Part of the appeal of the Australian Working Holiday Visa is that it is extendable. That means more time for beaches, beers, and BBQs, whilst your mates freeze on the other side of the world.
To be granted an additional year, you need to complete 88 days of regional work. And ‘regional’ in Australia can be a wh-o-o-ole different ball game.
We spent ten weeks in Cape York, one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Queensland. We had huge highs and crushing lows and came away a lot wiser than we were at the start. It was probably one of the best experiences of our lives, but it wasn’t an easy one.
We want to share with you our key lessons (and key mistakes!) so that you know exactly how to prepare for and survive remote regional work in Australia.
Our Guide to Surviving Remote Regional Work Australia
Have Your Own Transport
Wherever possible, make sure you have your own car. If that isn’t possible, make sure that your employer is willing and able to loan you the sole use of a vehicle for the duration of your time there. This was one of our (many) fails during our own remote regional work in Australia.
The obvious reason for this advice is that you will want to actually explore the area on your days off. There is absolutely nothing worse than getting to your only day off for the week, and being unable to make the most of it. Chances are, most remote workplaces don’t have anything cool within walking distance. In some places, walking is probably the worst thing you could do.
Another reason for this though is that it is important for you to have your own viable exit strategy. Maybe you don’t like the work or the location, or maybe your plans change and you need to leave earlier than anticipated. Having to rely on your soon-to-be-ex-employer to get you from A to B probably isn’t the best idea. Even if you part ways amicably, things don’t happen easily or quickly in remote areas. Often, employers will wait until someone else is driving to the nearest big town and put you in a car with them. This could be days after you had intended on leaving.
Netflix And Chill
I’ll keep this short and sweet: Download. Absolutely. Everything. You. Can.
Be it music, TV series, movies, apps, ebooks, podcasts… download anything and everything you can get your hands on BEFORE you go. WiFi in remote areas is, unsurprisingly, slow and limited. Streaming services drain the data quickly, leaving your employer internet-less and unable to run the online side of their business. Don’t be that guy. You probably won’t survive remote regional work in Australia if you do.
Bring All The Snacks
This one is entirely dependent on how you are getting there in the first place. For instance, we had to fly up to Cape York. We were unable to bring any food or drink with us, partly because of luggage restrictions and partly because of regulations in the area we were going to.
You may (as we did) kid yourself into thinking that you don’t need crisps, or biscuits, or anything good in the world. You may (as we did) see it as an opportunity to cut out all the crap you currently eat and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Do not do this.
When you start work at 6am, sweat half your body weight out by 11am, and finish up in the afternoon aching and slightly shaky, questioning all the decisions which have led you to this exact moment, THAT is when you will regret not bringing a cheeky box of biscuits with you. Or ten. No one is judging.
Which leads me to my next point…
Expect To Spend Money
You may strike it lucky and be relatively close to the local food shop. What isn’t so great is that the more remote you go, the more things cost to buy. The cost to transport a single packet of biscuits to an area which is a ten-hour drive away from the nearest big town or city will obviously be much, MUCH higher than the cost to transport them to the town or city itself. This expense is then added to the price of the product for the consumer.
Take for example flip-flops. Sam’s Havaianas broke on our second week. To buy a simple (and really quite ugly) replacement pair from the local shop would have set us back $40AUD. That’s almost £25 for a pair of shoes so horrendous, most dads wouldn’t wear them. Needless to say, Sam managed to fix his original shoes by hammering a nail up into the bit that goes between your toe and hoping for the best.
The same goes for fuel prices, so if you do have a vehicle, don’t be going for day-long drives just to pass the time.
Bring A Mate
Besides the obvious safety implications of this, it is important for your mental wellbeing too.
There were times up in Cape York where one, or both, of us, was incredibly unhappy (remember those crushing lows we alluded to earlier?) Just being able to vent to, cuddle, or go for a walk with another person was the best thing. Imagine being sad, or angry, or just a bit homesick, and being unable to talk to anyone else about it because all your friends and family are asleep halfway around the world.
Unless you have lived in a remote area of the world before, or unless you just really love your own space, there will be times where you struggle. Being around the same people constantly can be taxing, and living where you work takes its toll too. Where possible, bring a mate so you can wallow in self-pity together. But also so that you can create some of the best travel memories with that person too.
Spoiler Alert: It Gets Hot
Without caring if we sound like your mum, NEVER EVER go out in Australia without suncream, water, and a hat. Kez hates hats with a passion (something about having a large head), but even she wears one now when we go for hikes or days out in the sun.
If you are going to be working outdoors, get a wide-brimmed hat and wear long sleeves. It may sound counterintuitive, but the sleeves will protect your skin from the sun’s rays and also act as a cooling cloth for your arms when the breeze hits your sweat. Sounds gross, but feels really good.
