Work and play in Queenland, Australia: Whitsunday Islands

Whether you’re on a working holiday while backpacking or on a more tradition vacation, if you’re in Australia, you’ll want to make your way to the Great Barrier Reef. Being that it’s massive, there are several locations where you can go to explore the GBR, but perhaps the most beautiful is the Whitsunday Islands. Home to 74 islands, crystal clear waters and some of the best sailing, snorkeling and SCUBA diving in the world, the Whitsundays alone may be reason enough to include Queensland on your itinerary in Oz.

Typically, upon hearing about SCUBA diving and, in particular, sailing, many people fear that they will be priced out of a destination. The Whitsundays, however, cater to everyone from the extravagantly wealthy boat owners to the backpackers looking to spend a few days at sea. A natural wonder like the Great Barrier Reef is often the great equalizer when it comes to prices, as businesses will seek to accommodate anyone looking to explore an environment this unique. That means that there is something for everyone in this beautiful corner of the world.



While in the Whitsundays, I was treated to a three-day/two-night sail in the Whitsundays on a catamaran named Whitsunday Getaway, which is operated by Islandive. Sailing out of Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach, Islandive specializes in sailing and diving packages that allow visitors to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the beauty of the Whitsunday Islands while also getting in the water for some of the best snorkeling and SCUBA diving in the world.

The sleeping quarters on board may be small (as is the nature of any boat that is not a yacht or a luxury cruise ship), but the overall accommodations aboard the Whitsunday Getaway were stellar. We were served prawns, steak, chicken, tea and snacks throughout the excursion. Most of the boats in the Whitsundays are BYO, and Islandive’s vessels are no exception. So, if you want alcohol on your trip, grab some goon or cans of beer (glass is a bad idea on boats) before heading to the marina. You’ll find that, once you’ve finished a day of snorkeling and the sun is beginning to set, everyone will agree that it’s “beer o’clock.” (Aussies are fond of that phrase, and far be it from me to disagree with their nomenclature or logic.)

If you’re backpacking through Australia and want to save a bit of money while still treating yourself to a sail, you don’t need to compromise too much. In fact, you can hop aboard a former championship sailboat and feel the wind in your hair for a few days while not blowing your budget.

Through Explore Whitsundays, you can book various types of sailing packages, including many that are geared towards backpackers in both price and accommodations. One such boat, the Boomerang, was sailing while I was was on Whitsunday Getaway. While the sleeping accommodations were more open and shared by a larger group of people, the guests on board spoke highly of their time on the Boomerang, whose top speed far exceeded that of my catamaran. For a true sailing experience, a boat like the Boomerang can’t be beat. Passengers had ample opportunities to snorkel and see the reef while the boat had its sails down. The menu may be more limited, but if you’re looking to either save some money or simply enjoy the company of other backpackers and young travelers, this experience is the one for you.

Whitehaven Beach

One of the most iconic and oft-visited areas of the Whitsundays is Whitehaven Beach, which features some of the softest, most pristine sand of any beach in the world. As I spent a morning walking along the shore amongst the cliffs and breaking waves, I felt as if I was placing my feet into baby powder with each step. The scenic overlooks at Whitehaven Beach provide breathtaking views of the nearby islands and the changes in water color created by the reef below. It is nearly impossible to take a disappointing photograph in the Whitsundays, as the view in any direction appears as if its been created for the sole purpose of one day becoming a postcard image.

Most sailing companies include Whitehaven Beach in their packages, yet they manage to keep it from ever becoming over-crowded. As such, you can enjoy the soft sand, crashing waves and gorgeous views without bumping into too many fanny-packed travelers (or bum-bagged travelers, as the Aussies call them).

