Picking Fruit

Coffs Harbor, NSW, AU

The Australian East Coast Adventure continues!!

After recovering from the surfboard chafing…

…yes, chafing.  From surfboards.

We decided to embark on our next genuine Aussie backpacker experience:

We went fruit picking.

Fruit picking is all over the place down here.  Pretty much anyone you ask about work in Australia with a work-holiday visa (what we’re on) is gonna be pushing you towards the outback or picking fruit.  Fanciful tales of 18 year olds pulling in thousands of dollars a week under the table are told at all the hostels being as last week “I met a guy up north who had a friend that did it and…”

You get the idea.  This was a thing though; one of those classics like buying the beater truck and driving the country.  So we were going for an authentic experience here.

We showed up, got handed our telescoping fruit picker, our carrier pouch and got to picking…

After getting $120 total (and, to be fair, some free avocados) for about 6 hours (each) hard labour we decided the next day we had something better to do.  Something that actually approached the minimum wage of $15 dollars an hour (each) in this country.

But what we learned about illegal immigrates was the real value here –

Being from California and Florida, the question of illegal immigration is one that we have been exposed to from many different perspectives.  From the minuteman movement to the people who put water out in the dessert for the immigrants to use to the questions of the use of social and educational resources to the concern of terrorists sneaking into the country, there are a lot of ways to look at the issue.

We just never had first hand experience on the job front of an illegal immigrant.

You see, though Australia is a continent it is also an island.  In other words, it has no land borders that an immigrant could simply sneak across.  So while Australia does have challenges with immigration what they do not have is a massive workforce with a ready and easy method of crossing the border.  Which means that what is often seen as the work for poor immigrants in America are, in Australia, jobs that are in need of a pool of labourers willing to work long hours for low wages.  In this regard, backpackers are the immigrant workers of Australia.

Now say what you want about the debate of “illegals taking jobs” Vs. “They’re doing the jobs that no one wants and would refuse to take.”  We can tell you this: it took us less than 2 hours to figure out that fruit picking was not for us.  We finished out the day because we said we would, it was an interesting experience, we got some avocadoes and hey, it was a nice day to be outside.

We also had to get the photo.

You could not convince us to return after that one day and we refused the work for one simple reason: it was tough, boring and difficult.

We had enough money that we were working for the experiences and for us there was no entertainment or novelty to doing this job.  It made us think, though, “what if”?  What if we were settling in Australia and we encountered the same job?  What if this was part of a genuine job search?  Would we keep it?

Look, if shovelling horse poop paid twice as much and we left that job after 30 days why would be willing to get paid half as much for more physically demanding labour and even less job security?  (Fruit picking is a day to day thing.)

So that’s why the Australians by far and large refuse to do this work and hand it off to their group of “desperate immigrants” who due to their visa status have a hard time getting better jobs – the backpackers.

This experience has not radically changed every belief we have about immigration but it did do two things:

1)      We appreciate the fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets a lot more.  Because now we know firsthand what it takes to get it there.

2)      We can tell you personally and from life experience – Anyone who picks fruit ain’t lazy or a deadbeat.

And we respect anyone willing to do that day in and day out to make a buck for their family.


PS – It has not escaped our notice that $120 for 12 total hours of work is $10 an hour, which is well over the US federal minimum wage for what is considered minimum wage work.  We realize we may sound snobby by saying that was “way too low” for minimum wage work.  Those valuation statements are not based on our previous life, it’s simply that typically the minimum wage here is about three times the amount paid in the States, and things just cost more here.

Yeah, let the economic repercussions (both personal and national) of that roll around in your mind a sec.

Unemployment still pretty high over there?  Notice we had very little trouble stumbling into work when we wanted it.  They’re hiring over here.  Just FYI.


Working the backpacker trail has not been what we expected.  Take, for example, our adventures in horse-racing.


About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!

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