Working Holiday Visa Australia – What Kind of Jobs Can You Do?

Many backpackers spend a few months travelling in Southeast Asia, spend all their money and then head to Australia on a working holiday visa to get a job and earn some money!

If you’re thinking of doing exactly that, you may be wondering about the kinds of jobs you can get Down Under, and how much they pay! We take a look at the different types of jobs that backpackers usually get and speak to five travellers working in different industries to discover just what those jobs are really like!

Working Holiday Visa – Jobs in Australia

Wages obviously vary depending on each establishment, but here’s an idea of how much you can expect to earn in each industry (in $AUD, per hour).

  • Office jobs – $20+
  • Au Pairs/Nannies – $15-30+
  • Farmwork – $25
  • Truck driving – $25
  • Building work/Scaffolding – $30+
  • Bar/restaurant work – $18-25+
  • Gardening – $25
  • Fruitpicking – can be hourly or based on how much you pick. (For example, you may get $5 for every kilo of strawberries picked or $30 for every bucket you fill with apples (on average you can pick 4 buckets a day).

Useful websites for finding work and accommodation in Australia

Let’s take a closer look at some of the different types of jobs and what they are like through the following five interviews with backpackers working Down Under…

1. Steven Reed, 26, from London UK – Worked Building Stages in Brisbane, Scaffolding in Melbourne and on a Farm in Donald, Victoria

Steven has been building stages, scaffolding and doing farm work in Australia.

I’m a scaffolder by trade, and have been since leaving school. I spent a couple of months in Southeast Asia and then landed in Brisbane to look for work. Finding a job here wasn’t easy, but I eventually landed a job working for World Stages – building stages for Future Music Festival at Doombin Race Course. There were around 25 of us backpackers all working here, so it was a right laugh! It involved long hours which helped me save a bit of money, even though it only lasted two weeks.

After six weeks in Brisbane, I decided to move down to Melbourne with a few guys – and that’s where my real luck found me! I got somewhere to live almost straight away and was working for a scaffolding company within two days, earning around $30 dollars an hour!

I lived in a hostel in St Kilda for about two months before moving into a house just down the road. The times I had in this house were comical, but the thing with living in shared houses is there are always people with bad personal hygiene who don’t tend to wash up after themselves – and all this obviously leads to the odd argument!

While I continued to work for the same company for just under six months, I was constantly applying for farm work because I wanted to stay in Australia for as long as possible. (To get a visa for a second year in Australia, you must complete at least three months of farm work. See more on working holiday visas here.)

Again, luck was on my side, and in September, I started working on a farm in Donald in Victoria. The time I spent on this farm – driving tractors and headers during a grain harvest – was amazing… the wildlife, colourful sunsets…

Accommodation-wise, I had my own little hut on the opposite side of the farm, and my food was also provided. Again, these were long hours – sometimes working anything from 17 to 19 hours a day – but I managed to save a good lump of cash. I’d definitely recommend farming to anyone travelling, but not everyone I’ve met has enjoyed this kind of work, so people should definitely think before applying!

After leaving the farm, I went back to Melbourne for a couple of days, then flew out to Bangkok to start my second tour of Southeast Asia. There’s quite a big difference between travelling in Asia and travelling Australia – the cost being the major one (this is why you’ll find a lot of people will end up sticking somewhere in Australia once they find a good job with good money). 

Saying all that, I definitely had more of an experience in Asia, because I had the money to do most of the things I wanted without working for a penny. I’m now back in Melbourne working for the same scaffolding company I did in my first year.

Melbourne’s definitely where my heart is, but my second year visa runs out in March 2014. My plans after that are to travel to New Zealand or Canada, and will be applying for working visas in whichever place I end up!

My top tip for anyone going over to Australia on a working holiday visa is to ask advice from as many people as you can – but at the same time, always remain open! It’s good to discover things on your own, and once you’ve been travelling for a while, it’s incredible just how many random opportunities pop up.

2. Ian Marshall, 35, from Leicester UK – Worked in an Office for an Insurance Company in Brisbane

Ian Marshall worked in an office in Brisbane.

I studied English at Sheffield University and travelled to Australia after a few years working in software. I’d saved enough money for the first half of my time there so was able to travel at first, but I needed to get a job after that!

I got the one year Working Holiday Visa, which entitled me to work for a maximum of three months in any company – it was straightforward to get.

I travelled from Sydney to Melbourne via the Snowy Mountains and Canberra, and across the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and back. I then went up the East Coast stopping at Byron Bay before making a beeline for Brisbane, where I quickly managed to find a three-month contract working for Suncorp Metway (a big insurance company) doing software QA work.