Know before you go

A trip to the Whitsundays does not require an extended stay. Airlie Beach provides a host of accommodations, but most people only spend a night before or after their sailing adventure. However, it’s definitely worth the trip to Queensland and the Whitsundays for the Great Barrier Reef alone. The experience of seeing the reef, the aquatic life and the seemingly boundless sky above makes it one of the most exquisite places in the world to sail, dive and snorkel. Even in the winter, this region of Australia stays relatively mild and comfortable. The rainy season (October through May – Australian summer) can make for some unpleasant sailing, so it’s often best to plan around that.

If you’re not certified to SCUBA, many companies will offer training dives that allow you dive down to 10 meters with a certified instructor. Training is handled on the boat and you’ll never be more than a few feet from your instructor once you’re in the water. If you are certified, be sure to bring your paperwork with you.

Don’t let the glamorous reputation of the Whitsundays convince you that you cannot afford it. It may be a vacation hot spot for Australia’s rich and famous, but it’s egalitarian when it comes to who can enjoy the seas. Whether you’re on a budget or looking to film an extravagant rap video, you can get yourself on a boat and close to the Great Barrier Reef. If you’ve traveled all the way to Australia, you owe it to yourself to make the trip up to the Whitsundays.

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.

Work and play in Queensland, Australia: Aborginial Nature Tour

Many things make Queensland different from the other Australian states, including its tropical climate, the presence of the Great Barrier Reef and the fact that its population is the fastest growing in the country. However, the aspect that intrigued me the most while I was there was its indigenous population. The size of the aboriginal population in Queensland is second only to New South Wales. However, unlike their counterparts to the south, many of the indigenous peoples in Queensland still reside in regional and rural areas rather than urban sectors. Therefore, Queensland offers some unique opportunities to meet aboriginal peoples who have opened their communities to guests in an effort to share their culture and educate others about their land and history.

One such group of aboriginal people, the Kubirri Warra brothers of Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours, offer walks in their ancestral home in Cooya Beach. I walked through the wetlands and mangroves with our guide, Link’s family has lived in the region for more generations than he can track. Many believe that Australian indigenous peoples are the oldest surviving civilization in the world, so Link has more of a family forest than just a tree. As we fished for mud crabs, sampled native remedies and trudged through shin-deep mud, I found myself lost in the natural beauty of both the landscape and the aboriginal culture.


Cooya Beach is located just north of Port Douglas in North Queensland. The still waters and dense mangroves make the region feel even more tropical than the other lush areas of Queensland, and I very quickly realized why we were offered bug spray upon our arrival. Even during the “dry season,” the air (and mud) feels thick and sticky in Cooya Beach. Somehow, though, the quicksand-like nature of the mangroves and the unique flora only added to the sense of adventure that I felt as Link guided us through the land that his people have foraged and hunted for centuries.

As we walked, Link we point out plants that his people have used for medicinal purposes, including berries that excrete a solution so similar to saline that it is used as eye drops. Perhaps the most intriguing example of living off of the land that Link demonstrated was his people’s affinity for licking the rear ends of Green ants. Why lick an ant’s behind? Because they expel a tangy secretion that tastes refreshingly like a combination of lemon and lime. My curiosity piqued, I grabbed an ant off of a nearby tree and followed Link’s simple instructions: “Lick its butt.” It did, in fact, taste remarkably similar to the aforementioned citrus fruits. I’d happily create a line of Green ant excretion salad dressings if it wasn’t for the anticipated marketing difficulties.

We walked down the coastline and through the tidal pools that showed evidence of rays having been in the sand when the tide was in earlier in the day. Within these snow angel-shaped divots often reside mud crabs. Carrying long, slender wooden spears, we followed Link while poking in small pools and holes, waiting anxiously for a crab to grab a hold and challenge us to a game of tug-of-war. A large mud crab makes an excellent addition to any barbecue, and we were all anxious to find one of our own.

