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.

Work and play in Queensland, Australia

The mere mention of Australia typically steers a conversation in a few cliché directions. Most likely, the Sydney Opera House, koalas and kangaroos, the outback and/or Crocodile Dundee will be discussed. Sadly, for many Americans, those few snippets of Aussie culture (and bad American cinema) are all that is known about the land down under. But, for more and more young people from Europe and – yes – the United States, Australia is becoming a prime location for backpacking and spending gap years. These extended stays are allowing travelers to see that there is so much more to Australia than just marsupials and Vegemite.

To learn more about how young people work and play in Australia, I traveled to Queensland to experience the life of backpackers firsthand. Backpacking Queensland was gracious enough to invite me down and arrange for me to see how backpackers traveling on Working Holiday visas spend their time in Australia’s Sunshine State. During my week in Queensland, I met with owners of hostels and farms who house and employ backpackers, as well as many of the young people who are enjoying a year away from their “real lives.” I was also fortunate enough to enjoy the natural wonders of Queensland, from the lush rainforest to the pristine Whitsunday islands to the rolling hills of the farms in the bush.

Beginning next week, I’ll be sharing what I learned about working and backpacking in Queensland, Australia. Please join me as I explore the logistics of working visas, gap years, backpacker accommdations, popular leisure activities and, of course, the beauty of this unique part of the world. And, well, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some kangaroos along the way. There’s a lot to cover, but I promise to give you some new anecdotes for the next time someone mentions Australia at a cocktail party.

Adventure Sports Week begins in Idaho

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho plays host to Adventure Sports Week 2009 , which got underway this past weekend in beautiful Farragut State Park, located just outside the mountain community. Hundreds of endurance athletes descended on the region to take part in the first time event, which is already becoming one of the premiere outdoor sporting competitions of the year.

Billed as “10 days, 24 races, 1 big party”, Adventure Sports Weekly has something to offer just about anyone who enjoys an outdoor athletic challenge. For instance, things kicked off this weekend with a triathlon clinic, and ramped up from there with two orienteering competitions, a pair of duathalons, and three triathalons, including an official XTERRA series event, which was won by Dan Hugo and Melanie McQuaid in the men’s and women’s categories respectively.

Things don’t slow down any next weekend either, when the adventure racers take center stage for the Crux and the Crucible races, both of which combine mountain biking, trekking/trail running, and kayaking, amongst other discplines. There will aslo be marathon and half-marathon length trail runs, a paddling race, and more.

With the summer heating up, it is definitely time to head back outside and have a little fun in the wilderness. It’s also not too late to sign up for one of the remaining ASW events. So, head on over to the website, pick something that looks like fun, and break out the running shoes. Why not join the party in Idaho?

Through the Gadling Lens: the latest, greatest shots from the Gadling Flickr pool

It’s been a little over three months since the last time we waded through all the amazing images shared in our Gadling Flickr pool, and it seems like it’s time to do so, again: after all, schools have closed (or are about to close) for the summer break all over the world, and prime vacation-photo-shooting season is upon us. So to help provide you a little inspiration before you head out for your summer holidays, I thought I’d go through eight of my favourite photographs from the Flickr pool and share with you what, in my opinion, makes them great. As with all art, of course, beauty is subjective; however, hopefully you’ll see something in the images shared here which will spark some creativity in you the next time you pull your camera out.

And so, on with the show:
1. Capture the ambiance the weather gives to the scene.

I love the image above, captured and shared by AlphaTangoBravo/Adam Baker, primarily because of the way he totally captured the mood of the scene as the two surfers venture out to capture their first (last?) waves of the day. The way he does this? Buy shooting into the sun, he draws your attention to how bright the day was, and the cloudless sky. In addition, he makes sure to crop the image so that the long shadows of each of the surfers, giving you some clue as to the time of the day that the image was shot. In addition, notice that there are no other people in the shot, other than the two friends in the shot — it gives the feeling that there are no other people in the world other than the two men. Fabulous capture.

2. If there’s something particularly stunning about the day, don’t forget to capture it.

In the same spirit as the first image in this post, this shot shared by insEyedout does a great job of featuring what was most stunning about his visit to The White House, in Washington D.C. — the amazing weather. The difference in this case, however, is instead of shooting into the sun (which, admittedly, can damage your sensor if you do it too often, so shoot into the sun sparingly), he uses the glow of the sunlight off of his companion’s shoulders to communicate the bright sky. And speaking of sky, look at that amazing blue! I also love how he doesn’t take your focus off of the sky, by shooting from behind his friends — had the women in the shot been facing us, you might not have noticed the sky, in favour of looking at their faces or smiles. Well done.

