This is an article I’ve been waiting to write since I returned home in November of 2015 from my extended adventure in Australia. It’s also a difficult subject to write about for many reasons. Namely, after spending close to a year and a half living and exploring the wonderful country, there is so much to write about, I can barely contain it to one article.
My adventure to Australia is a bit of a long story, stretching back to the summer of 2013 when I made many Australian friends while travelling through Europe. I ended up in Australia for a brief two and a half months over the winter of 2014 and couldn’t get the country out of my mind once I returned home. For that reason, six months later I made the move. In one suitcase, I packed up my life and took the 26-hour journey across the world to land in Sydney.
The first time I was in Australia, Sydney was daunting. It was a large city and I was worried to walk down the street alone for fear of getting lost. But this time, seeing the Opera House and crossing over the Harbour Bridge had a different feeling. It was a feeling of being home – odd considering I’d only been there eight months earlier, and only for three days.
But you see, that was the thing; Sydney wasn’t going to be my home – at least not yet. And this article isn’t about living the high life in the cities of Australia, or touring the country… That will be my next article. No, today I want to share the mainly unknown part of an Australian working holiday.
There was a specific requirement to receiving my second Working Holiday Visa – a requirement that I cursed up and down many times both before and during my time in Australia. If I wanted to stay in the country past January when I entered the country on my first visa, I needed to spend 88 days in rural Australia – farming.
Anyone who knows me, knows that my single greatest fear in the world is spiders. Considering that Australia has some of the largest, and some of the most poisonous spiders around, I was dreading the thought of spending three months in the middle of nowhere. And I won’t lie to you; I think it only took about a week to see my first Goliath sized spider, and another few days to rack the total up to eight massive huntsmen. To put it this way, in my first month I had a bathroom break with a giant spider, I had one crawl over my chair while playing guitar and then I had to lift one out of an olive bin – and he was a friendly one though, crawling up and down my arm refusing to get off.
But this article isn’t meant to scare you off of Australia, so I’ll quit my talk on spiders and completely skip over any stories I have about snakes. Rather, I’d like to reflect on those 88 days with you in case you were curious, or in case you ever consider doing it yourself.
I look back on the experience now with only fond memories of the indescribable scenery, the adventure and the unbelievably wonderful family I lived with. The long days in the sun planting a vineyard, or early and frosty mornings in the shed sorting olives are long behind me. I don’t think about how isolated I felt or about how often I complained and wished to be somewhere else. And to be honest, I hate to admit that I struggled like I did. I ended up on the farm, more than slightly spoiled from all my adventures; staying in hotels and hostels, not working a hard day in my life. I was used to having things handed to me and taking the easy way out. For a very daunting change, I no longer had that. If I wanted to make my dreams of living in Australia come true, I’d have to work for it.
So even though I tried to quit at least four times in the first two weeks, I stuck it out. To this day, it is still the greatest experience I have ever had and whether you’re going after a second Working Holiday Visa, or just want a break from reality, I urge you to try your hand in the rural unknown countryside of someplace foreign.
Like I said, I look back with only fond memories now and truthfully know I had it unbelievably easy on the farm, even if it was completely out of my comfort zone. The family I lived with taught me so much, both about myself and life in general. They were warm and welcoming and some of the most fun people I have ever met in my life; think weekly themed costume parties in an old shed and endless bottles of wine!
During those 88 days, I helped plant a vineyard, doing every step from weeding to covering it in manure. I picked, sorted, bottled and labelled olives. I got to work with people from Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Sweden, Italy and Vanuatu. We shared languages and culture. We ate wild kangaroo. We jumped off bridges into rivers, explored caves, climbed mountains and we danced until the sun came up.
I learned the value of a hard day’s work. I have never been so proud, or felt as nostalgic about an experience as I did leaving on the bus early in the morning of my 89th day. As the bus left the small town of Canowindra, New South Wales, heading back to Sydney, I cried. It was a feeling of relief, of happiness and sadness and shock that I made it after trying to quit almost two weeks in. It was the foundation for the rest of my stay in Australia, knowing that if I could survive three months being on a different wavelength than my comfort zone, I could survive almost anything.
So for that reason, and so many more, I am grateful for the mandatory 88 days of work in rural Australia. The country has more than 134,000 farm businesses, most of which are family-owned and operated. This means they need help from people like me or you to keep them running. So, if you ever get the chance, in Australia or elsewhere, take it. My experience changed my life in ways I’ll never be able to express. Two years ago I said I’d never do it again, but after some distance and reflection, I’d be back there in a heartbeat; returning to a day when I saw the sun rise and sun set across a open sky of pink and purple freedom.
--Emily Wilson is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. Born and raised in Ontario, she lived in Australia for a year-and-a-half and has travelled to 31 countries. Traveller's Tales appears monthly on www.chatnewstoday.ca.