Backpacking Down Under The Gap Year Truth
Backpacking Down Under The Gap Year Truth
As a young boy and teenager I always dreamed of living in Australia. The beaches, the barbies, sunshine and the fact it was on the other side of the world sparked an intense interest with me. This was long before the days when the working holiday visa or gap year was really popular like it is now. Nowadays almost every thirty year old in Ireland or the UK has spent some time in Australia whether it is living full time or enjoying the benefits of a gap year. As thousands set off each year many leave behind anxious parents and superficial worries. But what can you expect from your year abroad? Is it all beers, barbecues and beaches? Are the only items you are required to pack a pair of shorts, t-shirts and thongs (flip flops)? As a participant in the one year working holiday visa and one year tourist visa I am here to dispel the myths and reveal some of the truths of Backpacking Down Under The Gap Year Truth.
Backpacking Down Under The Gap Year Truth. The Sun Always Shines On TV.
I have met and heard many stories from people who wish to take a year break down under. They can’t resist the “promise” of long days spent at the beach, working few hours and when they do they will be handsomely paid with a chance to meet the friendly Aussies like they see on Home and Away or Neighbours on their TV screens each day. To be honest these soap operas have much to answer for. There isn’t an Irishman or woman who hasn’t seen at least one episode and it is apparent that there are many viewers due to the shows longevity on our national broadcaster. If you watch these shows you will see people who rarely work, live in nice houses with swimming pools, wear shorts all year round and spend hours on the beach, in a coffee shop or in the gym. It is this type of lifestyle which is a million miles away from Northern Europe with grey dreary weather, nosey neighbours, bosses who work you to the bone and accommodation which is small and overpriced, certainly in Ireland anyway! It’s no wonder many slip into this fantasy land and dream of a life on the other side of the world.
The one major reason many of us lust after a life down under is the seemingly endless hours of sunshine. So confident are many travellers from these shores that they fail to pack a coat or warm clothing, and why would they? They don’t wear such articles of clothing on Home and Away very often do they? The simple truth is that Australia is a huge nation, so vast it is even classified as a continent. With such vastness brings differing climates. For instance the North and Queensland is considered tropical so expect warm, humid days and heavy, heavy showers even in the middle of summer as I experienced living in Brisbane and spending time in Darwin. Sydney in New South Wales is probably the most popular stop and although summer temperatures can get exceptionally hot be prepared to wrap up during the winter months as biting winds and showers can make it feel like a day back home at times.
Melbourne, Victoria is known as the city which can experience four seasons in one day. One minute basking in warm sunshine the next sheltering from the rain. Talking from experience a cold winters day in Melbourne is a kin to a cold day in Dublin so certainly no dips in the pool, unless you are crazy! For me Perth, Western Australia boasts the best climate with extremely hot summer days and a cooling breeze known locally as the Fremantle Doctor, winter is a lot milder but expect days of sunshine and a mild twenty degrees. Now twenty degrees is a good summers day in Ireland but when you are used to temperatures in the late thirties during the summer winter can feel cool. So do your research before you go. Yes pack the suncream and shorts but if you are planning on landing in Melbourne in mid July pack extra socks and a good jacket. As Ah Ha once said the sun always shines on TV!
Job Opportunities and Wages
Most backpackers from Ireland or the UK will tell you, “In Australia I have a friend who works four hours a day doing nothing and gets paid fifty dollars per hour before hitting the beach each afternoon”. Not saying this does not happen, sometimes you can strike it lucky in a country boasting billions of dollars worth of natural resources but for the most part this is an urban legend. If it sounds too good to be true then it usually is. There is no disputing the fact that you can make it here, and in my opinion much easier than back home.
Where else could a young twenty something like me get paid a couple of hundred dollars each day, get free accommodation and eat at least three to four times each day dining on fresh meat, vegetables and sushi and drink your own body weight in tea, coffee or the local favourite Milo? That’s right in Australia, or more specifically on the beautiful waters of the Indian ocean on board a pearling boat as a deckhand. For those with a trade a job in or around one of the many mine sites in Western Australia is also a cash building option. Even though the sites are a hive of activity they are based kilometres away from civilisation and often the work is in extreme temperatures. Be prepared for frequent travelling and time spent on a small aeroplane, the term fly in fly out will become very familiar to you if you live in or around Perth city. Overall job opportunities are much more readily available down under, most people will know somebody or connect with the local ex-pat community and job websites such as SEEK.au are also very helpful.
