Even before I had disembarked the plane, I had heard you could earn bucket loads of money doing harvest work. So I ended up working my way from Sydney all around Australia. From the chilly mornings pruning grape vines in the Hunter Valley to the warm, refreshing sea and panoramic, tropical vistas in Queensland picking tomatoes. All with the aim of achieving the fruit picking dream.
Hey There, this is a travel adventure story where you will get an idea of exactly what the fruit picking experience is about. If you rather skip the story and just want the links to job boards, please scroll to the bottom of the story for the resources section.
Grape Pruning, Wine Tasting and Living the Dream
I was off to a flying start. We (my buddy from New Zealand and myself) headed a few hours drive north from Sydney to The Hunter Valley where we found a job pruning grape vines. Everyone was friendly, and the work was on an average hourly rate basis, so it was at a leisurely pace. We also were able to save our earnings and the board and wine was free. My highlight was indulging in wine tasting tours in all the vineyards.
At our farm, we met an apprentice vintner who was the nephew of the vineyard owner. He invited us for some drinks one evening. To our surprise, his uncle joined us to taste the latest award-winning vintage. He was a friendly man, but he seemed horrified at our wine tasting etiquette. I don’t understand why? We knew how to drink wine. We did the inspect, smell, sip, think steps. And then, deciding it was a tasty drop, we proceeded to drain the glass.
“Bonza,” we said. “Pour us another one!”
Ok, we didn’t say that, but then we didn’t last long at that job either. It was a great way to end our working holiday in The Hunter Valley – with a hangover and a wad of cash from two weeks of work. But in all seriousness, we only lasted two weeks because I was restless to find The Fruit Picking Dream job.
The Fruit Picking Dream
What is the fruit picking dream job you say? Firstly, many people would think that earning a weekly wage while having your board paid and drinking award-winning wines with the vineyard owner sounds like the dream.
In fact, it is rather dreamy. But, the fruit picking dream is the ideal job that you had heard other travellers had found. They earned $1,500 a week and this included board on the premises. So with no transport costs to and from work, you were able to save your full weekly pay. And, all without working hard. Sound elusive? Read on…
The Road Trip to The Outback
As we had fruit picking ambitions, we bought a Ford Falcon and headed West. We had heard this is where the fruit picking jobs were and thus where the money was.
On the street, we met an Italian man who gave us a job and lodging. It was Piece pay. This meant we had to work very fast pruning the grapevines. The more we pruned, the more we got paid. The money was poor. In fact, it added up to $5 an hour. It was the worst job we had ever had. But however, the accommodation was free, the wine was freely flowing, and the parties lasted all night.
For a week we feasted on Farmer Giovanni’s delicacy of barbecued pigeons and his aggressive, astringent wine. We also loved the lovely small town Tooleybuc, which was on the NSW/Victoria border. There were beautiful views of the Murray River, and the kangaroos were twice the height of us.
But after a week, we got fed up with the cheap, nasty wine and slave labour. So, we grabbed our meagre earnings and jumped in the Ford and hot-footed it out of the town.
As we drove out, there were masses of Red kangaroos coming out of the darkness. Apparently, they get blinded by car headlights, so they stop on the road unsure of where to go. So, to our horror, 2 metre high kangaroos were attempting to collide with our car. It was one of the scariest road trips we have ever been on.
The Moral of this Story
Don’t drive at night in the Australian Outback. (unless you want to become a kangaroo sandwich).
But more importantly, if you are a traveller and want to work your way around Australia, if you know someone to give you good advice then take it. Because there are all variety of farms out there. If you don’t ask around, you too may end up working for $5 an hour. Talk to hostel staff, employment agencies and people you meet who have been fruit picking.
Chasing the Fruit Picking Dream
We arrived in Griffith. It’s known as the food bowl of Australia, so we were sure we would do well. We instantly found jobs from seek.com.au, so we settled in and stayed a while. Here we picked oranges and onions, and we also did some packing in the sheds. Also, we finally got to try our hand at the grape picking. Apparently, picking grapes was one of the ways you could live the fruit picking dream. We heard some people were making $2,000 a week. But we got there at the end of the season, so we never saw that money.
