After spending 5 months working at an Outback resort in the Flinders Ranges doing maintenance and bartending, I and my partner experienced what many refer to as "the real Australia" in a way that few others get to experience. The land was beautifully unforgiving, the location was remote and the people were unforgettable.
Six days per week were spent working and days off were spent recouping my sanity. Living this isolated life, like that of the staff at an outback resort, one finds them self going through a variety of feelings that fall on both sides of the spectrum.
Month one, in the Outback
I hate this job. Well, maybe not the job so much as not knowing what the hell I was supposed to be doing. Really, how can I hate the job if I don't yet know what exactly my job is? For now I spent the day watching people work at things that they know inside and out, with little explanation as to what my responsibilities are.
Couple that with the overly laid back nature of outback life, and I found it amazing they get anything done at all. Most of my free time at work was spent looking for things to do when there was nothing to do. A skill I would soon master.
A particularly wet few seasons prior to this has lead to a mouse plague throughout the grounds. I soon found myself spending the first hours of every morning scraping dead mice from a dozen or so traps laid around the resort. I did this not because I was told to do it, but because I know it needs to get done and no one has shown me what else to do yet.
Did people just wonder around until they find a job to do? Is this what my next 5 months here will revolve around?
At this point I cannot wait to leave.
Month 2 in the Outback
After 2 months of being surrounded by everything Australian, I actually said something without thinking about it. I am not proud of what I said, but I guess it happens. I uttered the words, "no worries."
My pet peeve is when people start picking up on slang from other countries, especially No worries. It just sounds so fake to hear
an American accent... MY American accent say something so quintessentially Australian as "No Worries". Might as well buy some stubby shorts and start drinking crappy beer, eh mate?
The work has become somewhat regular with my maintenance duties of removing dead mice, collecting rubbish and cleaning the pool for 6 hours each day. Afterwards I would work the bar for 3 hours each nigh, at allowing me at least have conversations different people each day.
Having been on almost all of the hiking trails I am really starting to appreciate my surroundings. Rocky terrain, rare wildlife, and arid desert make this an environment unique to the rest of the world.
Month 3 in the Outback
Three months into my time working in the Outback and these tourists really know how to get under my skin. One thing in particular is when people say "where are you from?" and I say "The USA." And they say "Well, I knew that much." in a very condescending way.
But really they didn't know that much. In fact they don't know that I'm not Canadian, but because they don't want to run the risk of being wrong by guessing the incorrect country they try to make me look stupid by implying that I'm the fool for questioning their accent guessing abilities. Honestly, these tourists are pricks.
Three months into my outback experience and I found the highs and lows of this lifestyle can completely revolve around a single thing. For example, staff meals are provided by the chef so, when the chef is terrible and the staff eat crap food for weeks on end, everyone gets very irritable, myself included.
Dealing with sub standard food because of a bad chef happened several times and each time it happened the staff would get more and more negative towards the job, the tourists and each other. It would eventually build up and build up until a new chef came in or until everyone just had a huge drunken evening and all of a sudden the stress would release and things would resume as normal. That is to say, as "normal" as you get in the outback.
People out here drink a lot. I would even say many drink too much. When there is nothing else to do except drink, people tend to do just that. There is literally nothing else to spend your money on except for alcohol and occasional snacks.
Turnaround of staff is massive in outback places for many reasons. People burnout, backpackers get bored and some folks just weren't meant to live this lifestyle. They hire a few backpackers for the easy jobs and backpackers last only a few months, if that long. As well, in situations with small numbers of staff, everyone has to get along. If someone shows up and starts rocking the boat, they never last past a few weeks, and in some cases a person will last only a few short days.
This is a regular part of life in the outback, people come and people go. The longer you end up working in the outback, the closer bond you will have with those who last. By the end of our time, we had a very tight group of people from all backgrounds. A couple Frenchies, couple Aussies, the locals, and Aboriginals who worked on the very land that their ancestors relied on thousands of years ago.
I think that it is going to be very rewarding to leave here having earned and saved a lot of money in 5 months. At this point, I can't wait to leave and will savor the celebration, or so I think.
Month 4 in the Outback
You can make a lot of money in the outback if you don't piss it all away on piss (Aussie slang for alcohol). Our earning $23 an hour and working about 40-60 hours per week we would take in $1,400 - 1,500 per fortnight, after taxes. Plus we get most of our taxes back at the end of the year because we are not Australian citizens. Minus what we spend on alcohol and snacks, a mere $50 - 100 per fortnight and at the end of 5 months we had saved $19,000 AUD. That's not bad for cleaning some mouse traps and serving a few beers.
The most rewarding relationships we gained were that of a few Aboriginals which we worked with very closely. They were incredibly funny, respectful and hard working. This also added to my experience in Australia as it was in such a contrast with the negative image that one sees when traveling through cities like Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.
Unfortunately many tourists and backpackers get a harsh or unfriendly experience with Aboriginal Australians as they travel through cities that are struggling to combat alcoholism and crime. For this reason, I am eternally thankful to have the experience as I did.
The other memory that I will take with me was the "Holy shit, I can't believe I'm getting paid for this!" days at work. I would regularly see Euros, Emus or the endangered Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies while driving around. One day I found myself in a helicopter dropping tools to a crew working elsewhere on the property. We would go on tours for free or go hiking on our days off. These were great days.
Month 5 in the Outback
At this point we were ready to get back into a big city and just be traveling once again. The Outback was beautiful in a way I can only attempt to show through photos or words, but living and working in the outback changed my life in a few big ways.
We have more money than we ever thought we would have, so our 12 month work holiday in Australia has now added onto it a massive China to England overland train journey. We have made friends for life and will always have a place to call home, should we find ourselves in South Australia again. Most importantly, we achieved what we came to Australia to do, experience this country, this culture and its people.
We learned about the locals, from the locals. Telling our coworkers that we were planning on leaving soon, it felt like we were breaking up with a lover or leaving a family member, and in a way, we were. I came to love this place.
My last days will go down as two equally incredible yet contrasting feelings. That of the last party we had only 2 days before getting on the bus. We laughed and partied all night long. We played music and danced around the campfire. We drank like the world was about to end, and in a sense it was.
The world as we'd known it for the last five months was only hours away. Talking about "current events" days after they happened and getting only one TV channel or hoping for mail on our twice a week mail call. It was all going to change.
The morning we left on the twice weekly tourist bus it was the saddest morning of the year. I built it up as what I thought would be an exciting day, a day to celebrate and day to be happy that we were moving on, but none of those feeling applied. All the arguments, all the complaints and all of the disagreements were gone and we were just people once again. People saying goodbye after 5 months spending every waking hour together. A family about to be ripped apart by our lifestyles.
The hardest aspect of this goodbye was that we knew full well that when we left the Outback, we will likely never see these people again. This is a much harder goodbye to do as it is saying "Goodbye forever." Tears fell and hearts dropped. I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach as we sat inside that coach bus at 7:00am waving goodbye to that group of people, our people, our outback family.
I loved my time working in the outback. Fair dinkum!
More Mildly entertaining and insightful reads...