comments about your home country). Don’t ever feel bad about backing out of something if it isn’t feeling right.
It’s best to be overly cautious. Make sure to check the reviews section of each host. Every now and then, you will come across a host with a review section full of horror stories from other helpers who didn’t know what they were getting themselves in to. Even with stellar reviews, a place may not be the right fit for you, so SKYPE YOUR POTENTIAL HOST.
3. Make sure you’ve got transportation locked down
If you have your own car then you’re all set! If you don’t, make sure to book your transportation to the farm in advance. Trains and coaches tend to pass through the more out-of-way towns and a lot of hosts will happily pick you up at a station nearby. A great site for figuring out how the heck to get to some rural part of Australia is Rome2Rio which can help you figure out how to get from anywhere to anywhere via public transport, plane, or car.
Ensure that you’ve picked a farm which is within walking distance to town or hikes, or that you’ll have access to a car to get around. When you get downtime you will want to explore as much as possible and if you find yourself unable to, you might start to develop a case of cabin fever.
4. Clothing AKA how to defend yourself from the sun and creatures of Australia
Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world and while the sun can feel relentless, it’s important to be covered up. When we got to our farm-stay we soon realized that we had a shortage of tops, but thankfully our lovely host hooked us up with some old long-sleeve shirts which kept the sun at bay.
On top of plenty of ordinary shirts, it’s well worth investing in an SPF shirt (you can get these from most surf stores) which will completely block out any harmful uv rays. If you find yourself working during the middle of the day (when the sun is at its most dangerous) pop this on and you’ll feel way safer. Investing in a solid hat which covers your neck is another must-buy.
If you’ll be doing lots of gardening or similar, ask your host if they provide gumboots. These will protect your legs and they’re also waterproof. Additionally, make sure you’re happy to use the clothes you have with you for dirty jobs as they may get wrecked.
5. Be prepared for the snakes and spiders!!
As we all know, Australia isn’t just home to cute marsupials, but also some of the world’s most terrifying snakes and spiders. If you’re working out in the sticks, the chances are you will encounter some of them and you must be prepared. First things first, if you’ve found a farm ask your host what snakes and spiders are prevalent on their farm and what precautions they take to ensure they don’t suffer a nasty bite. Also, do your own research and familiarize yourself with this spider chart.
During our farm stay, we were fortunate enough to have our own little space in the form of a converted garage. Unfortunately however, we had to share our space with the Wolf spiders who would plop themselves (or watch us?) directly above us on the ceiling whenever we’d try to get some shuteye! We were really cautious (when in our room and outside) and never had any bites or close encounters.
All in all, if you’re looking for farm work then always be thorough in your preparation. Your travels are most likely going to be a once in a lifetime experience for you and the last thing you want is to find yourself in a position you don’t want to be in. However, with some planning and research the chances are you’ll have an incredible time and take away cherished memories.