Following on from job opportunities there is another backpackers staple when it comes to seeking employment down under and that’s fruit picking. Being such a vast nation with varying climates, as mentioned above, Australia grows everything from bananas to grapes, apples to apricots. As a result farmers and producers from the length and breadth of the country seek employees to pick their produce with a tasty incentive for those who participate. After the one year working holiday visa expires participants must leave the country or find an employer who will sponsor them, usually skilled workers in demand. For those who wish to extend their stay fruit picking or fisheries work (regional areas) is an option. If you work for ninety days or more in these industries in selected postcodes (usually remote areas) you can automatically apply for another one year extension to your visa. This opportunity is too good for many backpackers to pass up but if you expect a few hours getting your hands dirty and a good meal and constant partying maybe think again.
Yes there may be some efficient and comfortable farms to work on around the country but from personal experience there are also some less favourable farms. For instance on one farm in Queensland I was required to pick squash. For a start I needed to take a local school bus from the nearest town some two hours away and pay up front for my accommodation, fair enough a nice comfortable bed and shower would be nice. Forget it, I was given the key to a cabin with a dirty old mattress on the floor, cockroaches, flies, lizards and a sink. The toilet was outside and was invaded by bullfrogs. I suppose I could have manned up and stuck it for ninety days but I lasted all of nine hours as I took the next bus out of there, the final straw being locked in my cabin and getting out thanks to some passing backpackers with the landlady attempting to charge me for breaking the lock!! The woman in charge was simply a witch with no regard for people only profit so I can only imagine how difficult the work was judging by the weary and deflated faces of the employees on site.
Before you go fruit picking do your research, talk to previous employees if you can and check it out with the locals, one hostel owner laughed at me when I mentioned the farm I was going to, so that should have raised a red flag! If you do find a good place to work it can be a wonderful experience , not only will you make make money and extend your stay in Australia but you can make friends for life.
Another aspect of Australian living which is frequently commented about is the apparent high cost of living. Everyone who asks me about my time in Australia will invariably say “but isn’t it expensive there?”. My answer has always been a definitive NO. Yes if you come from parts of Asia, Central America or Eastern Europe rents can seem high as well as food but when the minimum wage is approximately 17 Dollars per hour these costs aren’t so difficult to absorb. Coming from Ireland I have found that a weeks grocery shopping is comparably similar to Australia but fuel, heating, rent and car running and public transport costs are much cheaper down under. The reason I believe that Irish people find Australia so expensive comes down to two vices, cigarettes and alcohol. In Ireland we love a good moan when the price of a pint rises in the budget or in past years when cigarettes increased. In Australia it cannot be denied that alcohol and cigarettes are expensive but are these not luxury items? The last time I checked these items were not needed to survive so I think the Australians have got their pricing and health priorities spot on.
More important needs such as housing and fuel costs are much more reasonably priced than Ireland so Australia wins hands down for me. If you are fond of a few pints in the evenings and a packet of smokes, some Tayto crisps and Brennan’s bread then be prepared to part with a fist full of dollars. If you want to run a powerful impressive car, rent a nice home and save money on excessive heating costs then Australia is the place for you. If a pub culture is your scene then stay at home or be prepared to splash the cash.
Finally the one thing you cannot prepare for is the distance. Australia is the other side of the world from us Europeans and it’s not until you journey there that you really appreciate how far away it is from family and friends. I love my family and friends but to be honest I never suffered one minute of homesickness during my years in Australia but I have found people who have really struggled. The time difference can be a real strain especially along the east coast where there is an 11 hour time difference between there and Ireland and the UK.
This means catching up with family and friends can prove difficult. Also despite having a lot in common the Australians are different culturally than us. The Irish trait of chatting to a stranger on the bus or calling to a neighbour for a cup of sugar can be quite alien to most Australians and forget about merrily wandering from pub to pub boasting of your drinking prowess. In Australia you will be promptly dealt with by security and even passed on to the Police for your drunken behaviour and forget about pub lock ins!!! Overall however the vast array of flights and frequency has meant reaching Australia couldn’t be easier these days. Despite the long distance it still is only a days travel away.
So what more can I say about heading down under? Just GO! If you are aged between 18 and 31 and come from a country participating in the working holiday visa programme then I believe you are crazy if you do not take the opportunity to spend some time here. Maybe you will party all year and come home with a beer belly and empty bank account, maybe you will find the love of your life or the job of your dreams or maybe you will just come home with more of an appreciation of home.
For parents even though you cannot help but worry be supportive of your son/daughter’s decision if they choose to go. This is a wonderful opportunity that didn’t exist some years back with Australia seen as a bleak, dry desolate place fit only for convicts! There is always Skype and it’s a wonderful place to join them for a holiday after all! For me Australia will always feel like home despite living in Ireland, a place I hope to return to again and again …but without the hostels!. Australia….Ken Oath!
Backpacking Down Under The Gap Year Truth