My best and worst jobs in Australia
While serving drinks to crystal meth addicts, to gamblers and hipsters, cleaning hotel rooms in the middle of nowhere and carrying catering food to some fancy offices, I learned a lot about myself. Working in Australia on a working holiday visa also gave me a great opportunity to get to know Australians and their way of life. During my work and travel year in Australia, I worked mainly in bars, restaurants and hotels. And no, I didn’t have any great work experience in that kind of work before. In Australia, work life is a lot about learning by doing, which is great for backpackers searching for jobs.
When I started to look for a job, I had a lot of questions about the RSA certificate (Responsible Service of Alcohol), which is necessary to have for bar jobs. I didn’t know anything about superannuation in a work and travel year in Australia and all kinds of things. That is why I write now about my job experiences during my work and travel year in Australia and want to share some information.
I didn’t go to Australia to work a lot and earn a lot of money. It is possible – even with a working holiday visa. But I wanted to have a great time as a backpacker. During my year in Australia, I always tried to work as little as possible and to travel as much as possible with the money, that I earned. I needed roughly 1000 Dollars per month to have a good time. Depending on the job and the work hours, I earned between 400 and 1000 Dollars per week. But for 1000 Dollars per week, I needed to work long hours.
Be aware, that foreigners on working holidays currently pay no income tax in Australia until they earn close to 20,000 Dollars, the same tax-free threshold enjoyed by residents. That will change. Under the new rules that take affect in July 2016, for tax purposes they will now be considered “non-residents” and pay tax on every dollar they earn.
Read more about the changes on: www.bbc.com
Darwin: Jobsearch with a fake CV
I started my working holiday year in Sydney and traveled up the east coast of Australia. At the east coast, I went wwoofing a few times. The first time, that really needed a job was in Darwin. Of course, I was not the only one. As a girl the easiest thing was to ask for a job in shops, cafés, hotels and bars. I had made my CV look a bit nicer concerning my work experience, carried a few copies with me and knocked at every door to convince whoever was in charge. I also looked into the newspaper for job offers. It was not easy. I was not really successful.
Waitressing at a car race
The only job, that I found within the first two weeks in Darwin was waitressing at a car race. Darwin hosts the “V8 Supercar”, which was fun. I got the job at a public casting. Almost everyone from my hostel went there. My job at the car race was waitressing in a special lounge for the rich and beautiful. I had lied a little about my waitressing experience at the job interview. That’s why I panicked a little, when I had to carry three plates at one time and to offer expensive wines to the guests. One of the supervisors saw that, felt pity and gave me a quick training.
I survived the first day somehow. 12 hours work with one 15 minutes long break in between. It was equally tough the following day. But I had real fun. The guests were lovely. It was a great experience. I understood, that waitressing is a lot more challenging than I had thought. But it was fun to try something new. And even if I wasn’t perfect, I had been able to pretend and to learn. And having earned more than 20 Dollars per hour helped a lot.
Success at the backpacker job agency
After a few days of joblessness in Darwin, I finally went to the backpacker job agency and left my CV. The service in Darwin is not for free. In case they find you a job and you sign a contract, you have to pay a service fee.
Just the following day, the agency was calling me and offered me a job as a room maid in a resort in the Kakadu National Park. I wanted that job, signed the contract and had to pay a service fee to the agency. Around 50 Dollars.
Backpacker job agency Darwin and top end: www.backpackerjobcentre.com.au
RSA certificate necessary
Before I went to the Kakadu National Park, I quickly had to do my RSA certificate online. It was one of the conditions to get the job in the Kakadu National Park. RSA means Responsible Service of Alcohol. That is a test, that you need to pass for every bar or restaurant job almost everywhere in Australia. You basically learn not to serve a drunk person. With a bit of common sense it is almost impossible to fail, because you can look up the right answers online. It costs around 20 US- Dollars to get the RSA certificate. Different companies offer the test online, for example: www.onlinersa.com.au and www.clubtraining.com.au
Already the following day, I sat in the bus going to the Kakadu National Park. My new boss had paid for my bus ticket. When I arrived at the resort, I felt like being in the middle of nowhere. There was just the hotel with several buildings, a restaurant, a service station and a shop. The staff was living in small tin containers like on a campsite. Everyone had his or her own container with air condition inside. The shower building was outside.
More than 20 Dollars per hour
The hotel provided breakfast, dinner and lunch for us. The pay was more than 20 Dollars per hour. Just a very small amount of money got taken out of my weekly pay for accommodation and food. The deal was to work as a room maid during the days and to help out in the restaurant during the evening. I had one day off a week, that I used to visit the Kakadu National Park, which is rubbish without a car.
