Lily, 25, arrived in Australia in February 2018 with her friend Anaïs on a Working Holiday Visa. After buying a van, they started looking for a job with two goals in mind: to finance their road trip and to live a unique experience. They shared with us their work experience in an Australian roadhouse.
On the way to the Nullarbor desert
Before going abroad, you normally see pictures or shots of the place you are going to, so you have got an idea of what to expect. Me personally, when I thought of Australia, I imagined red dirt, kangaroos, and vast landscapes. This was also the kind of setting I was hoping to find my first Australian job in! Once we bought our van, we went on the road to find a job outside of Perth. Like any self-respecting backpacker, we searched for job advertisements on Gumtree. We also went job-hunting from farm to farm and posted ads in Facebook groups.
After three weeks of looking for work, we really started to get worried! It was then that a manager of a roadhouse, who had seen our Facebook ad, contacted us on the phone. After receiving all kinds of job proposals from working as topless waitresses to kangaroo hunters, we finally got the perfect offer: to work as farm hands in a roadhouse/ cattle station including food and accommodation. It did not take us 5 minutes to jump in the van heading for the Nullarbor Plain!
This job offer was ideal for us because we wanted to work for three months before going on a road trip on the west coast. This job had the advantage of being stable, unlike fruit picking! No rainy day or not-ripe-enough fruits. No performance-based pay and no end-of-season. The salary might seem less appealing than for fruit picking, for which contractors promised us a minimum of $150 a day. After socializing with several farm workers, we learned that most of them earned about $100 a day (between $500 and $600 a week). The station offered us $90 after tax per day, $630 per week. Our days off were paid and we got a room to ourselves. All meals at the roadhouse restaurant were also included.
In the end, we each earned $2,800 a month! That’s how we put a lot of money aside for the rest of our adventures!
Our job as farm hands in a roadhouse
Two days after our new manager had called us, we arrived at an old sheep station in the Nullarbor Plain. A desert crossed by the Eyre Highway, which connects Western Australia to Adelaide and Melbourne. This desert highway stretches 1,200km and is lined with a large number of roadhouses. The one we stayed in was not too far in the Outback: 3 hours north of Esperance and 100km from the closest village!
So we arrived in our van and with our big backpacks at one of the first historic stations of the Nullarbor. It was truly authentic with its beautiful stone buildings and the remains of 1870. There were kangaroos and emus everywhere, the “red dirt”, and a colourful sunset over the hills: No doubt, we were in Australia!
What is a roadhouse?
A roadhouse is usually a roadside restaurant-motel that allows travellers to take a break during their trip. Ours consisted of a caravan park, a restaurant open at night, a small shop at the office, and cabins (from single-rooms to cabins for up to six people). Our roadhouse, like many others, was a multi-business: a caravan park and a cattle station (beef farm).
Our daily tasks
As farm hands, we had a wide variety of tasks. Our main duty was cleaning (housekeeping sounds much better). We were in charge of cleaning the cabins and the ablutions blocks (sanitary facilities). Our day began with cleaning all morning. The afternoons varied from day to day, so sometimes tasks included painting, gardening, park maintenance, and fencing (building fences). The pace was rather steady. As our team was small, there was always something to do at the caravan park and the farm. We worked 8 to 10 hours a day for 14 days in a row. We then had a 4-day break, which we usually spent in Esperance and Kalgoorlie.
The team consisted of the farmer, his son and his partner, who was our direct supervisor, and the cook. She left shortly after, so Anaïs took her place. Without any experience in cooking, Anaïs became the official cook for two months! This is also typical for Australia. You get a chance if you have a “can-do attitude”, even without a diploma. As for me, I started working at the reception, in addition to cleaning. I welcomed customers, handled check-ins, and the shop. We were lucky to be trusted with a great deal of responsibility, which was a nice surprise because we could learn a lot!
The solitude of the bush on the one hand, unique adventures on the other
Every scenario has its advantages and disadvantages. To live in the Outback is to accept isolation! There was not a pub within 100km, and we were a small team. And above all, you get only very little Internet connection to contact family and friends. Days are long and tiring and to face quite demanding customers at the office or in the kitchen puts you under pressure. For 14 days, your environment is the same all day long. After a hard day, you can’t go for a drink or just go home to relax. You spend all day with the people you work with! I think that if you want to fully enjoy an experience like this, the best way is doing it together with somebody else. When you are there with your partner or with friends, you can support each other in difficult times. Especially when 14 days of cleaning toilets in 35 degrees seems unbearable. It is also an opportunity for you to share this unique experience with somebody.
A very diverse job
The advantage of doing a farm hand job is that you help in all areas, which allowed us to experience all kinds of adventures. Just to mention a few examples such as driving a 4×4 on bush tracks like rally drivers to feed the cows. Doing the housework while observing a baby kangaroo and his mother only a few meters away. Playing with the puppies of the farm, finding a python in the bathroom, or hanging out with Squig, the domestic camel of the station. I had never thought I’d get this excited about emptying over 20 garbage bins. If this meant going around the park in a quad, we were suddenly a lot more motivated! A few days after our arrival, I went into the Outback, 400km away from any civilization, on an explorer camp of the mining industry. Camping under the stars at night and driving bulldozers at daytime, it was a unique adventure!
Our feelings after this experience
This experience took us both out of our comfort zone. It really allowed us to develop and grow. Anaïs, who spoke only a few words of English when she arrived in Australia, found herself managing the kitchen of a restaurant. For my part, I had the opportunity to take care of the whole caravan park for a few days when our boss was away. We both experienced the Australian adventure as we had imagined it. Despite the isolation, it was a fantastic experience full of social interactions.
During these 3 months, we were able to establish a connection with the farmers of the station and learned a lot about the typical Australian lifestyle. The Australian people we met every day were surprised to see two French girls lost in the Outback. They enjoyed reminding us that 90% of Australians live on the coast! This experience was quite unique, even for locals.
If you get the chance to go on such an adventure, go for it! To meet people from all over the country and to enjoy its wilderness, while gaining experience in a unique and unusual line of work, was a great way for us to discover the real Australia. After a few months of living amongst snakes, spiders, and the dust of the Outback, you’ll be ready for any Australian adventure!
Written by Emilie