One of the great ways to actually save a respectable amount of money while on your Australian Work Holiday Visa is to find work in the Outback. Not some rinky dink sideshow with the word "Outback" in its title, but to find yourself miles away from the nearest city while sharing your life with a handful of staff.
I spent 5 months serving beer and picking up rubbish at a Wilderness Eco Resort in the North Flinders Ranges of South Australia and this is what it was like working in Outback Australia.
While this experience is specific to this place in the Flinders Ranges, many aspects of life in outback are universal for jobs in remote and regional Australia.
The North Flinders Ranges hold claim to some great villages and self sufficient wilderness resorts where locals go to camp and hike. It is a 6 hour drive in a 4x4 and the last couple hours are on unpaved road. The drive takes you away from Adelaide and through a few small mining and Aboriginal communities before losing your mobile phone reception and quickly realizing you are a long way from home.
Some of the popular tourist spots in the Flinders Ranges include Arkaroola, Innamingka and Willpena Pound.
Working in the Outback presents its own set of staffing issues. At any one time we had a revolving door of 20-25 staff; that's good for the job seeking backpacker and bad for the hiring manager who just wants a dependable person they can count on.
Positions found at most Outback Resorts include maintenance, front desk, restaurant, kitchen, and tour guide staff. People generally move around departments, working in two or three each week.
The staff was divided between the long term Australians, who have been working there for months or years and the nomadic backpackers who show up to work a few days/weeks/months before checking it off their list and moving on. For any backpacker to last longer than 2 months was a rarity.
Guests to this area came mostly from regional Australia to see a not well known part of their country for the first or fifteenth time. They go camping, bush walking or on a 4WD ridge top tour. This is a great way to do what backpackers and self proclaimed worldly travelers say they want to do and "get off the beaten path and meet the locals."
In my time working, I met three Americans in just as many months. Generally, the people who traveled from greatest distance did so for specific reasons such as interest in the local geology or animal life, as both are very specific to this part of the world.
The pay is hourly and starts from $17-25. You work 6 days per week, 8 or more hours per day during high season. If you maintain that pace it isn't hard to save enough to take you well into the next section of your trip, be it Asia, Europe or just back home.
It is not uncommon for a determined traveler to work for a couple months and walk away with $9,000 - $12,000 in their bank account. You can more than double that amount for WHV holders who work full time for their 6 month limit. It's quite an easy task considering you have nothing to spend your money on except the few creature comforts available in the gift shop.
Even when you do spend money on something, staff members get a discount on items purchased. Combine that with the staffers with a car who head out to the nearest town to stock up on cheap beer or sundries. Those are the only real expenses.
Accommodations are great by backpacker standards as most staff get their own cabin with a shared bathroom. The boss charges about $100 per week which includes three meals per day and free internet.
You walk 50 meters to work each morning and often see Wallabes, Emus and Euros throughout your day.
Not to forget the revolving door of staff, which usually makes for interesting entertainment if you're not the person involved. You can usually tell when people get worn out as they get irritable and very negative. In this closed group of people, negativity spreads like the flu, from one person to the next. It doesn't take long for the overall vibe to change.It's in the way people walk and talk and look at others. It's the one-off comments that people say under their breathe. You can easily feel it in the air when things get tense between workers, departments or couples.
Fortunately for everyone involved, backpackers are replaceable and reminded of that when they come in complaining about something to management. The response they get is a simple "if you don't like it, then leave." And rightfully so.
Then comes the silver lining as that twice per week bus drives out of the village and a universal breathe of fresh air that all the staff members share while the village is lifted of this fog of negativity. It's a simple reminder how in a small community it only takes one persons bad attitude to bring down 20 others. There's always one. Don't be it.
The best experience with which I can compare life at an Outback resort is that of living and working onboard cruise ships except with less people who are a lot less interesting.
The convenience of living at an Outback station does allow you a great opportunity to save money and to forget about the day to day responsibilities you would otherwise have in other jobs.
This leads to the other aspect of remote living; people don't have to worry about things like paying rent and car insurance or the mind numbing rides to and from work. They haven't a care in the world when it comes to grocery shopping or preparing dinner. With news updates and current events virtually non-existent you haven't even got that to spend time on or talk about.
All of this leads to people with very little to occupy their time, which leads to a lack of a busy mind and thus the over-analyzing of the minutiae. Staff members now spend their waking hours focusing on petty aspects of life. Things which, in the real world, you would barely devote more than a passing moment.
This person didn't use tongs to pick up her spring rolls at lunch. That person farts. Those people are sleeping together.
At times, dealing with ridiculous gossip can be more stressful than the actual job you came out here to do.
A job out here is also a reminder on the rules human nature.
- Rule Number 1: Don't tell anyone anything unless you want 20 other people knowing before the end of the day.
- Rule Number 2: It doesn't matter where people are from, everyone gossips when there is nothing better to talk about.
- Rule Number 3: Don't dip your pen in company ink unless you want the same outcome as in rule number 1.
Perhaps isolated is a bit extreme so let's just say you are regularly reminded how incredibly detached you are from the rest of the world. In particular for those who are 13+ hours away from their home time zone. Mail from the outside only comes up twice a week. With that comes the most recent newspapers, which are still a day or two old.
You get a maximum of 4 TV channels but more realistically, you get 1 that works. That is to say, it works if you are one of the staffers who has a TV with a working antennae.
You have the internet connection to get all of your important world news, emails from home and American Idol updates, but that is also limited to the small amount of bandwidth available making your computer struggle to go at a snails pace.
Not having anyone close by to talk to about personal things, and always being surrounded by the same 20 people, this job can make you feel very claustrophobic.
After a few months of this living, it does get to feel like you are never actually "off" from work. Your days off feel more like a work break as you cross paths with other folks hard at work. It's nice to say hi but you know that all conversations lead to "What is going on at work?" , and that usually leads to someone bitching about someone else.
We're not saving lives, but sometimes it can be made out to feel that way as you spend more than your share of energy talking about insignificant work things that ultimately have no bearing on the over all product. But cheer up young lad, because your day off is never more than 6 days away.
Working in the Australian Outback isn't for everyone. Some love it while others hate it. And then some others love it, but were well hated by the first lot so they don't last anyway. Figure that one out.
My final advice, if you opt for getting a job in the Australian Outback, is to work hard and enjoy it. It's a great way to save money and see parts of Australia you may not otherwise see. If you get fed up with the life then please do the rest of the staff a favour and be on the next bus out of town.
The world is too amazing not to share. Contact Mike
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