The other people working there, were okay. We were all in the same boat and had some nice evening chats and even little parties in the staff area. Beer was very expensive out there. It was still flowing every night. We were all different characters from all around the world working there. And we had been there all for the same reason – money. The job could have been a great opportunity to stay and safe up money, but I hated the job from the first day on.
Supervisor with rotten front teeth and loud voice
When I saw the supervisor for the first time, I knew, that I would not have much fun out there. She was a woman with rotten front teeth. “Too many drugs” was my first impression, when I saw her. She really was not the most chilled out person on earth. And her voice was very often a bit too loud. The following days, I worked a lot. Cleaning the rooms. I had 20 minutes to clean one room, taking off the bed sheets, making beds, hovering, cleaning the windows, the complete bathroom, providing the guests with new towels, linen and filling up the minibar. For me, it wasn’t manageable. Until I learned, that we just had to make the rooms look clean instead of cleaning them. No one cared if that meant washing the toilet and the toothbrush glasses with the same cloth. And the room prices were quite high.
Feeling like a piece of shit
In between the supervisor came to watch our work and to complain. She basically complained all day long. She made our work life pretty hard although we all were very willing to work. Well, maybe being a room maid was not the right job for me. Obviously I made mistakes. Maybe, I was not quick enough although I tried and sweated. It could have been alright. I’m not a complete idiot. But every evening the supervisor made me feel like a piece of shit.
And being suddenly stuck in a very small world between work, tin containers, dining room and the same people every day, I started to feel slightly depressed. That was not why I had come to Australia. Just after two weeks I quit. I had earned a lot more than 1000 Dollars, enough money to travel on. The next hopefully more talented backpacker was already waiting for the job …
I loved Broome, the slightly rough atmosphere, the red earth, the endless beaches, the hippie vibe. When I first arrived there, I knew, that I wanted to spent time there. So I needed a job. During my time there, I worked in a café, in a restaurant and one weekend at a horse race.
Again, I was walking around with my CV to ask in bars, restaurants, hotels, shops. The dry season was just about to start in May. I was living on a campsite in my tent. There, another backpacker had told me about a small café, that needed a waitress. Just a few minutes later, I was riding on my second hand bicycle to the café and got the job. The work was easy. I just had to run coffees, clean the tables and entertain the customers. It wasn’t one of the busiest places on earth. Two teenage boys did the cooking. Sometimes, I went to work completely hangover and again, the pay was alright for a backpacker. I earned more than 20 Dollars per hour.
Earning money with two jobs
After a while, I got a second job in a pizza restaurant, where I had left my CV. I worked a few shifts in each place. At the pizza restaurant, I was not the best waitress ever. The only thing, I was really good in, was smiling and chatting with the customers. I liked the job, but I lost control about the situation at work a few times. One morning, I even slipped and dropped two breakfast plates. Eggs, bread, jam, cheese and sausages were spread over the floor. The floor had been wet from cleaning and I hadn’t been careful. I was extremely embarrassed. But my boss took it easy. He didn’t chuck me out. He just asked, if I was alright. The kitchen had to redo the food. It didn’t seem to matter that much. I had obviously worried too much.
Quick money waitressing at a horse race
The job at the horse race was really cool. For one weekend, I worked behind the bar and just opened beer bottles and cans. We were a great team of backpackers. Time was flying by and everyone was in a good mood. I had really fun. I had found that job, because someone had left a note and a phone number at a public message board.
Seriously nobody dreams about working at a pub in a small town the middle of nowhere – full of drug addicts. Neither did I. But when I went to a backpacker job agency in Perth, I was pretty broke again. The only job available was work as a bar maid a few hundred kilometers away in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia. Again, I had nothing to loose.
I went there by bus. The town consisted of nothing more than a service station with a small shop, a little supermarket, a second hand shop, a school, a library, a post office, a internet café, a lot of dust, sheep and a few houses. And the pub, which also offered hotel rooms. That hotel became my home for the following two months. Already the first evening, I spent drawing beers and talking to some 60 and 70 year old farmers. Once in a while, the sheep shearers came in for a few beers and pool games.
The highlight in the countryside: Meat raffle
At the weekends, it was more busy, when a lot of people from town came to party or take part in the legendary meat raffle games, organized by the pub owner. The guests were drawing lots and were able to win packages of raw meat and sausages. It was one of the major attractions in town. The raw meat connected the whole town. It was fascinating to watch. The atmosphere was great.
During that time, I learned, how to pull beers and how to get rid of old men, that tried to approach me. I learned, that tipping is not common in Australia and that pub food in the middle of nowhere doesn’t contain fresh ingredients. I improved playing billiard.