Gradually, we approached the beginning of the mangroves. The mud below us began to get wetter, looser and less stable. Our feet sank in deeper and, as we struggled to extricate ourselves from our sinking terrain, each step made the sound of a fork entering a bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese. The mangroves, unlike the tidal pools, were a serpentine maze of trees, above-ground root structures and mud that seemed clingier than some of my ex-girlfriends. Within the mangroves, Link pointed out mussels that, to our untrained eyes, were seemingly undetectable. I stared down at the ground, determined to find one and prove my hunting skills in some capacity.

After 30 minutes in the mangroves, our legs were covered in mud, we had all suffered a near slip and Link had single-handedly outscored us 6-0 in the mussel collection department. I couldn’t help but marvel not only at Link’s aptitude at distinguishing flora and fauna in this ecosystem, but the pride that he exuded as he taught us about fishing and hunting in these wetlands as a child. He explained that he was never formally taught any of the techniques that he was demonstrating for us. As a child, once he was old enough to keep up with his father, uncles, cousins and older siblings, he simply followed them out into the mangroves and mimicked what they were doing. As if through osmosis, he learned how to contribute to his family.

As my mind wandered to thoughts of what it must be like to grow up in this habitat, maintaining a close relationship with the same land that your ancestors hunted thousands of years ago, I was knocked back into the moment quite literally when I tripped on a root and had to grab hold of a nearby tree to keep myself from falling face-first into the mud. Serendipitously, however, that root was sheltering a mussel. As I looked down to see what had nearly caused me to become fodder for a humorous anecdote over drinks later that night, I saw my trophy mere inches from my foot. Victoriously, I grabbed the mussel and showed it off to the rest of the group. I had found sustenance.

We made our way out of the mangroves thanks to Link’s uncanny ability to distinguish differences in seemingly identical collections of trees and roots. One could easily lose themselves in the mangroves for hours, as disorientation seems to be the norm once you get a few feet inside the densely packed mud forest. We walked back down the coastline, poking at more holes in a desperate attempt to find a mud crab before our time with Link was over. Sadly, we would not feast on mud crab that day. I told myself that Link probably didn’t catch a crab the first time he followed his elders into the wetlands. I used that as my rationalization as I struggled once again to remove my foot from the ever-sinking mud below me.

We returned to Link’s home where he showed us various types of boomerangs that were used in different hunting environments. He also had a collection of shields and native artwork that he explained in great detail. There was something about hearing the stories from Link that felt very natural. It dawned on me that aboriginal history is steeped in oral traditions and storytelling. The indigenous people’s ability to speak in great detail about their heritage is magnificent, and we seemed to hang on Link’s every word. As day turned into night and the heat and humidity gave way to a gentle sea breeze, our time with Link drew to a close.

I’ve been on countless tours around the world and few have been as enjoyable as my time in Cooya Beach. This was more of a cultural immersion than a tour, and it is something I would recommend to anyone visiting Queensland.

To extrapolate that point into a more general sense, I would recommend that you always seek out tours that allow you to experience a way of life rather than just observe it. Learn a craft. Shadow a artisan. Or simply walk where people have been walking for thousands of years. Just make sure you don’t lose a shoe in the mud.

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.

Work and play in Queensland, Australia: Farm Work

So, you have your visa and you’re ready to head to Australia for to earn some money while backpacking for a year or two but fruit picking just doesn’t sound that interesting to you. Well, if you’ve been paying attention this week, you know that the Australian government considers many forms of manual labor to be Specified Work, and that’s what lets you get a second visa (if you are from a country that qualifies). And one such type of employment is plant and animal cultivation. Yes, that category does encompass the fruit picking that I covered yesterday, but it also includes cattle mustering, animal processing and other livestock related activities. In other words, good old-fashioned, See ‘n Say-style farm work.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Mike, I have never worked on a farm before. Why would anyone hire me to herd sheep, work with cattle or drive a tractor?” It’s a reasonable question that many backpackers must be asking themselves before they pack their bags for Australia. And thankfully, there is a farm in Queensland where you can spend a week learning the various skills that one would need to be successful in this type of Specified Work. I visited this training farm and had an intensive one-day learning experience to see what it’s like to work on a farm in order to finance a backpacking holiday. I very quickly discovered that that farm life is not easy, but it is also far from boring.


