Today I am motivated enough to write something down (I don’t write much other than dinner orders at the restaurant I work at these days).
After I left Sydney I spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne doing touristy things (a lot of walks in parks) and looking for a job (unsuccessfully). While job hunting online I came across an advert for “work for accommodations” at a place called The Island Accommodation, on Phillip Island. I called and enquired and soon packed my bags and headed to Newhaven on Phillip Island to work 15 hours a week doing cleaning and odd jobs around this backpackers hostel.
Phillip Island is in the state of Victoria, south of Melbourne (about a 1.5 hour drive), so very far south in Australia. It is very beautiful and has a small town feeling about the area. It was very quiet on the island when I arrived in the last week of November. There were only about six people staying in the hostel with me. Two girls were already in my shared room, – Leone, a British girl trying out the “working for accommodations” opportunity to see if she liked the island (she decided to leave a few days after I got there), and a girl from France, Caroline, who was here for four weeks doing voluntary work at the nature parks on the island. There was another girl and her boyfriend in a different room also volunteering at the nature parks. They left a week or so after I got there as well. The other two people at the backpackers were a German couple Katha and Bjoin, who I became close friends with. They were also at The Island Accommodation doing working for accommodations because they were in Australia on Tourist Visas, not Working Holiday Visas.
Katha, Bjoin and I spent a lot of time together as we were really the main people staying in the hostel for the first three weeks or so of my stay here. They are 29 and 30 respectively, and have been together for 13 years. They already had tourist visas for Australia a few years ago and came back to visit with friends and just to spend some more time in Australia before heading to New Zealand on Working Holiday Visas. They are hoping to find work sponsors in New Zealand and hopefully immigrate someday. Hopefully I will get to go and see them on a tourist visa in New Zealand briefly before I return to Canada.
Since my work at the hostel affords me free accommodations I started inquiring around the area for a paying job. I had many people tell me that they weren’t hiring yet but would be looking for employees starting the week of Christmas. Phillip Island has a population somewhere around 8000 people for most of the year, then Boxing Day and the next few days after that the population starts soaring for the summer. The majority of houses on the island are actually summer homes, owned by people living in the Melbourne area. Australians apparently take holidays as a nation. Many companies shut down at Christmas time for at least a few weeks, and families flock out of the city for summer break. School ends just before Christmas and the kids go back between the last week of January and first week of March (depending on your type of school -elementary, private, college & Uni). After kids go back to school things start slowing down just a tiny bit, but people keep swarming down to the island every weekend in the summer, blocking the one road onto the island for traffic and scooping up all the perishable food in the grocery stores. This is still happening every weekend although I think the first week of March signifies the transition of seasons into Autumn, as I have caught a cold. You couldn’t tell by the weather that its time for fall though, every day this week is supposed to feel like +30C!
Phillip Island holds many summer festivals and local events; there is a Grand Prix Circuit so there are many car and motorcycle racing events throughout the year; lobster and fishing festivals; many music festivals all summer long; farmers markets; Tough Mudder; the Channal Challenge; arts and jazz festivals; a garden and sustainability festival; and this past December the Victorian Bicycle Network ended their annual week-long bicycle tour on the island as well.
I spent my first couple of weeks job hunting, as well as getting to know the hostel and the island. Soon enough I was hired to work food and beverage at the Silverwater Resort, 2.5km away, in San Remo. I started a “trial” on December 14, and everything went ok so I’ve been working there ever since. My shifts bounce between serving dinner in the restaurant, working buffets and weddings and last week I started to learn breakfast and lunch service as well. I have also been able to pick up some housekeeping shifts at the resort when it’s busy to fatten my paycheques (which generally aren’t a lot because I don’t get that many hours but apparently it’s more money than some of the housekeeping department staff make on a general basis so that makes me feel better). Also I haven’t paid anything for accommodations for the 3+ months I’ve been living on the island so that has helped a lot.
Here if you work in the hospitality industry there are standard wages based on the time of day that you work for casual staff. My hourly rate is $21.31 per hour. Working after 7pm on a weekday entitles me to “penalty rates” which increases the hourly wage by $1.86 an hour. Every hour worked after midnight entitles me to an increase of $2.78 per hour. Saturdays are paid at $25.58 and Sundays are paid at $29.84 per hour. Holidays are paid at a little over double wage $46.89 per hour, if I’m lucky enough to score a holiday shift. So far I only got Christmas but I made almost $500 that day! Still waiting for another holiday shift though, maybe Easter.
