Mercedes had never picked up a tool in her life until she became a professional water tank builder during her Working Holiday in Australia. Here, she shares her unique job experience in the Outback.
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My previous job experiences in Australia
Packing mangoes in a factory in Katherine, NT, isolated, overworked and bored, I had far too much time to think. My partner had come home a week before and told me he’d been employed by “a guy who’s going out bush with a team of tank builders.'” In response I had rolled my eyes and told him he’d already seen Wolf Creek. The next night, he said “He also needs a cook, so you could come too.” I said I wasn’t going to leave my job, that I had planned to go to Katherine to finish my remaining farm work. But 15 days later, I’d quit my job and we were headed out to the bush.
Rural Australians are wonderful. Although I was hired as a cook, by the end of my second day, I asked if I could help build the tanks. My boss put a ratchet gun in my hand and told me to get on with it. I had no experience with tools previous to this job but I would soon learn. Willingness to give things a go is an essential trait in rural Australia!
Our boss was an equal opportunity employer, and more than happy to teach me how to build a tank. No matter what your nationality or gender, you could ask him how to do something and he would show you. The work was hard but I was determined to make the most of this opportunity to learn new skills.
A day in the life of a rural water tank builder
Our days started at 5.30am and would finish when either the tank was finished or we were! Our lunch break was often an hour long, to give us a chance to get out of the heat and eat a decent meal that would keep us going through the afternoon. Food was plentiful and provided by our boss. It was bulk bought back in town and then refrigerated or frozen in our accommodation.
The theory behind tank building is pretty simple, but putting it into practise is intense. Five people lifting heavy steel sheets above their heads in the blistering heat is way easier said than done! Luckily, I’m fairly strong and have good stamina. Previous to working in the packing shed in Katherine, I had worked out in the fields.
The roof was the hardest part for me. The beams weigh between 20-50kg and take four people up ladders to lift them and then hold them as they’re drilled into place. You’re sweating copiously and all the suncream on your forehead runs into your eyes!
After the outer tank is built, the lining has to be put in, and all the fixtures applied. The inside of the tank is a black liner. By the time it’s 40 degrees outside, you can imagine how hot it is inside, where all the heat gets trapped. The final stage is laying all the poly and connecting the bore. This was my favourite part, as you get to use a skid steer to trench and the poly laying is done with a huge feeder on the back of the truck. It’s all done as a team effort, and after a couple of tanks you start to see where everybody’s strengths lie, so they go up comparatively quickly.
A tough but rewarding job
You work hard, but the evenings are yours to spend as you please. Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot to do as there’s no phone signal, no internet, no TV and nobody to talk to most of the time, other than the people you work with!
But the beauty of life in the bush is that everybody talks to each other. We had people who came over from the cattle stations we were working on for evening beers. Our team were all different nationalities, and a mix of people from the country and the city, so we were able to spend hours chatting about cultural differences and lifestyles.
We cooked amazing food every night, getting creative with our limited resources. Of course, the isolation could get to you if you’d had a bad day. Sometimes, I wanted nothing more than to just be away from the same five people all the time. Other days, the isolation felt like a blessing. I felt free from the pressures of society, enjoying the simple life – a hard day’s work followed by a relaxed dinner with a view!
💡 It’s a good idea to download some podcasts and music on your phone before you head to the Outback, and bring some books to keep you occupied on those nights when you want a bit of time to yourself!
Working in the bush
We had very basic facilities, as you would expect living out of the back of a road train, but the views were amazing. The fiery red soil turned into an endless blue sky. There were snakes and kangaroos everywhere you looked. Wherever there was water, a green oasis would spring from the baked earth. At night, when the wet season started, huge thunderstorms would roll overhead and lightning would split the sky into a thousand pieces.
I’ve never been more afraid of nature than the first night we experienced a wet season thunderstorm. Lightning hit an abandoned stockyard barely ten feet from our truck and shook the whole team awake with its force and sound. It was both a thrilling and terrifying experience. In the mornings, we would look out over a sky filled with smoke haze as more often than not, the outback is on fire. It’s pretty common to be driving alongside a wall of flames as bush fires rage through the land.
Getting back to basics
Working as a rural water tank builder isn’t glamorous, in my opinion it IS worth it. The pay is good, and you can save a lot of money as your bed and board are provided. The facilities don’t include a kitchen hob or a toilet, but it forces you to get creative and nothing will beat the views! It’s an opportunity to mix things up, to get back to basics and remind yourself how uncomplicated life can be.