Springbrook Farm

About 240km northwest of Brisbane sits the tiny town of Goomeri (population 400). Just outside of town is Springbrook Farm, a 2,500 acre cattle and training farm. Owned by Dan and Joanna Burnet, Springbrook Farm raises cattle for beef and trains backpackers on how to make themselves employable on farms around Australia.

The five-day training course at Springbrook covers several farm disciplines:

  • Horse riding and mustering
  • Motorcycling
  • Tractor driving and machine operation
  • Cattle work
  • Fencing
  • Chainsaw operation

First, some definitions. Mustering is just another way of saying wrangling. When you’re moving cattle from one place to another, you’re mustering. See, you’re on your way to being qualified to work on a farm and you haven’t even left your cubicle! And, as far as fencing goes, leave your rapiers and foils at home. This refers to actual fences and the work involved to install and mend them. If you’re going to muster cattle, you need to have fences.

Second, why motorcycling? Well, as the Burnets explained, many farms herd sheep while riding dirt bikes. Of course, I had hoped that this meant that the sheep rode the bikes, but I was mistaken. Farmers, however, use the bikes to stay ahead of the sheep and get them moving in the right direction.

Backpackers who come through Springbrook Farm for training spend five days learning these skills. We sped through several subjects in one day under the tutelage of a very patient trainer. Having never ridden a dirt bike before, I mastered certain aspects, like continuously moving forward, very quickly. However, I also learned that the initial start-up was a unique challenge that once resulted in me “parking” the motorcycle in a shed immediately upon giving it some gas. But the staff at Springbrook took their time with everyone and showed that safety and self-sufficiency are their two main priorities.

In other words, don’t expect to be coddled when you are learning farm work. In order to get you placed on a working farm, Springbrook makes sure that you have not only the skills but the work ethic to succeed. So, as you tackle new tasks, you’ll receive detailed instructions from your trainers and then figure out any difficulties you face on your own, just as you will once you are employed on a working farm.

Mustering offered it’s own unique set of challenges. Even experienced horseback riders will find that adding the activity of moving cattle in specific directions makes everything markedly more difficult. Cattle, obviously, do not always want to move (or have differing opinions on which direction they should go). And horses don’t always want to obey. Add an uncertain rider to the equation, and, well, mustering can quickly devolve into animals running in random directions while perplexed and frightened farmers-in-training yell, “whoa,” in increasingly frantic tones.

I make this assessment after I experienced mustering for the first time while visiting Springbrook Farm. Mustering for beginners is an exercise in organized chaos, as riders struggle to guide horses, horses struggle to run free and cattle struggle to out-wit their pursuers. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 90 minutes or so, with the guidance of our trainer, the skill of one geriatric mare and sheer luck, we moved the cattle to the desired location and only one person was thrown from her horse.

This may be a good time to note that farm work is dangerous. It’s not for everyone. It requires you to always be alert and cautious. Once again, I am not trying to scare anyone away from this type of working holiday, but if you are expecting a watered-down, reality TV version of farm living, then it would be best if you stayed on your couch. Springbrook Farm prepares you for real farm work, and real farm work involves scrapes, bruises and the occasional accident.

At the end of the day, however, you feel fulfilled and proud. And, you reture to some fairly comfortable accommodations Backpackers training at Springbrook stay in a cozy house with shared rooms, a deck that was seemingly designed for barbecues and a pool. During my visit, several of the trainees in attendance had farm experience before they arrived and were just enhancing their skills before seeking employment elsewhere in Australia. Others were learning farm life for the first time and pursuing the adventure that such a unique challenge can provide.


