Working in Australia
A Guide by Cara Grayling
Every year, thousands of young Brits head off to Oz in the hope of finding work that will fund that bungy jump, surfing lessons or an overland tour. Or just beer.
Too many assume it’s easy to walk into a job. It isn’t. You can find work, but you need to be prepared. The first thing to know is that the Working Holiday Visa is basically there to protect jobs for Australian nationals. You can only work for up to three months for any one employer. That means that a lot of employers aren’t interested. You will often hear that they are looking for someone permanent. There are also a lot of backpackers with tourist visas who work illegally, or try to. The Aussie government has had a huge clampdown, so employers are very wary of any backpackers. It’s worth emphasising to potential employers (both on your CV and when talking to them) that you are in possession of a valid work visa. Some have only a hazy idea of what the WHV is, all they need to know is that you can legally work - wait and see if they ask about the restrictions.
Job hunting can be hard work. All those miserable days pounding pavements, and making endless phone calls. Be persistent and don’t let rejections put you off.
The best way to find work is to keep an eye on hostel noticeboards. They are a good source of casual work and you know the employers are actually looking for backpackers. Another source of possible vacancies is other backpackers, obviously. Just mention that you’re looking for work and you’ll be surprised how many leads people come up with.
You can also door knock; that is, just go into shops, bars, restaurants or anywhere that might have jobs going. Be enthusiastic and chatty, and sell your skills. There isn’t a great success rate, as they often want only permanent staff.
Try looking online for seasonal vacancies, such as Christmas work in Sydney’s Wonderland theme park.
I started my job search in Darwin. I soon found a day’s work at the Darwin Cup races. The beer flowed, the tips are great (there might be some connection here). It was a long day from 10 am till 8pm, but worth it. The same agency got me an evening’s work handing round drinks at a reception. I also worked for a night at the Darwin Beer Festival. I asked in the hotel and filled in an application form. This was as frantic and exhausting as you might imagine, working from 4pm till near enough 4 am by the time we’d cleared up, but then watching drunk Australians is always entertaining.
You can often pick up this type of temporary work. There are loads of races, sporting events, festivals etc. throughout the year and they need a lot of staff. Make sure you know when the events are. You can go through some temp agencies or just contact the organiser directly.
I spent some time working in a Subway. Let’s just say the smell of bread and gloppy fillings has a strange ability to last in your hair, on your skin... I also worked in a laundry folding sheets, which is highly unpleasant in tropical heat with no air con or even fans. Not surprisingly, after a few weeks I was fed up. I was earning just about enough to scrape a living on, not enough to move on. It wasn’t what I’d come halfway across the world for.
Look for Anything
A good bet for employment is tourism. The national parks have tourist resorts. There are only jobs available in the tourist season (i.e. the dry in the tropical North and summer elsewhere). I worked in a tourist resort in Kakadu national park in the Northern Territory. I turned up far too early the next morning, having been out the night before celebrating my exciting new job. I was working that evening. Like most people, I did everything - buffet waitressing, bar work, kitchen work and chambermaiding. The staff accommodation was basic, while the guests got luxury cabins with air con and en suite. We got a tiny Portakabin and there was a bathroom building, which was open to the sky and had a happy community of local insects. I tried to avoid going to the toilet in the middle of the night, after I felt a splash where you really don’t want one while on the toilet - a frog had jumped in! I often worked from 8 am till the end of dinner at about 10pm (or when you can get the inconsiderate customers to go away!) Don’t expect to have time to see the national park and you’ll be too knackered on your days off! Staff quite regularly get fed up and leave, which means you could get a job any time in the tourist season.
My weirdest job was in Kununurra (try saying that when you’re drunk!) It’s a tiny town in north-western Australia, with about ten shops and one pub. I packed melons on a farm. I didn’t live in, as a free bus picked up backpackers from the hostel every morning and dropped us off again at night. The sheer tediousness of putting melons in a box all day will soon drive you insane. Don’t think you can drift off into a daydream, you have to pack a certain number of melons in a box, all the same size, in a neat pattern. Anyway, you wouldn’t want to slack as you are paid by how much you pack, not by the hour. We had to work until all the melons were packed, which took till 7pm. Unsurprisingly, the longest anyone had worked there was five days. I chose not to try to break that record!
I headed to Perth, where I finally got a job as a door to door charity collector. This involves tramping round suburbia, because middle class people who might make donations live there. It's weirdly American-looking in a picket fence sort of way. I met many lovely people who happily donated money, chatted, and offered me drinks and the use of their toilet facilities. I also met the rudest, most selfish, people I’ve ever encountered. We were paid on a commission basis; a percentage of what we raised. This produces a vitriolic hatred of people who don’t give you money. You have fantasies about murdering them slowly and painfully. There is a lot of charity collecting work available and it’s not bad if you can be nice to people, even after 10 morons have just been rude to you! You can earn decent money if you’re hard working and can motivate yourself. The nicer suburbs often have a glut of collectors, which explains the unpleasant attitude towards them (Fact - collecting tins don’t exist in Oz, so this is the only way charities get money from the public).
I did this job for a few weeks and had a brief holiday in Sydney before my time in Oz was up.
Hints and Tips
Some things to bear in mind about working downunder. You get taxed a huge 29% on every cent you earn. There is no tax-free threshold (as you are not an Australian resident). Wages are good compared with those for similar jobs at home though. The more experience and skills you have to offer, the easier it is to get work. You will usually need some experience if you want to work in hospitality. More importantly, you’ll need your RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certificate and appropriate clothes (although you can buy them over there). Don’t be picky about the kind of job you do, you’ll always find work if you’re prepared to do anything!
Working in Oz can be a culture shock. Just because they speak English doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn the language. This will help you communicate with your bosses and co-workers. A till is called a cash register and a marker pen is a 'Texta' for example. Informal social chat can be a crash course in Aussie slang (ask what 'no wuckers' means...!) Aussies are straight talkin’ and hard working. You won’t get away with slacking. Likewise, if your performance isn’t up to standard, you’ll soon know about it.
The point of the Working Holiday Visa is just that - it’s intended as a way of working occasionally to top up your funds, not for a living. That’s why they ask you to have at least £2,000. If you don’t save enough, you risk ending up broke and having to come home early. Work just isn’t that easy to get. At least working in the UK, you won’t pay 29% tax, you have no legal restrictions (and if you’re lucky you get free accommodation at home). Plus, you’re not missing out on sun, sand and surf.
However, working is a great way to meet people from all over the world and have a laugh. I would recommend finding a job you enjoy. Working in McDonald’s isn’t a way to see the real Australia and meet Australians. Do you want to work where you could be anywhere? Work on a farm, on a remote cattle station, in the one pub in a tiny outback town. The point of travel, after all, is to try something different.
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