Australia offers a one-year Working Holiday Visa for travellers aged 18—30. This allows them to see the county, work in cafes, and take selfies with kangaroos, after which most of them head home. But many travellers put down roots and want to stay for another year, and this is how Australia recruits young people to work on farms.
Incentivised by the promise of a second year visa extension, foreign nationals toil away in our factories and fields for a total of 88 days. The hours are long, the work is hard, and the accommodation is often sketchy. Lots of backpackers report having to pay extortionately high rent for squalid rooms packed with bunk beds. Safety procedures around farm machinery is also infamously lax, and many backpackers find themselves shipped out to remote areas to spend long periods with seedy property owners. Basically, farm work for visas can be a game of Russian roulette.
But I had a great time. As an Italian national chasing a second year visa, I was sent to Eumundi, two hours north of Brisbane, where I worked on a ginger farm. There, I found myself bedded in a share house of around 20 people, working from dawn to 3 PM everyday. Some people didn’t manage to stay for the requisite 88 days and dropped out. But for a lot of us, me included, we found a kinship that rarely exists after high school.
During my months on the farm I took photos of our day-to-day, and chronicled how farm work looks to those who are living it.
This was our share house where all the backpackers lived. Most travellers find themselves living in share houses on the farms, just like this one.
Every morning we'd get up around 4 AM to eat breakfast with the other backpackers.
One of the biggest challenges was maintaining contact with families and friends on other sides of the planet. Due to time zones, the best periods to call were usually in the morning, just before work.
The other challenge is trying to cheerfully share a small kitchen with 20 other people at 4 AM.
After breakfast we all got divided into groups for factory or farm work. For anyone working in the shed, it's a real challenge putting up with the sound of the machines all day. The noise is unbearable and it's with you from dawn until knock off.
The other thing about shed work is that you've got to work as fast as you can, doing the same thing over and over again without talking, for eight hours straight. By the end of the day you feel like you've become part of the machinery.
Working in the field is way better. Here you can see a group of backpackers on field detail getting off the ute.
During the first lights of the sunrise, two women walk through the morning fog towards the field where they'll work the day.
Working in a field is a whole lot less noisey than a factory, but it's still hard physical labour.
Farm work changes your body in ways you don't expect. You get fitter, that's for sure. But you're also bending, twisting, and carrying heavy buckets long distances. Basically you're just straining your body in ways you've never strained before.
Rain or shine, the work doesn't stop. And sometimes, in the midst of all that work, the weather can really turn it on.
There are two breaks during the day. The first is a 15-minute smoko. The second is a 30-minute break for lunch, which looks like this.
When you finish late in the afternoon, everything hurts. Especially your back and your hands.
After a few days of field work, most of us realised that stretching and yoga really helped to curb injuries. Nearly everyone stretches after work.
This is the best part of the day—coming home after work. Some of the backpackers go to the beach, others go walking, others just sit around and relax.
But living in a shared house also means sharing the grocery shopping, with different people on shopping detail every week. Usually this happens after work.
When you ask backpackers why they come to Australia, most will give you an answer about the natural environment. This country has really got some of the best (and last) uncontaminated landscapes on the planet.
And then there's the beach, which holds a mystic allure for European travellers in particular.
Everyone tried surfing of course. And surfing is way harder than it looks.
Then, after the sun went down, everyone returned to the house to chill out.
But if it was a weekend, we partied. The place we stayed had a big balcony with a ping pong table that got regularly used for beer pong, and rarely used for anything else.
One downside to Australia is that drinks in clubs and bars cost about a million dollars. So to get around that we always got drunk before we headed out.
A pre-loading makeup sesh.
And then we all did what young people do everywhere: drank in sub-par venues and loved it.
…which was inevitably followed by drunkenly laying on the road.
…and then waiting around for a cabs or a late night buses to get home.
After several months working together and partying together, everyone knew each other like family. It was incredibly hard work and a lot of it sucked, but the good times were beautiful.
Check out more of Giacomo's photos on his website