From then we got serious and started chasing the fruit picking dream. We started thinking that it’s a myth that you can make $1,500 a week (net). But, mind you, we met a few people who did make it. Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time, about what you know, about who you know and where you’re willing to go. Many factors have to align. And then, the fruit picking dream is not only achieved but achieved without having to work hard!
So the adventure continued from Griffith to Mildura to South Australia’s Murray region. There were picking jobs for grapes, zucchini, lettuces and more. But, we were not living the fruit picking dream.
Heading North and searching for the Bumper Crop
We heard through some backpackers we met about a bumper strawberry picking season, so the dream took us North. We had gotten used to just jumping in our Ford and driving the lengthy Australian highways. The best type of road trip is when you can just go anywhere. OK, anywhere that there was a job.
We found a job in a small suburb one hour south from Brisbane, Queensland. We were so excited as some strawberries were as big as our palms. They were the best strawberries we have ever tasted. But, we were on Piece pay, so it was a shame to eat our profits. The harder you worked, the more you got paid. We have never ached so much from bending over all day long. This job was almost the fruit picking dream, except for those sore legs and the work only lasted 3 weeks before drying up.
Hanging out with the Aussies and Eating Kangaroo
We decided to head farther North to the tropical fruit region of Australia. We walked off the street to a pea farm and got a job instantly. After half a day of work, we felt it was dubious work, so we left. We thus became more selective and spent more time looking for jobs and less time working.
After a few delightful weeks travelling around The Whitsundays, our cool Backpackers hostel in Ayr sent us to a well-paid picking job. The work was dirty, the pay was hourly and stress-free, but we felt like cattle behind a conveyor belt while we crawled behind it picking capsicums. We met a lot of strange Aussie locals working there. They liked to drink hard, and they went hunting for kangaroos. We ate barbecued kangaroo. And, we went with them to the local river to go fishing for crocodiles with the kangaroo legs. I think we were lucky we didn’t become the crocodile’s dinner. We then drunkenly crashed in our private cabins in the rural farm in the middle of nowhere.
Did someone say Work?
The Australian locals were a bit too crazy for us, the work was a bit boring, and the location was quite isolated. So we burned some tyres and arrived in Bowen. But, Oh, we found that the work picking tomatoes wasn’t to start for another week, then another and then another. But Bowen is such a tropical paradise that you don’t really mind. We spent joyful days lazing at the beach. Then our hostel found us a job picking tomatoes, and it was back to the grind. We worked for Piece pay. It was hard work, but we made money. We were able to save some too, and this gave us more adventure time travelling around Australia.
That’s when I realised you need to persist because it takes practice to turn into a fruit picker living the fruit picking dream. Some people pick for days or weeks to get just enough travel money. Others do picking for months and then never do it again. Then there are the professional pickers who earn a decent living from it. They move from farm to farm when the work finishes up. We met the real professionals who had the same farms they returned to each year, knowing that the pay there was fantastic. If you are lucky to meet someone like that and tag along, you will likely be living the fruit picking dream too.
In the end, what I got was a hell of an adventure and the opportunity to see the Real Australia. I ate delicious tropical fruits, devoured Aussie meat and wine and got sinfully tanned. I also met a diverse range of Aussie locals and travellers. And most importantly, I was able to fund my travels with some left over to fly home to New Zealand. And that’s what it’s all about! Yep, would definitely do it all again.
If you want to live the fruit picking dream in Australia, the main requirements are flexibility, keenness to work, fitness and a sense of fun. Besides that, usually, if the work is there, then the job is yours.
Note that the work is seasonal. It is often strenuous physical work, and some farms offer low pay. Though, as Australia is so vast, you can often find work year round. And, there’s no experience required, so it is easy to find work. Therefore, don’t be afraid to leave a job that is not fulfilling your fruit picking dream. Many people say it’s a great lifestyle where they get to see Australia, meet people, and earn some money.
- There is a National Harvest Guide you can download for the latest information about seasonal work.
- Job Search is a well-established agency that can find you work and help with working holiday visa and sponsorship.
- The website Fruit Picking Jobs lists many fruit picking jobs all around Australia.
- Other travellers and your Backpacker hostel is a great place to start asking for work.