My experience as an Australian work-holiday maker

I read Op­ti­mal Em­ploy­ment and de­cided to try a work-holi­day in Aus­tralia. Sev­eral peo­ple have asked me how it’s go­ing, so here’s my first take. I haven’t finished my work-holi­day yet, but I want to provide this in­for­ma­tion now so that po­ten­tial trav­el­ers can make a de­ci­sion be­fore the hiring sea­son peaks next sum­mer.

Alice Springs

I came to Alice Springs in late April, and se­cured a job at a fast-food im­me­di­ately. They offered me $26/​hr af­ter su­per and penalties. I didn’t get many hours, but it was enough to cover ex­penses. I took the job so that I wouldn’t lose money while I was look­ing for a bet­ter job.

Find­ing bet­ter job proved tough. I quickly ap­plied to all of the sit-down restau­rants and bars in town, and they all said they preferred lo­cals. I signed up for a cou­ple of em­ploy­ment agen­cies, but they were con­cerned that I had didn’t have any ex­pe­rience serv­ing al­co­hol. I bor­rowed a phone­book and called ran­dom busi­ness on the Plenty High­way and that didn’t work.

This con­tinued for five weeks. I found this pe­riod stress­ful be­cause I get anx­ious ask­ing busi­nesses if they’re hiring, and then I feel hu­mil­i­ated when they say they’re not. There were fun times: I toured Uluru and met cool peo­ple in the hos­tel. But in the back of my mind I was always stressed about find­ing a bet­ter job. After five weeks I was about to head south in search of fruit pick­ing work. But then I saw a flyer.

Re­mote Australia

A gas-sta­tion/​con­ve­nience store was look­ing for staff. It was a full-time job, with meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion cost­ing $40/​week. This was ex­actly what I was look­ing for! I called im­me­di­ately and got the job be­cause I was Amer­i­can and no­body else had called be­fore me.

This job was pretty much ev­ery­thing Louie de­scribed in Op­ti­mal Em­ploy­ment. I had prac­ti­cally no ex­penses, no re­spon­si­bil­ities, and free en­ter­tain­ment af­ter hours. At any given time there were three back­pack­ers (in­clud­ing my­self) work­ing there, and one would be switched out about ev­ery month. We played a lot of video games and ate a lot of bar­be­ques. We also at­tended a con­cert and a rodeo. I saved a lot of money and had a lot of fun, but I was anx­ious to leave af­ter six months.


Aus­tralia pro­hibits back­pack­ers from work­ing the same job for more than six months, so I had to leave. Around this time I dis­cov­ered that I had dis­tant rel­a­tives liv­ing in Vic­to­ria, and they wanted me over for Christ­mas. This left me only three weeks to work. I de­cided to look for fruit pick­ing work, since I heard they’re more will­ing to em­ploy back­pack­ers for short pe­ri­ods.

I flew to Ade­laide, but I can­not find any fruit pick­ing work. And I hear there’s very lit­tle in Vic­to­ria. I could go to West Aus­tralia, but even if I found a job over there, it hardly seems worth it to fly there, work for two weeks, and fly back to Vic­to­ria on Christ­mas Eve. So now I’ve got to fill up two weeks in South Aus­tralia or Vic­to­ria.

What’s next?

I had origi­nally planned to work 88 days of fruit pick­ing work, so that I could get a sec­ond work­ing holi­day visa next year. (Most Amer­i­cans are NOT el­i­gible to do this. I can be­cause I’m half Bri­tish.) But I’ve heard a lot of bad things about fruit pick­ing, that it’s mis­er­able work and that you make lit­tle money (or even nega­tive money). And I’m 70% sure I don’t want to come back to Aus­tralia next year any­way. (I want to teach English in Shang­hai). So the new plan is to spend Christ­mas in Vic­to­ria while ap­ply­ing to TEFL jobs, and then tour the east coast for a month. Then I’ll fly back to the states and hope­fully start teach­ing English in March. In the mean­time I will have to en­ter­tain my­self Ade­laide/​Melbourne.

Is Op­ti­mal Em­ploy­ment ac­cu­rate?

Pretty much. You’ll prob­a­bly earn more money on the job than Louie es­ti­mates, be­cause of penalty rates and an in­creas­ing min­i­mum wage. And there’s a chance to hit jack­pot: I met a LW lurker in Alice Springs who said she was bank­ing $1000/​wk af­ter ex­penses work­ing at Las­seters. Min­ing and fish­ing jobs are also lu­cra­tive if you can get them.

But there’s also a risk of not find­ing a job. It took me five weeks to find my re­mote area job, and I’ve met some back­pack­ers who ran out of money and while look­ing for work. Im­mi­gra­tion re­quires you to save up $5000 be­fore you start your work-holi­day; skirt that law at your peril.

Over­all I’m pleased with my visit to Aus­tralia. Even if I though I’ll be bleed­ing money the next cou­ple of months, I’ll still come back with a nice profit and wicked mem­o­ries. If you’re young with a sense of ad­ven­ture, you should definitely con­sider it. A lot of peo­ple want to visit Aus­tralia “some­day”, but it gets more difficult when you’re older and have more com­mit­ments.

I’m plan­ning to write an­other post with tips for work­ing in Aus­tralia. Re­quests wel­come!