I can’t believe it’s only been six months, but in the same beat can’t believe it’s been six whole months. Here’s a little timeline to recap. I left my job at the Lair on November 1, 2019 and left the Bay Area on November 3. I drove to my parents in Oregon and stayed for 10 days, departing for Melbourne on November 13. I arrived on November 15, and here we are on May 15, 2020, six months later.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Melbourne. I got to see the city from every angle, drive the Great Ocean Road with amazing friends, and live like a local for five months. I worked at one of the largest events in the country, and found a mini family with Brunswick Lacrosse. That’s right, ya girl is back on that lax train. If you’d asked me in 2018 if I’d like to do anything related to lacrosse again, my answer would have been a resounding no, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, so when I decided I needed a new hobby, I went for an old one. The impetus was that I wanted something to do with my free time, and a way to meet new people, so I found the closest club, and joined at the beginning of February. The club has existed for over twenty years, but the Lady Mavs are only in their second season, so most are new to the sport, which almost makes it more fun. After only a couple of weeks in this country, I realized that one year here just wouldn’t be enough, so I’m hoping to be back for the 2021 season.
I had planned to work for the events company until the end of April, but what with all events being cancelled, I finished work on March 27, and was faced with deciding what to do next. In order to stay for a second year on a working holiday visa, one is required to complete three months, specifically 88 days, of regional specified work. Colloquially known as farm work, this needs to be work directly related to plant or animal cultivation. The lease on my house was through April 21, and while it was appealing to remain in my comfortable bedroom, doing nothing with my days, I decided to kick into gear and find farm work. Under normal circumstances, it can be relatively easy to find, depending on your location, season, and desperate need to work. But as Corona was just picking up steam, I knew I needed to act quickly.
Welcome to Travel once again coming in handy, they have weekly emails and a database about what’s on and any work opportunities. The previous week they had a blurb about a workers accommodation in Bairnsdale, about 3 hours east of Melbourne. This wasn’t a job offer, but it was a hostel in a town with several options that counted as farm work. I shot them an email, booked my train ticket Wednesday, and was on my way Saturday, April 4. I was leaving Brunswick sooner than I had planned, but I also know that I’ll return to Melbourne, one way or the other. I was sad to leave my housemates, and my friends, and my home for the last five months, but happy to have a new opportunity.
After buying the largest suitcase Kmart had to offer, I had all of my stuff packed, including borrowed lacrosse stick, and caught the regional train from Flinders Station. Not surprisingly, it was almost completely empty. The ride took us from the inner to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and and then through the countryside. Bairnsdale is a small town by anyone’s measure, but is the hub of activity for the area, and has to be driven through to get anywhere around it. The Sonora, CA of East Victoria, if you will. It’s nice and peaceful, rural and quiet. There’s more fresh air and sunshine, at a slower pace. It could be middle America, or middle of Australia, there’s really not much difference. The house is set up as a hostel, with bunk beds in three rooms, with a kitchen, living room, laundry room, and backyard with an amazing view. The house can hold up to twelve, but we’re at six at the moment: two girls, two guys, and one couple. English, Dutch, French, Chilean, and American. Only one of the boys had been in the house for a few months, and the rest of us arrived the same weekend. We were all in the same boat of needing to find work, and only relocating here for that one reason.
I normally take a cavalier approach to job hunting, with the idea that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen (obnoxiously this has worked very well in the past). This time though, it was literally a race against the clock to see who would make the first move. I had done my research on Sunday of what businesses were around, and which would count towards the 88 days. Monday morning, I went for a walk along the river, with plans to call around in the afternoon. But I had a nagging feeling, so mid-walk I made my first call (because calling is always better than emailing, even if you hate talking on the phone) to the local honey factory. They said they weren’t hiring at the moment, but that I could email over my resume. With the first contact out of the way, I sent a few emails that afternoon, and then spent most of Tuesday following up with the rest. Almost all had the same answer: no, we’re not hiring. This was due to COVID, but also because we’re heading into winter, and there’s not as much available as there might be during the summer.