The job didn’t take much consideration; it was actually the first thing I found and interviewed for. It was strange because I hadn’t really expected to work in an office,  but it meant I could work for a lot less time and get much more money than doing anything like fruit-picking.

I particularly liked the big group meetings we had, abundant with pastries and massive fruit bowls. On more than one occasion, I took fruit back to my guesthouse, which made me extremely popular.

The guesthouse was in New Farm, a really great area on the outskirts of Brisbane. Every day, I could walk down the hill and along the river to work, and in the evenings stroll down to the funky bars and cafes of Fortitude Valley. I did consider moving into an apartment, but the hostel was in a very comfortable Queenslander house, and I was sharing a room with just one other guy. We had a great community of people who were all staying long term, and our little family became very close. It was run by an Italian couple who would treat us like their children, Roseanne making sure we were alright, and Graziano feeding us his homemade limoncello.

To be honest, I wasn’t actually sure I’d last the three full months in that job, but I did see out the contract in the end; the money was very good – so this meant I was able to stay in Australia for the full 12 months.  After my year was up, I went to Southeast Asia for six months. Hard life, eh?!

Travelling in Australia is quite a bit easier than Southeast Asia, but correspondingly more expensive. Australia is much closer to ‘back home’, culturally less interesting for us Brits – but also full of outdoor activities, and a great party scene. It’s a different crowd to the more off-beat parts of Asia, though. You might well feel old on the East Coast of Australia if you are over 21 in a lot of the backpacker places!

3. Pamela White, 28, from Liverpool UK – Hostel Work in New Zealand, Office Temp Work in Melbourne and Fruit Picking in Tasmania

Pamela picking strawberries in Australia.

Since the age of 17, I’d always known I wanted to travel the world. I originally planned to go with my best friend, but she wasn’t good at saving, so I soon realised I’d be going solo!

I left England with a round-the-world ticket for six months. I planned to go to America for one month first (San Francisco – Vegas – San Diego – LA), New Zealand for nine weeks, then Australia for three months. Finally, I thought I would travel Southeast Asia for one month on my way home. This last bit never happened, however! I loved New Zealand so much I stayed for five months, and Australia for two years!

I’d never planned to work in New Zealand, but ended up getting a job cleaning in an amazing hostel in Nelson for three months. This wasn’t actually paid, but of course I got my accommodation free.

I also cleaned their motel units for around $100 NZ per week, but with free accommodation I was nearly breaking even. Plus, the job was actually amazing. I met some really great people there; we were really like a family. We would party at night, clean (a tad hungover!) for three hours every morning, then spend the rest of the day sunbathing by the pool, chilling in hammocks and meeting all the other travellers who were passing through. We had our own staff house where we would all cook food together and chill out watching movies… I can honestly say these were some of the happiest/craziest few months of my travels.

I’d always known I’d be getting a job during my three months in Australia. Firstly, I suspected my funds would be almost at zero by the time I arrived (true!) – and also because I’d heard it was especially easy to find well-paid work. 

So as soon as I got there, I went straight to Melbourne, went online and applied for any temporary office positions. I was contacted by an agency, went in to register, and then they sent me out for interviews.

After about two weeks of searching, I started temping with a recruitment agency in Melbourne, and ended up getting a job as a receptionist, which was really well paid and in a very relaxed atmosphere. I also had a two-month job as a service coordinator (sending out repair technicians to fix auto-doors/shutters in the Victoria area). After that, I had a job doing IT support.

All in all, I temped in Melbourne for seven months total. Office work in Australia is nothing like back home in England. The atmosphere is so much more relaxed, everything is always “too easy”, and if you mess up or your late for work, the response is always “no worries!”

Australians are easy going by nature, and are some of the nicest, welcoming people you will ever meet. Random barbecues on a Friday and afternoon drinks in the office are standard!

To get my second year visa, a friend and I moved to a working hostel that had been recommended to me by another traveller in Tasmania. We did fruit picking here for longer than needed – five months in total (although we did also spend our Christmas and New Year holidays in Sydney).

People always have different experiences of farming – some amazing and some horrifying. Mine was fantastic; the work was hard and not well paid, but we lived in a remote area in a hostel where, again, we were like a family. Everyone was in the same position – out all day in the fields in all kinds of weather; sometimes the work was enjoyable, other times it was backbreaking.

Unsurprisingly, then, when the weekends came round we would always celebrate with a box of goon (cheap box of wine!). I remember one weekend when the weather was especially good, and a group of us took a ferry to a remote island where we hired our own private beach, had a barbecue, bonfire, drinks – and slept in sleeping bags under the stars. It’s one of the memories I’ll always look back on with a smile. When you do farmwork, you work hard (and lose loads of weight – always a bonus!) – but on the flipside, you play just as hard, and you make some lifelong friends.

