This is kind of a long one so get yourself a drink and settle in.
A lot of people dread the thought of spending several months doing manual labour on an isolated farm. It may be that you just aren’t a country person. It may be that you aren’t a very active person, or are used to the comfort of an air conditioned office and a comfortable chair that gives you constant postural support…but if you want to spend a second year living, working and traveling around Australia, you have to do it.
With this in mind, my intention is to impart the wisdom we gained during our regional work journey at Mansell Farms via the top ten ways to make the most of your eighty eight days without constantly clicking your heels like Dorothy.
Cleanliness: Getting Down and Dirty
Now, I should start off by confessing that I am hardly a neat freak. The opposite in fact. But the chances are if you bleach your kitchen three times a day farm life is going to be hard for you. Whether you’re picking, planting or working in a big old packing shed, there’s going to be dirt, dust and flies. There will be rotten fruit, critters, sweeping/cleaning to do at the end of the day; and by that point you will be filthy.
Try to cope with this as best you can in your own way; but quietly. British of me I know, to tell you to suffer in silence, but none of the farmers are going to sympathise with you and chances are many of your house mates won’t either.
You can and should, do what you can in your communal living areas (more on this later) so your living space is clean at the end of the day. Otherwise, you really do just end up getting used to it, or driving everyone nuts. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised…
I personally think this applies to all life but I’ll say it anyway – employers and your fellow colleagues will appreciate you if you put in the effort and work hard. You live, party and work with these people. Getting off to a good start by not leaving others to do the hard/dirty work will make breaking the ice over drinks on your first Friday night a hell of a lot easier. If you’re unsure, ask lots of questions or take the initiative and ask if anything else needs doing. If you’re still struggling for motivation, just bear in mind the days will go by a lot faster if you keep busy. Having a good relationship with your bosses and managers also helps when it the time comes to collect payslips and get work references – especially if you’re planning to split your farm work over different parts of the country.
This was by far the biggest adjustment for me, but many of you will be used to large dorm rooms and sharing your personal space by the time you get to the farm work stage of your travels. Even if you are used to a hostel dorm or you’ve been sharing an apartment with friends, trust me when I say living with 8+ people that you also work with and party with is a whole new kettle of fish. Add different age groups and languages into the mix, plus some colourful personalities, and if you’re an introvert at heart like me, this can feel way out of your comfort zone. There are a few ways to make this significantly easier for you however…
If you’re considerate, people will naturally warm to you no matter your differences. Help out around the house as much as you can. Do the big pile of dishes, not just your own stuff. Hoover and take your muddy/dusty boots off at the door. Clean the bathroom without being asked every few weeks and buy loo roll and bits for the kitchen to make life easier. Don’t start cooking when four people are trying to make dinner at once. Most of us would automatically consider our fellow inhabitants, but it’s easy to forget when you get comfortable with people and really makes all the difference.
Try not to let other people’s moods effect you. Easier said than done, but sometimes people are just having a bad day. If you know they’re homesick or work has got them down and you still can’t cheer them up, leave them be. They will most likely be raring for drinks with you again by Friday.
Don’t hog stuff. Seriously guys. Showers are particularly touchy if you’re sharing limited hot water. If you’re lucky enough to have a TV, ask everyone if they mind watching a programme you fancy. If there are several houses/caravan sites on the farm it’s nice to invite people over for GOT marathons if you’re lucky enough to have the best TV or a hard drive (thank you Steve and Ruby!).
Party’s – the best part! Offering to pitch in with food/drink is a great way to break the ice. Once again with the cleaning, help out the morning after the night before.
This all falls under the same blanket but it starts to become very obvious who’s shirking chores or never takes their turn to cook, and creating good feeling will not only help you make friends but will make your time spent with difficult people run smoother. Which leads me to…
Making new friends!
If you’ve managed not to be a pain in the arse to live with (see above) you’ll have got to know a tonne of great new people by now.
When it comes to housemates, creating a weekly night where you all sit down for a meal together can be a great thing to do to get to know everyone. With a mix of nationalities, skill levels and diets this can be a great opportunity to try new foods and learn new recipes – plus it’s cheaper than going out to eat. Spontaneous baking (when the kitchen’s free and everyone’s eaten dinner…) and sharing is always a winner.
Buying cheap booze and not being stingy with sharing is always a great help where you can. Same applies to cigarettes/tobacco if you’re a smoker. Sharing is caring people.
When you’re not doing chores on your days off – go exploring! Wander around the farm, get to know your surroundings, arrange barbecues and parties if that’s your thing, your time is your own.