It was not the most easy time being stuck in the middle of nowhere without a car. But the job itself was fine. I lived in one of the hotel rooms.
A few addicts around
I realized, that there were funny, helpful and interesting people around, but also people with serious problems. Before I went to that town, I haven’t met anyone consuming crystal meth or “ice”. In that place, I saw quite a few functioning addicts, that were working and even raising kids. I also realized, that some people had problems with alcohol. Some were drinking in the pub every day. It was a little strange witnessing all that and not being able to do something. I felt, that living there long term wouldn’t have been a very good idea. For a short time, it was a great opportunity to understand small town life in Western Australia and to meet new people. Read more about drug addiction in rural Australia: www.news.com.au
When I arrived in Melbourne, I just had 200 Dollars on my bank account. Enough to pay a weeks rent in my horrible noisy city hostel and to buy some food. I was a little nervous and desperate to find a job. In emergency cases, I could have borrowed money from my family and friends, but that was really not, what I wanted to do. This time, I went to a backpacker job agency straight away, paid 30 Dollars, and got a job interview the next day. Again in a café. A busy lunch café in the middle of central business district of Melbourne.
Running catering deliveries
I had an interview, did a job trial and got the job. All I needed to do was to buy black trousers and to come back the following day. The café offered toasties, sandwiches, salads, baguettes, cakes, some dishes for lunch, coffee and drinks. I had to serve customers, run coffees, work at the till. Part of the job was also to run catering deliveries to some offices around. I learned all about carrying cakes and finger food on a trolley around the pedestrian street and to find the back entrances of some business towers, where I regularly enjoyed the views from 18th or 23rd floor over the city.
I didn’t always feel really comfortable carrying cakes around in my stupid uniform while almost everyone else seemed to wear suits and high heels. Most people were friendly as Australians usually are. But quite a few times, I got treated in a very unfriendly way being “just” the stupid delivery girl. At work, there were not many backpackers around anymore. During my work hours, I got soaked into a completely different world. A world, that I didn’t really want to be a part of.
Coping with a stingy boss
The café was a money making machine. Each lunchtime, hordes of businessmen and women came to eat there. Long queues were waiting. We were as busy as hell. The café was a hip place, but I still had to wear a horrible shirt. A few weeks long, I just had one, that I had to wear every day, although it was impossible to wash it every day after a 8 hours shift. The boss was friendly, but very stingy. He didn’t want to waste any slice of tomato. He had even installed cameras and was able to watch us using the till – and anytime else. He was probably a good businessman.
My wage in that café was much lower than in the north. It was fine for living, but not great for saving up money. I earned a lot less than 20 Dollars per hour as in the South. On top, I had higher expenses for rent and the cost of living. And it was not the kind of café, where you get any tips from guests. The staff didn’t get any free food during breaks. It didn’t take long until I decided to take a lot of leftovers home in the evenings. Just food, that was meant to go to the bin anyway. This way, I was able to save a lot of money and put on a few kilograms of weight.
I still stayed there for a few months. It was not so easy to find something better paid with consistent work hours. The staff was nice enough. I really understood my job after a while. And I didn’t plan to stay there forever anyay. For short periods, I even had two different jobs. I worked a few extra hours in other restaurants in the evenings and at weekends. That was far too much and I had to give up the second job after a while. But at that time, I was saving up money for my ongoing trip to New Zealand.
In one of my jobs in Australia, I got paid cash in hands at first. It took a while until I understood, that it was a better deal for my boss than for me. This way, he didn’t have to pay anything into my superannuation fund – a kind of Australian pension account. All official employers have to pay into that fund for every employee.
Backpackers leaving the country can claim the money back. That means a bit of extra money. All you need to do is to ask your first boss for the name of your superannuation fund, check your payslip regularly. Make sure, that all the following employers pay into the same account and get in contact with the superannuation company after your last job in Australia.
One of my bosses didn’t pay into my superannuation fund. He had always pretended to have done it. But he didn’t. I had to call the Australian taxation office for help a few months after I had left the country. Backpackers, whose employers refuse to pay their superannuation, can ask the taxation office for help. It really works.
Get information about superannuation: www.australia.gov.au/information-and-services
What to do, if the employer has not paid the superannuation: www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Super/In-detail
How to claim back superannuation, when you leave Australia: www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Super/In-detail
Read more about Work & Travel in Australia:
- Fist steps in Australia on a working holiday visa
- How to find a job on a working holiday visa
- How to get prepared for a backpacking trip
- Best and worst backpacker budget sleeping places in Australia
- The perfect packing list
- 10 reasons to go on a backpacking trip by yourself
- Who is writing here
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