Getting my second year approved for Australia was easy. I’d done (a fair bit over!) my 88 days of farming, applied online, paid the fee, and got the visa approved within days. Once that was done, I worked in Perth as a Project Coordinator for three months, then back again in Melbourne as a facility co-ordinator.

During the entire time I was working in Australia, I pretty much always stayed backpacker accommodation. Generally speaking, it was cheaper than getting a house, and since I stayed in small dorms, I was lucky enough (most of the time) to get some sleep. I always liked the atmosphere of hostels, and of course, being here meant I frequently got to meet other travellers, so it wasn’t always ‘all work no play’!

My favourite memories of my experience are farming in Tasmania, camping on Bruny Island, and soaking up the atmosphere of Melbourne.  I also did the Magic Bus in New Zealand, swam with dolphins in Kai Koura… I have to say the entire country is just amazing. Saying goodbye to friends who had become like family to me was hard!

My top tip for anyone thinking of getting a working holiday visa is to try and save when you work, so you can actually travel both Australia and New Zealand as much as possible. Invaluable. My trip was originally seven months, and thanks to working in Australia, I’m still travelling two and a half years later (and writing this from a very hot, very busy, very crazy Hanoi!).

4. Paul Conway, 24, Halifax, UK – Gardening, Farming, Working on an Oil Rig

Paul Conway working on an oil rig in Australia.

I initially set off travelling for a two month trip to Asia with five of my friends from home. On my final night in Bangkok before I was due to fly home, I just couldn’t face the reality I was about to step back into. I’d just used all my money partying in Koh Phangan, but I did still have an overdraft… So I booked a flight to Australia with absolutely no plan.

I knew someone in Perth so I headed there – with nothing but £800 GBP left of my overdraft. What’s the acronym I’m looking for? YOLO! All I knew was as soon as I landed in Perth, I needed a job!

I’d had a varied work life since the age of 16. So, true to form, my first few months in Perth involved work that included everything from emptying bins to gardening, which, along with some farm-work, constituted my regional, and thus gave me my second year visa.

It was then that I managed to get myself a job on an oil rig off the coast of Western Australia. I got the job by being proactive as hell, and calling every company involved in oil and gas to irritate them virtually every day until they employed me. Keen as mustard is what I was!

I already had experience in this kind of work, but the heat was just so much more extreme! Surrounded by water that was 30 degrees and reflecting the beaming sun at you is intense. A far cry from the wet and windy UK!

Life on an oil rig is quite regimented. A typical day consists of a pre-start meeting at 11.30am/pm depending on what shift you’re on. The shifts work is 12am to 12pm, and vice versa. You do two weeks of one, then on the 14th day, you do a shift change, which means your day goes from 12 until 7am, then 2 ‘til 12… It’s called shortchange (because you lose rest and end up working twice in one day – which can really confuse you for a couple of days). After the 15-minute pre-start meeting, you go and get in to your work gear, and then report to your supervisor for duty. There’s a handover from the guys who did the previous shift, then your supervisor goes on to explain what needs doing and who’s doing what.

As a roustabout, I worked under the crane, loading and unloading ships with food supplies, warehouse supplies, tools, specialist equipment and drill pipe. It’s a job that requires full attention at all times. You can get injured very easily, and there are no emergency services out there, and it’s not easy (or quick) to mobilise a medical emergency helicopter. (Mining may be a little easier as a plane may be close by to fly a casualty back to the city, but out on the rig it’s a much longer process.)

As you can imagine, then, safety is paramount. Anything out of the ordinary is to be reported and rectified immediately so as not to cause a hazard to personnel or to the environment. (On the note of the environment, Australia’s coastline is one of the most beautiful and untouched in the world, so we really can’t afford to damage it in any way at all.) If you’re not comfortable with doing something, or if you think there may be a problem, you can simply call a ‘time out for safety’. This means that any person involved in that task must put down their tools and regroup for discussion. Problems may include anything from equipment failure, near misses, fatigue, or a new person coming to the job (etc).

The good bits about working on an oil rig

  • There isn’t the same kind of pressure on a rig that I’m told you get in the mines. Also, the age group of people on the rig is typically 28 to 55 … Seeing as I’m just 24, this makes me a ‘young blood’, and this contributes to a LOT of banter.
  • The job is four weeks on and four weeks off – which is great if you want to travel around.
  • The money is good. I’d never tell anyone how much it pays, but let’s just say it’s decent. 12 hour days for almost one month solid in the baking heat…can anyone put a price on that? But what I will add is this: Money isn’t happiness – it’s definitely all about where you go and who you meet. (More on how much you can earn working on an oil rig here.)