3. Look for patterns.

I love this photograph of the Painted Desert in Arizona, shared by Ash Crowe — and one glance makes it pretty apparent why, I think. Obviously, the coloured striations within the rock formations are pretty spectacular; however, how amazing is it that the pattern repeats itself in the cloud formations in the sky? One of the coolest things that you can do when taking any sort of landscape or scenery shots is to look for any sort of patterns within the frame of the shot — patterns always create interest. Really fantastic shot.

4. Don’t forget about flora and fauna.

While we’re still outside, just a reminder not to forget the flora and the fauna. Because, seriously, do I even need to explain why this image shared by fiznatty is so amazing? This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime type images, captured in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

A note about taking photographs of wildlife: obviously, the best way to make it happen is to gain trust — and many times, this means being very still, and being very patient. Also, be sure you don’t take risks: it’s not a great idea to touch wild animals, and remember — when cute babies like the above are around, mom and dad may not be far behind.

5. Do a bit of preparation for fabulous interior shots.

If you’re going somewhere with tons of architectural history, you’re likely going to want to take some interior shots, like the amazing one of the stained glass windows in Sainte Chappelle in Paris, shared by Amy Mengel, above. In my experience, shots like these are possible if you pay close attention to the light that is falling inside the building. In essence, this means:

  • Turn off your flash. Particularly when shooting inside a church or cathedral — your flash is going to wash out the vibrant colours of the glass.
  • You will likely have to up the ISO setting in your camera, unless you happen to have a tripod on you. Remember, if there’s low light, you’ll want a higher ISO setting; if the area is brightly lit, then you can get away with a lower setting (click here for a quick review on ISO). Play with your setting and take a few shots to find the best one.
  • If your camera has a white balance setting (sometimes indicated by “WB”), then adjust accordingly before you take the shot. In essence, this means evaluating what the main light source is in the room — incandescent light (which can make your resulting photograph yellow), florescent light (which can make your resulting photograph green) or natural light. Consult your camera manual beforehand to learn how to adjust white balance.

6. Don’t be afraid of movement.

I love this image shared by t3mujin of a typical tram in Lisbon, and it teaches a valuable lesson: not all out-of-focus images are bad. The blur of the vehicles in this photograph convey speed and movement, which help you to place yourself right there on the busy street corner. Also, I love the use of colour in this image — all of the colours in this shot are generally bland and neutral, save for the bright yellow pop from the paint colour on the front of the tram. Fantastic.

A tip on how to create a great blurry shot? Just shoot and shoot and shoot — keep clicking from the same and different vantage points over and over again. Mere statistics will tell you that you’ll end up with at least one shot that you’ll be pleased with.

7. Don’t forget to look up.

I absolutely adore this image shared by of an intersection in Florence, Italy, particularly because it teaches a valuable lesson: don’t forget to look up! The beauty of this shot is that the negative space (the space between the buildings) communicates the narrowness of the streets and exactly how the streets flow without ever actually showing you the images. In addition, the tall buildings convey the feeling of being closed in amongst all the architecture. And finally, I love how the image is framed so that the intersection isn’t straight up-and-down, but instead, at an angle, providing visual interest. A beautiful shot.

8. Don’t be afraid to shoot at night.

And finally, don’t forget that cities can be absolutely stunning at night, as evidenced by this really beautiful shot shared by macdonaldj2wit of the Washington Monument. The easiest way to take an amazing shot like this is as follows:

  • Look for a location with lots of points of light, to create visual interest — traffic lights, car lights, whatever.
  • Set your camera on automatic or program mode.
  • Set your ISO as low as possible, and the affix your camera to a tripod or rest it on a very level surface.
  • Turn on your camera’s self-timer.
  • Focus the shot, and press the shutter, and then step away from the camera.

By setting the timer, the camera will have time to settle from any movement caused by your clicking the shutter release. The camera will likely keep the shutter open for quite a while in this low light, so it’s absolutely imperative that the camera keep absolutely still. Once you hear the shutter close again, take a look — picture perfect night shot.

So, how was that for a few stunning images? If you’ve got a few great images you’d like to share (or tips that you think might be valuable), please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. And as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.