Lending a farm hand

Steven Sirksi describes his working holiday in Australia, and tells you 
how you can get a job on a farm Down Under

The working holiday scheme demonstrates that it doesn’t take much to travel. Although you will have to front the cost of the visa and airfare, once you lock in your job, especially on a farm, you’ll find that you’re able to repay your debts fairly quickly. (The visa and the airfare are both tax deductible.) I worked a total of three jobs and travelled for a few weeks throughout Australia before flying over to the beaches of Bali, Indonesia. 


My first job was as a farm hand and chaser bin driver for the grape harvest. Unlike grain harvesters that carry their own hopper bin, the grape harvester does not. Instead, the grape harvester shakes the grape vines onto a series of conveyor belts, which drop them into a chaser bin one row over. Where grape harvesting is similar to grain harvesting is the need to get the crop off in good time. Often the farmer is given a specific time to deliver the grapes to the winery. One load (nine bins) can take two to three hours to harvest before the truck (semi) can depart.


My second and third jobs involved driving seeder rigs for the extensive cropping program in West Australia. Seeding in Australia is pretty similar to seeding in Canada, except it’s warmer in Australia. If you’re from the Prairies, you might want to get some practice on hills before you go — some of the hills in West Australia can be pretty steep. Other than that, bring your mp3 player because some fields can be quite large — several hundred hectares long. Just remember to stay alert for the one electrical pole in the middle of the field.


Most of the machinery they use in Australia is imported from North America. The tractors were John Deere or New Holland and came in all shapes and sizes. Implements were usually from Canada (Bourgault) or Australia (DBS Auseeder). Most were purchased within the last few years and it’s rare that you’ll be using equipment much older than that.


All work, no play?


Australia offers plenty of attractions and activities, ranging from off-road driving to scuba and sky diving and numerous natural landscapes from Ayers Rock to the Great Barrier Reef. If you find you’re spending too much day by day you can always fly to Bali, Indonesia or anywhere else in Southeast Asia for a few hundred dollars (Thailand springs to mind). In Australia, you might spend about $100 a day; in most parts of southeast Asia you will only spend about $30 to $50 a day, and that’s being adventurous. Less if all you want to do is simply lie on the beach all day.


But I’m not a under 31 anymore! That’s okay. New Zealand will take you until you’re 35. 


Pre-trip checklist


There are a few things you’ll need to do before you start running the tractor on an Australian farm.


1. Get a visa: You can apply online for a visa that allows you to enter and exit Australia as much as you like. http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/417/apply-online.htm. This process only works if you’re between 18 and 30. 


Make sure you apply before you turn 31. Once your visa has been issued, you have one year to enter Australia. This means you can apply before you turn 31 and enter before you’re 32.


If you’ve already missed the deadline, don’t worry. New Zealand will take you until you’re 35.


2. Count your money: You may need to prove that you have a minimum of $5,000 AUD as you enter Australia. (This is about $4,800 Canadian dollars.) Bring a bank statement just in case.


3. Buy plane tickets: I use cheapoair.com or skyscanner.com to find a cheap ticket. Tickets usually remain cheap until three weeks before your planned departure.


4. Go to the bank: When you get there, you’ll need a tax file number (TFN) and a bank account. You can apply for the TFN online, but to get a bank account, you’ll have to apply in person with your passport and one other piece of identification.


5. Find a job: You can search the free, Australian government-published Harvest Trail that lists the various crops and their harvest times (find it online at jobsearch.gov.au/harvestrail). Or, search Australian newspapers such as Farm Weekly or The West Australian for job listings.


6. Prove your qualifications: You can use your Canadian driver’s license (including Class 1 or 3) for three months in one Australian state before you must apply for an Australian driver’s license. Check the laws and regulations on the Australia state licensing websites. Bring any other certificates you have.


7. Look at your wages: Food and accommodation are usually covered on the farm and you may be given a vehicle for farm use. Low season wages are around $20 per hour and you’ll usually work 40 hours per week. High season wages increase to $25 per hour and you’ll often be working 60+ hours per week with one day off. Most, if not all, employers will pay into what’s called a “super fund.” That’s your pension, which you can claim when your visa expires or is cancelled.


8. Be ready to pay taxes: If you work in one area for six months you will become a resident for tax purposes. That means you qualify for the $18,200 tax-free threshold; anything above that is taxed at 18 per cent. If you move around a lot (from city to city) then you won’t qualify for the tax-free threshold and will be taxed 32.5 per cent on your entire income.


9. Choose the best time to go: The best time to go for good wages and a lot of hours are during the seeding and harvest programs. May until July, then October until December or January for cropping. Grape harvesting begins in February. Livestock work can be found year-round.


10. Remember the weather: Australia’s seasons are opposite Canada’s. Winter falls between June and September. Southern Australia will get cold at night and hot during the day, while northern Australia gets really hot. Snow is rare Down Under, Aussies come to Canada to ski and snowboard!


11. Learn the language: Aust-ralians use a few different words than Canadians. A crescent wrench is a “shifter” and a wrench is a “spanner.” A combine is a “harvester.” A single semi-trailer is a “truck,” a two-trailer semi is a “B-double.” A Ford F-150, which we call a truck, is a “ute.” A tool is an “idiot.” Thank you is “ta” in some parts. “Root” doesn’t have anything to do with plants. Fields are “paddocks.” Hills are “undulations.” †


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