The Burnets also founded VisitOz, which handles the training and job placement of hundreds of backpackers looking for farm work every year. Springbrook Farm is one of the training farms that functions within the VisitOz operations. Enrolling in VisitOz and utilizing their serves will cost around $1,990 AUD (roughly $1,500 USD) but you receive quite a bit in return. Included in the price is assistance with travel arrangements, nine total days of accommodations in Brisbane, Rainbow Beach and, finally, at your training farm, and, of course, your training and job placement. It may seem like a steep price to pay, but if you are intent on finding farm work with a respectable farm, experience with a program like VisitOz can pay huge dividends. And, if you have limited farm experience, it may be the difference between success and injury once you start work.

The stay in Rainbow Beach serves a vital purpose, according to the Burnets. As Dan told us, a farm is no place to get over jet-lag. Farmers need their staff to be rested and focused. This allows everyone to use the time on the farm as efficiently as possible.

The Burnets communicate with working farms and provide them with information on their trainees. By the end of the five days of training, most backpackers receive several job offers from farms and can select the opportunity that most interests them.

Know before you go

Whether you’re planning on utilizing the services of a training farm or finding farm work on your own, it’s best to prepare yourself in advance of your arrival in Australia. Dan Burnet’s advice was to pick up whatever skills you can while you are still at home. For example, become certified in CPR or First Aid. If you have the opportunity to gain experience on horseback, take advantage of it. Anything you can do to make yourself more appealing to farmers and, obviously, keep yourself safe while working is beneficial.

Farm work is difficult and tiring. During your time on the farm, you’ll wake up early, work until you are sore and fall asleep shortly after sunset. But, unlike fruit picking, you will be working with animals and experiencing adventurous activities that will test you mentally as well as physically.

And when your time on the farm is done, you will have a substantial amount of money in your pocket. How substantial? Depending on your qualifications, farm work can pay anywhere from $250-$1000 AUD (roughly $200-$800 USD) per week, with room and board on the farm provided free of charge. Tucked away on a farm for a few months, you can plan quite the Aussie adventure once your time at work comes to an end. All the more reason to stay safe and leave the farm with all of your appendages in tact.

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.

Work and play in Queensland, Australia: Fruit Picking

Most people go on vacation to avoid work. But, as I discussed yesterday, many young people are going to Australia on Working Holiday visas and participating in Specified Work to extend their time in the country and put extra money in their pockets. One of the most popular forms of Specified Work is fruit picking. In Queensland, the fruit picking opportunities exist year-round because of the state’s warm, tropical climate. Perhaps the most popular fruit for Specified Work opportunities is bananas. The central and northern portions of Australia’s east coast are home to perfect growing conditions for bananas, as the climate creates a lush growing environment that stays mild and humid throughout the year. As such, bananas are big business in Queensland.

The hostels and farms in Australia often have strong relationships wherein the hostels work has employment brokers by assisting travelers in finding Specified Work. I was invited to visit one of Queensland’s many banana farms and got a tour of their operations. Staffed primarily by backpackers, the farm provides travelers with Specified Work for visa purposes. I was also fortunate enough to visit a hostel – operated by the farm’s owner – where many backpackers live while they are fruit picking.


Contempree Banana Farm

Bananas are delicious. Bananas are healthy. Bananas are hard work. Contempree Banana Farm in Innisfail, Queensland, Australia is a prime example of a working banana farm that employs backpackers to pick, sort and box fruit. The days are long, the climate is hot and humid and it’s good, old-fashioned manual labor. By no means am I trying to dissuade anyone from endeavoring to take on such a job, but even the farm’s owner made a point of telling us that he wants people to know what they are getting themselves into before they arrive in Innisfail. Farms can be dangerous places when properly staffed by people who are well-skilled and want to be there. So, the last thing any farmer wants is employees who are in over their heads.

That said, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, fruit picking is significantly more desirable than other Specified Work, such as mining. Since farms like Contempree are staffed primarily by backpackers, they provide opportunities to meet fellow travelers while you work outdoors in the fresh air. Sitting on more than 100 acres of land, Contempree is a sprawling farm with thousands upon thousands of bananas that are ripe for the picking. Well, some needed a few more weeks but you get my drift.