The bad bits about working on an oil rig

  • Fatigue. You work 28 days without a day off for 12 hours every day.
  • The environment. You’re in the middle of the sea with nothing to look at apart from the same rig each day and the three supply boats that are anchored 500 metres from the rig. Beyond that, there is nothing but the horizon.
  • You’re with the same people day in, day out, and living in close proximity – working, sleeping and eating together. Thankfully there’s not much tension between people and everyone just gets on with their job and keeps their head down. Also, I have to say, I really enjoy the job.  It can be interesting and when there’s a problem, I love to be involved and get my hands dirty.

My one piece of advice for backpackers heading from Southeast Asia to Australia is – jobs won’t come to you. Gumtree is the bible. Everything from cars, clothes through to jobs have all been a help to me from that site. Also, if you’re in Melbourne and not sure where to stay, head for Base Backpackers in St Kilda – although be warned, it’s a party place! You may not want to look for work if you stay here!

By the way, my favourite city in the whole of Australia is Melbourne – the absolute don of a city! Wow! Festivals, comedy, sunshine, great beaches, quirky bars, awesome hostels, awesome people, the best AFL teams, just all sorts to do! I should never have left, but I’ll be back very soon! 

5. Simon Gillibrand, 33, from Leeds, UK – Works in Mining Recruitment in Sydney on a 457 Visa

I first came travelling to Australia about six years ago, and just loved the place. I simply hired a car in Sydney and started driving north, stopping wherever seemed interesting. I always wanted to come back, but then I hit 31, got married, and thought time had passed me by. But you know what they say – where there’s a will…!

One winter in the UK when it was minus 14, my wife and I both decided to give it a go and apply for roles. I’d done Executive Search Recruitment for seven years in the UK as a Divisional Director, looking after Gaming & Casino globally, and recruiting people on salaries over $100K.

In Australia, I was applying for a similar role, just in a new sector – Minerals and Metals – which I knew would be an easy transition. I spoke with about eight companies, and it wasn’t long before I had three offers from businesses who wanted to sponsor me, and was flown over on a 457 VISA!

There was strong interest from prospective employers from the start, but the issues you have with overseas companies is that it’s a risk for them to bring you over:  A) You haven’t recruited in this country before, and B) There’s a risk they’ll invest all this money in you, only for you not to like it and move back home.

A lot of the interviews – which were typically on Skype at 5-6am UK time (!) – consisted of me convincing people that I was serious about moving here and was looking to stay long term.

I am now Head of Minerals & Metals , which basically means I look after the mining teams globally. I typically recruit salaries from $200K – $500K globally.

I should add, however, that the mining industry has actually taken a dive recently, and as such, is harder for people looking to move here to find jobs. However, they do still exist, especially in entry level.

What do I like about Australia? What’s not to like? The whole country seems a lot more positive than the UK – in the news, in the shops… generally everywhere! There is also a much stronger emphasis on life outside work, and at the weekends you can do so much – from diving, to coastal walks, to having barbecues on the beach…. all year round!

Since moving here, we’ve seen a school of dolphins playing on the beach at Bondi, fed kangaroos and wallabies… Although, be warned – when you see your first Huntsman, you will shit yourself! We actually had a funnel web in the house!

Work is good. On Friday afternoon, the companies always get some beers in – you get looked after more here than in the UK! Money is a lot better here – although of course it’s all relative – everything is more expensive! Having said that, we are definitely saving more money here, and you do have a better standard of living. We were lucky in getting a private let on a house in Bellevue Hill, near Bondi Beach (a bit of a classic British traveller thing to do!). We did view around eight houses in one morning, though. It was like some kind of military operation! All in all, it’s the best thing we could ever have done!

Just to warn you – getting a house can be hard – there’s a lot of demand, and the estate agents hold 15 minute viewings, and 20 people turn up. You basically need to flutter your eyes and hope they go with you! House shares are not too bad, either, and are always advertised on Gumtree.

My final words of wisdom… The only things you regret in life are the things you don’t do. Besides, if the worst happens and you hate it, you can always go home… but at least you’ll have tried!

3 thoughts on “Working Holiday Visa Australia – What Kind of Jobs Can You Do?”

  1. Balthazar Brey

    Fruit picking is the worst. Can’t believe anyone would advertise this as a “good” job. Wages are usually not by the hour but at how much you actually pick (so a Vietnamese rice farmer makes more money then you) and when you’re up in the north the temperatures are like working in an oven, and when you’re in the south it gets real cold. Would not recommend this for anyone, tried this for a total of 1 week before getting a normal job… Good article though, nothing wrong with that 🙂

  2. so why isn’t the working holiday visa open to all nationalities? it’s just manual labor, after all

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