From barbies and billabongs, to kangaroos and koalas (hey, I know it should be A to Z, but B to K seemed easier) Australia ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to travelling. The famous carefree Aussie spirit is somehow in keeping with just buying a plane ticket, slinging a backpack on and taking a chance that it will all work out. And work could be the way to see more of this fascinating country, if you’re willing to put in the effort.
So, you’ve decided on a working holiday to Australia, the airfares will knock a chunk out of your travel budget. If you then have to worry about paying for accommodation and food, you might feel too much pressure to find paid work quickly. What many people don’t realise is it’s not necessary to go out on a wing and a prayer. Before you leave, you can find out about many options for doing work in exchange for free board and lodging.
This is possible thanks to organisations like Wwoof (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), which has been going since 1971 and made ‘wwoofing’ a popular verb for those who know what it’s all about. The concept is repeated by other organisations such as Workaway and Helpx. In a nutshell, you will find a list of hosts on these websites: people willing to put you up and feed you in exchange for you doing a bit of work for them. The details of that work will vary, but the classic one, which Wwoof is based on, is farm work in the great outdoors.
Hang on, you might be thinking. Working for free for accommodation and board – isn’t that a bit like slavery? Well, it’s not, and for the simple reason that you can walk away at any time if you’re not happy, and do something else. Also, the community nature of these sites means you can check out previous feedback on hosts, so you can feel confident it’s the correct one for you.
So what are your options? Well, say you’ve always dreamed of trying your hand at that most Australian of jobs, sheep shearing. One of the hosts listed on Workaway Australia is a family who have a 4,000 hectare crop and sheep farm near Perth, Western Australia. They list jobs you’ll be expected to help with such as animal care, help in the house, farming, general maintenance, cooking, shopping, building and gardening. You can contact them via the website and if you get a good feel for them, and they say you can try your hand at sheep-shearing, get on out there.
Wwoof and helpx are a little more formal, in that you need to register to be part of the community. There is a modest fee in exchange for which, in the case of Wwoof Australia, you get a year’s membership and a book listing full details, including addresses and telephone numbers of all the places out there willing to host people. Checking out the feedback on the Wwoof website can give you an idea of the range of things you could get up to. If you’ve ever wondered how to muster cattle on horseback, there is a farming couple in Mutchilba willing to show you. A garlic farmer near the Blue Mountains gets a mention for his kindness, even taking his Wwoofers out rock-climbing with him. After all, it’s not unheard of for people to meet their future husband or wife through this kind of working holiday.
This example demonstrates that the special thing about this kind of travelling is its two-way focus. Instead of being merely a commercial transaction, the relationship between traveller and host is by necessity a deeper one. Sure it doesn’t always work out, but the hosts out there looking to exploit you are few and far between. On the contrary, they are often people with a strong commitment to organic farming and traditional skills. To many of them, it is a pleasure to pass on such knowledge to enthusiastic people. And from the other side, you have the chance to learn practical skills that will stay with you for your whole life.