As Kez was in and out all day, she found that wearing sweat-wicking sports gear was enough. It won’t make you overheat like heavy cotton does, and dries quickly. We also sipped electrolyte drinks sometimes, as well as consuming a lot of water. The electrolytes help to replace the minerals lost through sweat, and you will sweat from absolutely everywhere all the time.
And don’t think you can cool off with a swim either: depending on where you are located, crocs may be in the area and they can attack you.
Do As The Locals Do
Following on from this, one of the best ways to prepare for and survive remote regional work is to do as the locals do. Don’t be the idiot backpacker who wanders off into dense bush and has to have a search party sent out to retrieve them. Don’t swim in dangerous areas. Never go out without taking water with you. And don’t go to places you are told not to go to. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Take strips of material or coloured tape to mark your route if you’re going off course. Keep an eye on the sun and your direction of travel.
These people have lived in these areas for generations. They know their shit. Don’t deliberately ignore their advice. You aren’t Rambo. There is a reason they have survived in remote regional areas, and they are probably telling you something that will help to ensure your survival there too.
That said, don’t be afraid to utilise your days off fully. Get away from the workplace and explore beyond the perimeter. You may only get one day off a week. You don’t want to waste it sitting around or sleeping in. Although we’d totally understand if you’d want to.
Cabin fever is very, very real. There were a few days where, due to not having access to a vehicle, we moped around all day getting more and more miserable and feeling more and more trapped. We would take it out on each other, which just made things worse.
Instead of relying on a car, we used to walk around a 5km track in the jungle over the road after we had finished work, as a way to wind down and chat about our day. It got us away from the workplace/home for an hour and helped us to re-appreciate our surroundings. Make sure you have sturdy walking boots as the terrain can be unstable. These are the ones Kez wears and she swears by them – and they don’t cost the earth!
Get A Hobby
As much as you want it to be the case, chances are you won’t spend all your free time fishing/horse riding/offroading/camping. Your employers will be extremely busy people, and entertaining you on your day off won’t be a priority of theirs. You will need to make your own entertainment.
For us, this was working on this blog. It gave us something to focus on other than the fact that we were a) bloody hot and b) in the middle of nowhere with no car. We set ourselves goals and targets and scheduled in deadlines and meetings each week. Having something that demanded our time and attention meant that we were able to pass the time doing something enjoyable and productive.
Be practical when choosing your hobby though. It’s unlikely that you will be able to learn the harp when you’re more than a day’s drive from civilisation. Something like working out with a skipping rope or resistance bands, colouring, or drawing work great.
Sort Out WiFi
As previously mentioned, remote WiFi doesn’t work the same way that suburban WiFi does. A lot of the time, the data is from a satellite and is not unlimited. Once the data for the month is gone, it’s gone until the month refreshes again.
Your employer may offer WiFi, but your use of it may be restricted. It’s worth purchasing your own dongle or box and loading it up with data beforehand.
A word of advice: many network providers (cough Telstra cough) will tell you that you will be able to get a signal from them in these remote areas. They will then encourage you to buy a 4G WiFi box of your own, and load it with data. You will then arrive at your remote working location, and realise that not only is there no 4G up there, but there is also no 3G. Rendering the WiFi box and its non-refundable data useless. You will not be able to contact the network provider to complain because there is no signal. You get the picture. Do your homework and talk about the practicalities of WiFi and 4/3G with your employer before you buy anything of your own.
Know Your Rights
Lastly, get absolutely everything sorted before you agree to go to a remote location. Ask to see the contract, ask to see pictures of where you will be living and working, and ask for previous employee’s details so you can contact them for a reference. Make sure things like overtime, weekend work, and bank holiday rates (if applicable) are agreed too. Check your offered hourly rate against the award rate on the Fair Work website. If you aren’t paid enough, your days may not count towards your 88 days and you may not have your second year granted.
It’s far easier to address all these things before you are stuck on a ranch in the outback. Most regional employers are genuine, reliable people. But some aren’t (as with any industry in any country), and you don’t want to be trapped there working below legal wage for a terrible employer. Get this all ironed out early doors, and you’ll be fine.
And lastly… enjoy your farm work in Australia!
With any luck, you’ll now know how to prepare for and survive remote regional work in Australia, and your 88 days will be completed in no time.
Working in Cape York in such extreme conditions was one of the hardest things we have ever done. It was also one of the best experiences of our lives, where we were able to experience a part of Australia that not many people get to see. We met some of the most interesting, hard-working people you could ever hope to meet. We saw wild crocodiles, caught fish in the Coral Sea, ran away from cassowaries, were woken up by palm cockatoos, ate prawns fresh from the boats, learned how to make Anzac biscuits, and slept in a caravan in the middle of the rainforest for ten weeks.
If your experience is even half of that, you will have the time of your life too.
Ready to book that flight? Check out Skyscanner for cheap flights, and sign up to our new favourite, FareDrop. It texts you when flight prices drop dramatically – currently we are tempted by a £10 return flight to Dublin !