But despite all of that, I got a response two days later from the honey company, asking me to come for a trial the following Tuesday. I needed work boots, long pants, and a hi-vis shirt. Hello Kmart. I would be working in the production line, from 6am to 6pm. Yes, I sure know how to pick my jobs based on their very convenient hours. It’s a family-run, relatively small production, with all Australians, no other backpackers. The first week was hard. I was tired, every muscle in my back hurt, but I kind of liked it. I like the routine, I like the people, and considering how lucky I am to have a job, I can’t complain. I wake up at 5, am out the door before 5:30, and ride my bike 25 minutes through town. I really don’t think I can emphasize enough my dislike for bicycles. I don’t like to ride them, I don’t like to drive around other people riding them, there’s not one redeeming quality, except when it allows me to avoid walking over an hour to work.
The work is on a production line bottling honey, so you’re either placing bottles on the line, capping, labeling, sealing, or packing them. None of those jobs are terribly strenuous, and certainly don’t have any prerequisites, but when you do them at a quick pace for 12 hours, you certainly feel it. But it’s not the physicality that gets you, it’s the mental game. The task at hand isn’t challenging, and once you’re in the zone, you’re alone with your thoughts. There’s no music, no conversation. Just you and your brain. And boy oh boy is there a lot rattling around in there. Specifically any song that I know any lyrics to, mostly including musicals I watched 1000 times as a kid, early 2000s bops, Christmas tunes, and a smattering of songs from the past decade. And when I’m not singing to myself, I’m planning where I want to travel in the next year, and next ten. How many lists can I make in my head, and then forget about completely by break time? A lot. This is where being an only child helps me out, because I’m used to entertaining myself for hours on end. But I also think I’m starting to lose my marbles. I’ve got a month down, two to go. Depending on what the travel situation is, it’s likely I’ll stay longer. It’s been a humbling experience, because the farm work that backpackers deign to do is the livelihood of many Australians. We do this work because we have to, they do it because it’s their only option.
After six months, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience so far. Here’s the highlights.
Favorite thing about Australia? The people, the feeling I’ve had while I’ve been here.
Favorite saying? First in, best dressed. Like early bird gets the worm, but better.
What am I most glad I packed? Wet weather clothes including raincoat and Chacos. I don’t need them often, but when I do, it’s a real lifesaver.
What do I wish I packed? My portable speaker.
What could I have left at home? My nicer, going out clothes.
What do I wear the most? The same thing I wear at home, jean shorts and leggings. Favorite book? In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson. I got this book before I first came to Australia in 2014, and just finished it last week, but that’s more of an indication of me than the book. It’s packed with all kinds of information and highlights different aspects of the entire country.
Favorite movie? The Sapphires. Based on the true story of an aboriginal singing group during the 1960s, staring the not-so-Australian Chris O’Dowd. I’ve loved this movie for a long time, especially because of the soundtrack.
Favorite podcast – The Adam and Symon Show. I know Symon from lacrosse, and if you want to listen to two Australians have some good chats about nothing terribly important, this is for you. But start from the beginning, so you can get the full whack-a-mole experience.
Favorite music – I like lots of music, but none specifically because they’re Australian. The first three I could think of are Vance Joy, Tones and I, and AC/DC.
What have I learned during my six months here? I’m better at going with the flow, having fun, and saying yes more often. I make decisions more quickly, and have learned to go after what I want. You can’t plan your life, but it helps to have a rough idea. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time, so I don’t want that feeling to end any time soon. That’s the main reason that amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, I decided to stay here, rather than return home. Australia was a little behind the world curve, so while friends in the Bay Area were just starting to shelter in place, we were only just starting to be affected down here. Practically speaking, I have a job and healthcare coverage here, that I wouldn’t have at home. And while the thought of returning to the US to sit on my parents’ couch wasn’t unappealing, I saw no redeeming benefits of doing so. Over the past few months, I’ve taken the ‘one day at a time’ approach, and while not intentionally doing do, have had a generally positive attitude towards the state of affairs.
I’m heading into the Australian winter, which is shockingly more cold than I anticipated. I don’t know what the next few months are going to look like, but I’m happy where I am for now.