Bundaberg: Living the Fruit Picking Dream

Bundaberg! The area of Australia known best for fruit picking, turtle hatching and rum. I love rum, however fruit picking, not so much… 

The region can be found 14km inland from Bargara Beach (according to Google-maps) between Hervey Bay and the town of 1770 making it a perfect spot for backpackers to try and obtain that all important 2nd year working-holiday visa whilst being close to some major East Coast attractions.

Exploring Bundy!

For weeks prior to my fruit picking, I was in touch with the working hostels in the area to find out what sort of work they had available (if any) and whether this was hourly paid as I had heard so many horror stories regarding ‘piece pay’ or ‘pay per bucket’ jobs from other travellers and could not afford to pay $215 average weekly rent with an income that wasn’t going to be consistent. Plus, I didn’t have a car so I required the hostel to offer transport to and from the farms. After a good month of emailing back and fourth, I took the plunge and went to a hostel called Federal Backpackers. A girl I had met whilst on the FeeJee Experience had stayed here and was given an hourly paid fruit picking job quickly once arriving there. I was also in touch with the work manager via email and she had told me there were hourly jobs coming up but she could not provide me with an exact date as you do have to be in the hostel to secure the work.

On the 10th October 2016, I arrived in Bundaberg. I knew that fruit picking wasn’t going to be easy but I was eager to earn some money and get my 2nd year visa just in case I loved Australia that much that I wanted to come back and live here some more.

The Hostel

Federal Backpackers living conditions honestly weren’t the best. I experienced cockroaches in my dry food cupboard and there was also a pet Possum who went by the name of Pete who visited nightly. However WiFi was free, the staff were lovely and all the facilities you needed to live were provided including transport to and from the farms. I also got bottom bunk and for those of you who have lived the hostel life, you know how important and happy bottom bunk can make you feel, especially when you’re going to be staying somewhere for a minimum of 4 months! What made my whole experience bearable was who I shared it with. A massive shout out to my MEXICAN LOVERS especially my Scottish ‘Bundy bae’ and my immortal

Dinner time at Federal!
Entertaining ourselves outside the back of the Hostel

Fruit Picking

When I arrived, there unfortunately was not any hourly paid jobs available however, I had heard along the pipe line that they were coming up. I declined, at first, to go for a ‘pay per bucket’ job because I had heard horror stories regarding the staff and work but after three days of living in the hostel with no signs of hourly paid work I bit the bullet and cherry tomatoes were to be picked! At 4:20am, on my 4th day of Bundaberg living, I was in the mini bus transporting us to a farm about 40 minutes away to pick fruit all eager for my first day of work.

Living the fruit-picking dream!

Once we arrived we wrote down our names and the hostel we were staying at. We were given ‘tags’ to put in the buckets so we could be monitored and paid for how many we filled with a brief explanation of what tomatoes were good to pick and what would happen if we constantly were putting overly ripe or not ripe enough tomatoes in the buckets. Pretty simple huh? Nope. You were paid $4.80 per bucket and screamed at to work faster. God forbid you asked where the toilet facilities were also. You were laughed at and advised to pick an empty row, go about half way down so no-one could see you and do your business there! I’m a nervous toilet goer as it is so this was hell for me and when I did finally pluck up the courage to go I was swooped by a magpie and couldn’t go. This meant I chose stupidly not to drink much water so I wouldn’t need to go to the toilet and it wasn’t just me who was thinking like this! At the end of my first day I had picked 5 buckets worth of fruit, bad times! Out of the 4 days I completed per bucket, the most I got was 7! Sometimes you were asked to do ‘cleaning’ of the rows to which meant one shift I only managed 2 buckets…

The after-math of the ‘super’ moon before picking starts!

On the 17th October, I started my hourly paid job! Finally, a full-time income ($19.32 per hour) and I would properly be able to get constant sign-off days towards my second year visa. I was still tomato picking but at another farm where the supervisors were a lot nicer, the start time for picking was a little bit later in the morning and you actually got allocated breaks: luxury! Unfortunately, there were no toilets again. We were asked to pick 24 buckets a day to maintain our place on the farm however this was dependent on the tomato quality and which type of tomatoes we were picking that day. I was lucky enough to be picking with my Bundy Bae woooooo! We chatted through the vines, sung songs and played games such as ‘who would you rather?’ to keep motivation and mood levels high. Our farm also allowed us to listen to music on our phones as-long as we only had one ear-phone in for safety reasons. We had such a good group of pickers on our farm to enjoy the welcomed ‘smoko’ and lunch breaks with. My experience fruit picking was made 100% better because of them. ❤

The Office!
Enjoying a well-deserved break!
Getting a ride back to the mini-bus. They didn’t pick themselves!

Night Life

Whilst in Bundaberg there was only three main places I drank the pain of fruit picking away and enjoyed a good laugh with those who were in the same boat. I was also trying to be good and save some dollars so didn’t go out every weekend which was in itself difficult as there wasn’t much else to do in Bundaberg other than drink their infamous rum!

Enjoying a Passion Pop

The Spotted Dog Tavern is next door to Federal Backpackers and connected via the beer garden around the back. During the weekend the bar at the back of the hostel is open offering backpacker drink deals including beer and cider for $5 and $20 bottles of wine. If you fancied something to eat also you could go into the pub and enjoy their backpacker special menu. The Spotted Dog was perfect for a cheeky ‘one’ before traipsing over the road…

Cell Block was the ultimate hostel bar in Bundaberg. The former jail housed accommodation, a swimming pool (that was often used for more than just swimming) and a bar. This was the sister hostel to Federal Backpackers however I think it’s changed hands now and has been taken over by Dingo Blues. The drinks were cheap, they offered free entry/drink vouchers into the local night club before 12 and it was a great way to get drunk (and extra flexible off the Passion Pop) before stumbling to the club because let’s face it, no-one could have a good night sober in that place!

International Love

Every time I refused a Central Hotel free entry voucher I would end up going back up to the Cell Block bar and shamefully requesting one. Central was the only ‘night club’ I knew of in Bundy and that is where everyone would end up. It had three main music rooms: the mainstream room, live music area out the back and the sweaty dance music room often referred to as the ‘crack den’. You could not enter Central sober and if you did, you would leave smashed as you would end up drinking through the pain of being there and not caring about the price you were paying for drinks.

At the end of the night it would have been rude not to stop off for some chips and cheese across the road from Federal at a fast food joint called The Hungry Tum. This was the epitome of a good night!

Cell Block!

One last recommendation, COFFEE! Two places that provided me with sanity and the use of free WiFi that was a lot better than the hostels were Alowishus Delicious and Pacific Coffee Company.

Alowishus Delicious had amazing coffee and good service yet their sweet treats were overly refrigerated for me. Not to be missed though was their incredible selection of gelato which was perfect for the Bundy sunshine!

Just a short walk in the opposite direction was Pacific. The coffee here was reasonably priced, service came with a smile and the WiFi speed was top notch. I spent copious hours watching Netflix/FaceTiming loved ones here, sipping skinny lattes and enjoying their wonderful selection of cakes! I would recommend trying the Nutella Brownie warm, it is godly!

A little end note…

Unfortunately after 27 days of fruit picking, the season for hourly paid, cherry tomato picking ended. The only work available for girls until after summer were pay per bucket jobs (lemon and cherry toms). I could not afford to live without consistent hourly paid work so I headed back to the Gold Coast and got a job in retail over the Christmas period with the full intention of returning to fruit picking once hourly jobs for girls became available again. Currently I’m still loving life on the Gold Coast and I haven’t returned… 🙂

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!  Bec 

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