After finding ourselves farm work, the next step was to actually do it. Our job hunt led us to a little town 2.5 hours north of Melbourne called Mooroopna, next to the more commonly known city of Shepparton. Rising bright and early for our first day, we headed off to a nearby farm just as the sun was rising and were set the task of stripping the trees of apricots. This meant picking every piece of fruit we could see unless it was rotten. We had to fill massive bins and very quickly found the work painful and depressing. The work was very physically demanding, with the bags of fruit getting extremely heavy and working in the heat quickly exhausting us.
As is typical of this type of work, we were paid on piece rate, meaning you are paid by how much you can pick. The law requires the average worker to be able to pick at a rate that allows them to earn at least minimum wage, but you’ll find more often than not that most people really struggle to earn anywhere near a liveable wage. Between the three of us, we only managed to fill two bins in around 6 hours. At $35 a bin, this meant just $23 each for a days work, and under $4 an hour each. With the legal minimum wage at $22.13 per hour, this left us feeling extremely deflated and already discussing our options of where to move to next.
However, we stuck it out and each day got slightly better, doing 3 bins the next day, and 3 in a shorter timeframe the day after that. We’d been hired by a contractor, who sent us out to whatever local farm needed workers, and lucky for us by day 5 we were needed on a different farm, and were sent to an apple farm to ‘thin’ the trees on an hourly rate. Thinning trees means pulling off small apples where they’re overcrowded and dropping them on the ground, to allow the apples left to grow to full size. This work lasted three weeks in total and while at $16 per hour it wasn’t meeting legal minimum wage, it still left us in a far better financial position than before.
These first four weeks left us feeling concerned over our pay and payslips, particularly after reading about being required to earn at least legal minimum wage to be able to count the work for your second year visa. While we still don’t know how accurate this information is, if true it’s very unfair to penalise employees when it’s the employers who are exploiting the system. Regardless of how much you earn, if you complete the 88 days it should surely count, right?
Still, with these concerns lingering in the back of our minds, when I received a phone-call from a packing shed we’d applied to 5 weeks prior, I jumped at the chance to take on a legally paid hourly rate job indoors. Adam didn’t like the idea of being stuck indoors doing repetitive tasks all day, but Emma and I were more than happy to move away from picking in the heat for pennies. So, by the second week in February, Emma and I had moved onto packing apples in a factory, and that’s where we’ve been ever since. It was pretty overwhelming at first as the machinery moves at such a rapid rate, and I’ve had my fair few days where I wanted to walk out. However, all in all it’s a fairly decent job as far as farm work goes. We’re now coming to the end of April, and it’s going to be another month before we’re finished our 88 days of work. As for Adam, by sticking with one employer he’s finished his 3 months already and is now free to go ahead and work in Melbourne as a web designer again.
Thinking back on my time here, it’s been fairly average and not something I’ll remember overly fondly. Theres very little to do in Shepparton area and its left me really missing big city life. We’ve made some great friends along the way, had fun weekends away in Melbourne, saw the local tourist attractions and had a few decent Shepparton nights out – so it’s definitely not all bad. But at this stage I’m done with living in the middle of no where and so ready to get on the road again.