Can Backpacking Work in Australia Pack Meaning Back into your Work Life?

by Richard , updated on May 20, 2016

Life’s not always a beach when you’re backpacking around Australia

Amy Knapp, our guest blogger this week, is a great example of someone who’s found that missing meaning in her life!

So how did Amy find more meaning in her work?

Over to you Amy…..

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, the simple fact is backpackers do the jobs no one else wants to do.

They sleep in barns and pick bananas in forty degree heat for months at a time.

I have a friend who lived in a trailer park for six months and washed cars in her bikini for twenty-five dollars an hour.

It’s all very glamorous!

Even in G8 countries like my homeland Canada, people see Australia as the land of opportunity.  We think all Australian men are like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. In our defence, it’s sort of true.

We imagine the country as an endless string of beaches. Even truer!

In all seriousness, things are simply more comfortable here.

Minimum wage is about double what it is in Canada, and as many at 3 times what it is in some USA states. Perhaps that explains why we’re so willing to do those dirty jobs.

To brave the spiders, the crocodiles and the stingrays!

You have to be willing to fly by the seat of your pants.

Before I settled into a career as a freelance writer I worked as:

• a lounge singer in an RSL club,
• fried prawns at the sample counter in my local Woolworths,
• prepared memorandums for a law firm in Hervey Bay and
• waited tables and cleaned toilets in Far North Queensland.

That’s what backpackers do; we sample a little bit of everything.

So why did I come to Australia?

I didn’t go for any of that.

I went there to visit my sister. I stayed because I fell in love. With Australia to be sure, but I also fell in love with a man. (He’s nothing like Steve Irwin, for the record.) We met in the unlikeliest of places; Weipa on the Gulf of Carpentaria at the very top of Australia.

My spirit of adventure kicked in about two and a half months after I arrived in Australia. I was short of cash and desperate for work. Hervey Bay doesn’t have much to offer in either of those departments.

How did I find work?

On a whim, I contacted a hospitality recruiter on the internet.

When she asked me my experience in hospitality, I actually talked up my work cleaning my mother’s B&B as a thirteen-year-old girl. At twenty-seven, it hardly seemed relevant anymore but it was all I had to go with.

I got the job anyway.

At $22 per hour, I was making more than most of my colleagues back in Canada who were interning at prestigious law firms and still living on cold noodles. Like I said: land of opportunity.

Weipa turned out to be the ultimate way to experience Australia.

The work was hardly stimulating but it was a beautiful escape from the dry textbooks back home.

The employees live in tiny dongas (transportable buildings) right on the hotel grounds. We each had a bed, cupboard, small sink and bar fridge, with room enough left for stray suitcases and maybe a chair if you were lucky.

Bathroom facilities were shared, though their state of cleanliness left much to be desired.

We put in about fifty hours a week on average. Sometimes more, sometimes less. With the scorching heat and the long hours, there was never much time left for any substantial leisure activities.

The work itself was just what you would imagine. Scrubbing floors in the morning and pulling pints of beer for miners at night. In the afternoons, you would nap, socialise, and maybe shop for a few groceries, though all meals were provided.

Mining towns can be dusty and dirty!

With Scherger Immigration Detention Centre just a half hour away, most of the guests at the hotel were FIFOs (fly in/fly out) with the Department of Immigration and its subcontractors.

You get to know the patrons pretty quickly. Heck, I almost married one of them. And before you say it, yes, sometimes it did feel like an episode of Neighbours!

That was Weipa, in a nutshell.

What did I learn from my Weipa work?

Hardly any of the jobs I worked that year landed on my resume.

What I got was something far better:

• I got experience with life,
• with taking risks,
• with looking at the bigger picture,
• I learned to stop worrying so much about where my career was headed and
• I learned humility.

I could’ve parlayed all that into a great job back in Canada.  I’ve certainly had plenty of offers.  Employers in my neck of the woods really do value all that travel and life experience.

But being in Australia caused me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I realised I don’t care that much about jobs and salaries. In the end I decided not to go back to my dreary life as a law student. It just didn’t seem worth it.

Turns out, I’m much happier cleaning toilets!

Who knew?

Amy Knapp is an HR Blogger for InsideTrak, an online resource to find Australian employers.

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