Most fruit picking jobs in Queensland pay a respectable wage of around $16 to $20 AUD per hour (about $12.81 to $16 USD). Considering that the minimum wage in the United States is $6.55 (increasing to $7.25 on July 24, 2009) and no US state’s minimum wage exceeds $8.55, the standard Australian fruit picking wages are fairly generous and are viewed quite favorably by backpackers seeking to subsidize their trips.

Jobs vary on a banana farm but none involve air conditioning and reclining. One of the more physically taxing chores is humping the bananas. Are you done giggling now? Humping is the process of actually removing the banana cluster from the tree. Meanwhile, other employees work in the sorting area and boxing areas of the farm. While still tiring, jobs like these provide more cover from the elements than humping with significantly less machete work.

Fruit picking jobs involve long days and are typically located in rural areas where nightlife is not exactly plentiful. As I looked towards the horizon while at Contempree, all I saw were more banana farms and plenty of sugar cane. However, most backpackers understand that their three months of Specified Work are less about partying and more about making money. So, they work hard, save their earnings and sleep when they can. The hostels provide opportunities for socializing and are designed for extended stays. This makes them comfortable and homey, something you want after a long day of banana humping.

Codge Lodge Hostel

Also located in Innisfail and only a short drive from Contempree Banana Farm is Codge Lodge. A renovated 100-year-old house, Codge Lodge caters to backpackers who are working in this area of Queensland. Like many such facilities, it assists travelers in securing work. Unlike many hostels I have seen in Australia and other parts of the world, however, Codge Lodge was spacious and didn’t pack people into dorm rooms like prisoners. Since it caters to backpackers who plan to stay for several months while they are working, Codge Lodge chooses to provide an environment that can feel like a home.

The rooms are spacious and there is a pool as well as a large restaurant/bar complete with karaoke and, oddly, a go-go cage. So, if you’re not completely exhausted after a day humping bananas, you can blow off some steam with a cold XXXX or Bundaberg and cola while belting out the greatest hits of Men at Work.

When I visited Codge Lodge, I met young people from France, Italy, Korea and Japan who were all mingling on the porch enjoying some lunch, making calls home and enjoying an off-day from work. They all spoke highly of their Specified Work jobs while qualifying their praise with some comment along the lines of “I’m looking forward to getting my second visa and beginning my travels.” While fruit picking may not be the highlight of their trips, they all seemed to appreciate the opportunities that it afforded and the stories that it would provide upon their return home.

Know before you go

If you’re considering heading to Australia for some fruit picking, be sure to have your visa paperwork in order before you arrive to avoid any problems. Be prepared to get dirty and work hard, but also to have a fair amount of money burning a hole in your pocket when you’re ready to start traveling solely for leisure. For three months, you will be working, not traveling as if you are on a proper holiday.

Before you arrive, it pays to research hostels in areas where you will be traveling and contacting them to see if they will be able to assist you with employment opportunities once you arrive. It may turn out to be the toughest three months of your life, but if you can hump bananas, imagine what you can do once your real travels begin!

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.

Work and play in Queensland, Australia: Visas

Australia is a tremendously easy country through which to backpack. It has superb infrastructure, seamless transportation systems that allow you to traverse its massive landscape and a surplus of affordable accommodations. It’s no wonder that so many European and American teens are delaying their entrance into college or the “real world” for a year and are working their way through extended Australian holidays. But before you defer your admission to Southwest State A&M Tech and head down under with visions of boomerangs and dingos dancing through your head, there are a few things that any young person needs to know about how to work and backpack through Australia legally. The last thing you want is to be deported. That’s just embarrassing.

American? I Have Good News & Bad News

So, you’re a US citizen (or from Chile, Thailand, Malaysia or Turkey) and you want to work and backpack through Australia. Are you between the ages of 18 and 30? Are you healthy and free of any criminal history? Can you speak English at a “functional level?” Then the Australian Work and Holiday visa (Subclass 462) is just the paperwork for you!