I have met lots of people and made some great friends here. For a while there were a lot of us here working in the area and living at the hostel. After the bicycle tour ended here two volunteers decided to stay and do work for accommodations as well and to look for work in the area. Philipp and Sarah and I became friends and that is how I learned of the opportunity to volunteer for the Victorian Bicycle Network which enabled me to take just over two weeks off in February to go to Tasmania. Through them I also met Kerri and Katie. The five of us spent a week driving, hiking and camping around western and northern Tasmania’s National Parks including Lake St. Clair, Cradle Mountain and Narawntapu NP. We saw lots of possums, echidnas, wallabies, wombats, 4 snakes, pademelons, a Tasmanian Devil and even a platypus!
During the second week of Tasmania we volunteered to work for the Great Tasmanian Eacapade. That went from Launcestion, Tasmania’s second largest city, located close to the centre of the island, to Port Arthur, south east of Hobart, over the course of 8 days. Sarah, Philipp, Katie, Till and Johann (two other German friends from the hostel) all worked in the food catering department having breakfast and dinner shifts, while Kerri and I working in the Route Operations department while tool care of things actually on the route. This included all the road signs, rest stops, lunch stops and marshaling and directing of riders each day along the ride. Kerri and I were actually deligated the status of “lunch girls” after I announced to our team leader Simon Crone that I have my license. He actually asked Kerri originally of she had hers but she only is on her P plates, which is still a sort of probationary license here. It’s a bit extreme that new legislation in Victoria has made it that young drivers can’t have their full license for about 4 years now, though I do believe that they take the number of hours behind the wheel into account. Anyways, I was originally supposed to work with someone else, setting up drinking water stations at each rest stop, but I ended up getting partnered with Kerri to do lunch. Yay! It was lots of fun. Each morning we had to get up at 5:30am to eat and get ready and all packed up to leave camp at 6:30am to try to be ahead of as many cyclists as possible, and i would drive to the days’ designated lunch spot (Kerri as copilot), hoping that the people putting the signs up we ahead of us on the road so that we could just follow the signs to the lunch stop. Once there we had to choose a good place to unload our lovely Renault cube van and set up our tressle tables, garbage cages, tent covering and sandwich crates, and then wait for the catering guy, Chris from Tasmania’s Liv-eat, to bring us lovely lunches in his borrowed refrigerated truck. Then we would have to hand out the sandwiches and ensure everyone got the right meals. Lots of Vegos and Gluten-frees. Oh. That is something that will never cease to amaze me Australians seem to delight in shortening words. Any words. Christmas her has become Chrissy, McDonalds is Maccas, marshmallows are marshies, etc. Quite ridiculous and extreme if you ask me.
After serving the 600+ cyclists their lunch, it was our responsibility to pack everything back into the van, as well as whatever leftover food and the full to the max garbage bags. Yuck that we had to transport that, but sometimes people driving other Route Operations people would transport either some of our leftover food or some of the garbage bags to the camp for us, to be dealt with. That was always helpful. Then we would drive on to the new camp, unload the garbage and leftover food, wander around camp trying to get people to eat the leftover sandwiches, then try to find our tents in their new locations. Every day was pretty busy for us, working from 6:30am until about 3:30pm or so, whereas the catering staff only worked about maximum two hours or so per day. But I think we had more fun. They got bored, hahaha.
We had some beautiful lunch and rest stops along the way. My most memorable stops in Tasmania were at Cradle Mountain, Lillico Beach at night seeing the Fairy Penguins returning to their burrows, Hiking in Narawntapu NP, seeing the Platypus in Latrobe, wandering around Derby at 7:30am on a Sunday looking for a place to get coffee and tea (no luck), Freycinet NP walking UP and the DOWN to get to Wineglass Bay and run into the water with Kerri, Stewart Bay swimming (freezing and apparently a very close to a great white shark frequented reef in certain seasons) and lunch serving, “Remarkable” cave and the still under-construction McHenry and Sons Distillery tour and tastings, complete with Cointreau infused chocolate ice cream. My time in Tasmania ended too soon!
Now I am back on Phillip Island, working once again. Last week was very busy; for once I worked over 40 hours at the resort and I finished off the week by getting a full blown sore throat graduating to a sinus cold. Almost better now!
I have a few weeks left here. When I leave here at the end of March/first of April, Sarah and I plan to head over to Western Australia to find jobs for a couple of months before touring around Southeast Asia with Philipp and Jaimee, an Australia friend who works for $$$ here at the hostel! Lots of planning and researching in the next few weeks for both WA and SE Asia but I still want to do a couple more trips to the beaches and the rock pool at Woolamai with Fenja (who is another German girl here working for accommodations at the hostel) and the others still here. We are also hoping to plan a short trip to Wilson’s Promontory in the east of Victoria, and maybe a trip to one of the big malls in Melbourne, possibly Fountain Gate before I leave.