It can be a great opportunity to explore surrounding areas if you have a whole weekend off (worth noting we generally worked six days a week so this wasn’t really possible for us, despite being tantalisingly close to Adelaide). We generally went for long walks down the Murray River, went canoeing and I even practised my driving skills – or tried to salvage some at least! This can be great to get some chill time if you’re craving some time alone too.
If you’re staying at a lovely farm they may even take you on tractor and/or boat rides….
Plus if you’re super bored there’s always exercise; many of the girls went running and organised a daily boot camp on weekdays, which was a great way for all the backpackers staying in different houses to get to know each other better and keep fit outside of work.
Having a car when you’re on a farm is a God send. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without the freedom of ours as the nearest town was so far away. Travelling by car around Australia is also a great way to see the country, leaves you open for mini road trips when you settle somewhere for a few months and often other travellers are in a hurry to get rid of perfectly good cars and camper vans on Gumtree if your budget will stretch.
If you really don’t have the cash or aren’t able to drive, your boss and family tend to be around to give lifts or pick up supplies if you’re desperate when you arrive. Don’t be a afraid to ask for help or lifts and do take your license with you. If you are getting lifts every week, a gesture of $5 for petrol money or a cheap bottle of booze for your driver definitely helps if there are limited car spaces.
Farms are brilliant ways to save money. With bare minimum rent, cheap alcohol you can only buy once a week and basically nowhere to blow your money, this means savings for the rest of your trip is a piece of cake. Use the opportunity to save and book your trips up before you leave. A little budgeting during that free time can leave you free to enjoy your hard earned cash for months to come.
We were in regional Victoria during our regional work, however depending on where you are and how isolated you are can depend on the number of critters you come across.
If you can avoid advertising your childhood long phobia of spiders, I really would. Most likely the farmers or their sons (or all of them) will take great delight in taunting you and even forcing you to spend quality time with your least favourite animals. Be diligent with checking your covers, keep your clothes off the floor, and you should be fine. Having some raid handy won’t hurt either. Needless to say if you see any snakes call the farmer immediately – Brown snakes are the second most deadly in the world – and keep the hell away from it. Anti venom will be few and far between. Get decent mosquito spray and citronella, keep lights turned off where possible at night to stop attracting millions of them and ALL THE MOTHS to the houses. Also for the record mice love peanut butter and incense helps mask any smell of their poo, if you accidentally leave bread out overnight and one little local guy thinks he’s found Nirvana…
The plus side however, is that you can be driving along in a gator (golf cart, but miles better) and have three large kangaroos bounce off less than eight feet away. There are cockatoos and kookaburras everywhere and the blue tongued lizards are pretty cool too. Take the good with the bad, you’ll have some brilliant tales to tell either way.
Get ambulance cover if this isn’t already covered by your insurance and if applicable a medicare card. You should find this easily through Google, but medical services in Australia are private and people have been bankrupted and forced to return home due to twenty minute ambulance rides.
Don’t downplay any injuries if you’re unsure and definitely keep the head of your farm informed. If it’s a good farm they’ll take an interest and usually force you to visit the doctor as they tend to be so far away, just to be safe. Keep Burnaid, plasters and general painkillers on you at all times. Ibuprofen gel tends to be seriously helpful for any strains and stresses on some of your newly found muscles too. Even if you don’t need them, somebody may be eternally grateful for your forethought.
Don’t go walking on your own without decent shoes, a sharp eye and a fully charged phone too. You’re not in Kansas any more. Deadly spider and snake bites are a thing. Be safe so you can enjoy all the boozy barbecues in relative peace.
Most importantly: Your overall attitude!
By now I expect you’ve managed to pick up on the general theme of; be a good human.
There will be countless times, no matter your background, that you’ll be out of your comfort zone. How you handle yourself in these type of situations says the most about you. This may not be the way of life you’re use to, but this is the farmer’s lifestyle and the way his family makes their living. Any critique or cringing will be quickly noted and held into account for future reference, plus comes across as very rude.
You may be an employee but you’re also a guest and you’re being thrown into a big group of people that you have the potential to become great friends with. Be polite, generous, friendly and tidy. Enjoy your days off to the fullest and help if people are organising fun things for you to enjoy.
If there’s anything any of you think I’ve missed off feel free to comment about your experiences below – I’d love to hear about them. Finally, a huge thank you to Robert Mansell and his family for sticking with us through the ups and downs and giving us so many opportunities – and thanks for the biscut ride over Australia Day weekend!