The good news is, you can visit Australia for twelve months, leave and enter the country any number of times during that period, pick up some temporary employment along the way and study for up to four months. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, this visa “is for you to holiday and travel in Australia. Any work should be temporary to supplement your funds. Periods of work should be broken up by periods of holiday and travel.” In other words, this visa is less about the work and more about making sure you don’t end up broke in Australia while traveling.

Holders of this visa may not work for the same employer for more than six months. Violating that rule may result in cancellation of your visa. There’s that embarrassment again. You can pick up any job that you’d like, however, so Australia is your oyster. But all you get is 12 months in the country, so make the most of it. No extensions or second visas are offered on the Subclass 462 Work and Holiday visa. And that, my friends, is the bad news.

The Luckier Countries

Australia offers another type of visa that is much more liberal and allows for significantly more time in the country. The Working Holiday visa (Subclass 417) is for people from Belgium, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom. Once again, you must be age 18 to 30, healthy and not be a criminal. If you fit the bill, you can work and play in Australia for up to twelve months. But from there, this visa begins to provide a few more options for residents of these lucky countries.

You see, if you perform three months of specified work while on your Working Holiday visa, you become eligible for a second Working Holiday visa. In other words, you can double your time down under and explore Australia for up to 24 months. No too shabby. But what qualifies as specified work? I’m glad you asked.

Specified Work

Specified Work is very…um, specific. Before I get my high school English teacher too upset, let me explain to you the most important thing you need to know about Specified Work: It’s not easy. If you were dreaming about bartending for three months and improving your bottle twirling skills in exchange for a second visa, well, you’ve watched Cocktail too many times. Essentially, Specified Work benefits the state and gives back to the country that’s letting you roam around freely for 12 to 24 months. So, you’re going to get your hands dirty in exchange for that second visa. But it will be rewarding, help you meet both other backpackers and local Australians and allow you to see parts of the country that are even more beautiful than those more often visited by tourists.

Specified Work includes:

  • plant and animal cultivation
  • fishing and pearling
  • tree farming and felling
  • mining
  • construction

The most popular form of Specified Work is plant and animal cultivation. While the phrase may make the work seem overly daunting, in essence this category encompasses fruit picking and general farm work. For example, in Queensland, banana farming is a $200 million AUD industry. Those bananas aren’t picking themselves, so farmers employ backpackers from all over the world to pick, sort and box the fruit year-round.

After three months doing Specified Work, travelers on a Subclass 417 visa are eligible for a second visa and 12 more months in Australia. Australia gets a steady stream of young, healthy and eager workers to work in jobs that provide for the state and travelers get money to subsidize their lengthy trip through Australia. In other words, it’s a win-win.

Once again, travelers can leave and enter the country any number of times and cannot work for any one employer for longer than six months. And studying is limited to four months. In other words, work to put some money in your pocket and then get back to exploring Australia’s vast array of activities and wonder. Many hostels will typically partner with local farmers and other employers whose endeavors qualify as Specified Work to help backpackers find positions. These hostels cater to extended stay backpackers, so the accommodations are comfortable, clean and conducive to making people feel at home.

Know Before You Go

The good folks at Backpacking Queensland arranged for me to tour both a banana farm and a farm that specializes in training young people and assisting them with finding cattle farm work. Later in this series, I’ll profile both of those farms and go into more detail on what it’s like to be employed doing Specified Work.

Picking up and moving to another country for an extended period of time requires a fair amount of preparation. Do your research, speak with people who have been there before and understand what you want to get out of the situation. Australia is a very welcoming place and has created visa options that benefit the country and its visitors. Being informed before you get there will help you avoid any potential pitfalls that could result in visa problems or, even worse, deportation. Man, that would be really embarrassing.

For more information, check out the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.