Back Like A Boomerang: 88 Days A Slave!

Here goes nothing, my first blog post as a final year /CMPR student. Should I discuss current affairs or celebrity gossip, perhaps many has words to say on the latest Coleen Rooney or Rebekah Vardy scandal. But what I want to share with you is my year away in Australia and how I survived 88 days on the farm to secure my Second Year Visa. MK4

Migrating to Australia at the opposite side of the world is becoming increasing popular so I can imagine there are a few of you who are reading this that have thought about trying it at some stage in your life and I hope you decide to do it.  

I spent the last 12 months of my life exploring what life is like down under. We hear so many stories about the Aussie way of life and I must admit it did not disappoint. However, 4 of these amazing months were spent working harder than I thought I could ever work to ensure that whenever I graduate, I will be able to spend another 12 months having more adventures in this country I was lucky enough to call home for a short while. 

To say these were the longest 88 days of my life is an understatement. Australian Immigration really make you work for your Second Year Visa that’s for sure and if I hadn’t of fallen so in love with this country, I would not have put myself through it. The common trend on Instagram #88daysaslave doesn’t paint the best picture of how this working holiday visa requirement can be undertaken. But in a way this is how it feels. Don’t let any of this put you off because the feeling when completing your last day cannot be described and to know that it gets you another 12 months makes it even better. This blog post is not meant to scare but to motivate. If you happen to find yourself in a similar position sitting in a corner somewhere in the outback wondering how in the world did you get yourself into this mess, trust me there is light at the end of the tunnel, or in my case light at the end of the fruit bin! 

I remember when we first walked up to this tiny house full of 30 girls in a strange little town called Shepparton, I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious and tired from our travels down from Sydney. We were giving a tour that took all of 30 seconds as that’s how long it took to get from one side of this little hut to the other.  The first few weeks were definitely the hardest, watching girls coming and going. I can remember being so jealous of the girls who were nearly at the end of their days and even more shocked to find that they were sad about finishing. A lot of the girls even stayed on a few more weeks than they had to. Not me I thought I’m straight out of here on day 88 and I am never looking back!!  

First day you are thrown straight into the deep end with the sharks. The deep end being the pear line and the sharks being the unemotional supervisors with zero people skills and very little English. Being screamed at all day to pack faster, faster all the while trying to pack only the first-class pears from a bin that ranged from your perfect pear to a month-old compass pile. They couldn’t seem to understand that you could have quantity or quality but both simultaneously at their standard was not humanly attainable. 

New workers in the shed are all put in yellow vests and once your fruit packing is off a certain standard you get promoted to an orange vest. Yellow vests had it tough. You were literally a walking high vis that said look at me I’m new and have no idea what I’m doing. Yellow vests were always the first to be sent home and last to get picked to work. But unless you worked you couldn’t improve your fruit packing skill to reach the level of an orange vest, and if you didn’t get your 35 hours of work in one week it doesn’t count towards your 88 days and it’s a week wasted. A viscous cycle and you can imagine how hard done by and mistreated we felt. There were days in the first few weeks where I had to really think is this worth it? Can I do this? Do I want another year in this country this badly? I’m glad that I am good at quieting the negative Nancy voice in my head listening more to positive Polly. I struggled through and pushed myself to the limit, every morning praying can today be the day? Can I become an orange vest? Day 32 I got pulled to the side expecting to get in trouble for having too many bad pears in my crate. Then I saw on the table an orange vest, could this be it?

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Mary you’ve earned your orange vest, now do me a favour and go faster.” (The nicest thing anyone in the shed had ever said to me believe it or not.) In a moment of joy all I could do was hug my supervisor forgetting that these people act more like robots than humans and show no loving emotions to anyone or anything. At that however I’m sure I caught a glimpse of a smile and quiet giggle followed by a stern “back to work.”  

I strutted back into the house showing off my new clean bright orange vest and you’d think I had just won a Grammy award with the cheers and support from the girls, and honestly that’s what it felt like.

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As the weeks went on, I felt myself settling into farm life more than I could have ever imagined. The friendships that I was forming in such short periods of time I never thought possible. The time away from civilisation, away from the busyness of Sydney and really time away from my normal human life, I had learned more about myself, and of the determination and strength I never knew I had until this experience. As my 88 days were coming to an end, I felt both happy and sad. Through the laughter and despite the tears I had the most amazing and challenging experience of my life to date.  

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Day 88 came by and I never thought I would have been sadder than I was happy to leave. With the new girls jealous of us leaving and the girls who had been there through it all with us sad to see us go it occurred to me: When you first start you cannot wait to leave and when it’s time to leave you wish you could stay. I have learned from this to make the most of every day and be grateful for the good and the bad, because they all get us to where we need to be. I have now finished my farming adventure and as sad as I was to leave Australia behind, I am now back to finish final year which I have no doubt will be just as challenging as my last adventure.  

For now I can happily say after 4 months, 14 weeks, 88 days, hundreds of mental breakdowns, thousands of fruits packed, and a million amazing memories that I am hanging up my farming shoes for the foreseeable future and the only apple I want to see anytime soon is one dipped in chocolate! Can we make orange vests a thing in University to motivate me to start my dissertation?? 

Mary Keenan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @mary_keenan_ or Instagram: @mary_keenan20