I read Optimal Employment and decided to try a work-holiday in Australia. Several people have asked me how it's going, so here's my first take. I haven’t finished my work-holiday yet, but I want to provide this information now so that potential travelers can make a decision before the hiring season peaks next summer.
I came to Alice Springs in late April, and secured a job at a fast-food immediately. They offered me $26/hr after super and penalties. I didn’t get many hours, but it was enough to cover expenses. I took the job so that I wouldn’t lose money while I was looking for a better job.
Finding better job proved tough. I quickly applied to all of the sit-down restaurants and bars in town, and they all said they preferred locals. I signed up for a couple of employment agencies, but they were concerned that I had didn’t have any experience serving alcohol. I borrowed a phonebook and called random business on the Plenty Highway and that didn’t work.
This continued for five weeks. I found this period stressful because I get anxious asking businesses if they’re hiring, and then I feel humiliated when they say they’re not. There were fun times: I toured Uluru and met cool people in the hostel. But in the back of my mind I was always stressed about finding a better job. After five weeks I was about to head south in search of fruit picking work. But then I saw a flyer.
A gas-station/convenience store was looking for staff. It was a full-time job, with meals and accommodation costing $40/week. This was exactly what I was looking for! I called immediately and got the job because I was American and nobody else had called before me.
This job was pretty much everything Louie described in Optimal Employment. I had practically no expenses, no responsibilities, and free entertainment after hours. At any given time there were three backpackers (including myself) working there, and one would be switched out about every month. We played a lot of video games and ate a lot of barbeques. We also attended a concert and a rodeo. I saved a lot of money and had a lot of fun, but I was anxious to leave after six months.
Australia prohibits backpackers from working the same job for more than six months, so I had to leave. Around this time I discovered that I had distant relatives living in Victoria, and they wanted me over for Christmas. This left me only three weeks to work. I decided to look for fruit picking work, since I heard they’re more willing to employ backpackers for short periods.
I flew to Adelaide, but I cannot find any fruit picking work. And I hear there's very little in Victoria. I could go to West Australia, but even if I found a job over there, it hardly seems worth it to fly there, work for two weeks, and fly back to Victoria on Christmas Eve. So now I’ve got to fill up two weeks in South Australia or Victoria.
I had originally planned to work 88 days of fruit picking work, so that I could get a second working holiday visa next year. (Most Americans are NOT eligible to do this. I can because I’m half British.) But I’ve heard a lot of bad things about fruit picking, that it’s miserable work and that you make little money (or even negative money). And I’m 70% sure I don’t want to come back to Australia next year anyway. (I want to teach English in Shanghai). So the new plan is to spend Christmas in Victoria while applying to TEFL jobs, and then tour the east coast for a month. Then I’ll fly back to the states and hopefully start teaching English in March. In the meantime I will have to entertain myself Adelaide/Melbourne.
Is Optimal Employment accurate?
Pretty much. You’ll probably earn more money on the job than Louie estimates, because of penalty rates and an increasing minimum wage. And there’s a chance to hit jackpot: I met a LW lurker in Alice Springs who said she was banking $1000/wk after expenses working at Lasseters. Mining and fishing jobs are also lucrative if you can get them.
But there’s also a risk of not finding a job. It took me five weeks to find my remote area job, and I’ve met some backpackers who ran out of money and while looking for work. Immigration requires you to save up $5000 before you start your work-holiday; skirt that law at your peril.
Overall I’m pleased with my visit to Australia. Even if I though I’ll be bleeding money the next couple of months, I’ll still come back with a nice profit and wicked memories. If you’re young with a sense of adventure, you should definitely consider it. A lot of people want to visit Australia “someday”, but it gets more difficult when you’re older and have more commitments.
I’m planning to write another post with tips for working in Australia. Requests welcome!