Broke in Brisbane; or, how I didn’t give up on my Working Holiday Visa

Brisbane solo travel Working Holiday Visa Australia

Reader, it’s been a while. Hello. I’ll start by apologising for the silence, and the massive chunk of my South East Asian story that’s still missing from the blog. I’m working on it. The past five months have simply been a massive emotional rollercoaster that has required all of my mental and physical energy, leaving very little time for any kind of writing.

In September, as you may know, I landed in Brisbane, Australia, to start my Working Holiday Visa. Naively, I thought I would just stay here for a while and make enough money to continue with my wanderings elsewhere the next year, perhaps Central America. I thought it would be easy – I know so many people who have come over here and worked and had a great time. And I had a ton of qualifications, skills and work experience, so I would find something in no time, I was sure!

It wasn’t easy. Not at all. Every day was devoted to job-hunting. I spent hours searching and applying for stuff online. I trudged around the city handing in resumes to bars, shops and restaurants. I checked my hostel’s job ads folder daily. I posted ads on Gumtree and Facebook groups. I put myself on the waiting list to do cleaning in the hostel in exchange for my bed (yes, there was a waiting list for the opportunity to clean the grotty hostel kitchen!). I turned up for interviews well-presented and cheery, even when I’d spent most of the previous night dealing with drunk German men stumbling around the dorm, singing at the top of their lungs and trying to get into my bed to talk to me. But no one was interested in the ex-librarian who could only work for the same employer for six months.

I lie actually; some companies were interested – direct marketing sales companies. Direct marketing is where you stand around in shopping centres trying to convince people to buy your product, as they scurry past trying not to make eye contact. It’s usually 100% commission-based; meaning you only earn money if you sell. I gave it a go, congratulating myself on starting a job within two weeks of arriving in Brisbane. I worked for 11 hours. I felt like the scum of the earth. I didn’t earn a cent as I couldn’t sell anything. That night I went home, messaged the marketing director to tell him I quit, and stress-drank a bottle of wine (that I couldn’t afford).

A few weeks later, I found a cold-calling job for a financial company who offered a base salary as well as commission (an appallingly low base salary, but guaranteed money nonetheless!). I went in and turned out to be pretty good at it. On Day Two I was informed that the base salary only kicked in after I had been there a few weeks and “shown commitment to the company”. I left soon after, and they never paid me anything, not even the commission I had earned, and there was nothing I could do about it; I couldn’t put in a complaint to the Ombudsman because I had no proof of ever having worked there.

Brisbane solo travel Working Holiday Visa Australia

Brisbane street art

At this point, the thought that I might have to write Australia off and book a flight home was trying to creep into my mind. But I was determined not to give up. For all of the trials it was throwing at me, I loved Brisbane. I had moved out of the hostel and started renting a big single room in a beautiful old Queenslander house with a stunning view of the city. I loved the sunny weather and the river and the live music and the people I was meeting there. I loved the quirky things to do on a Friday night, from free live comedy at the Powerhouse to taking a ghost tour in the seriously spooky Toowong Cemetery. I loved the bats flying overhead after dark and the street markets and the beautiful purple sunsets and the screeches of the curlews in the hot muggy nights which reminded me of Asia. I wasn’t going anywhere, and so I kept trying to find someone who actually wanted to pay me for the work that I did for them.

Brisbane solo travel Working Holiday Visa Australia sunset

Sunset from my window

My salvation came in face-to-face charity fundraising (there can’t be many people who’ve ever said that!). The less said about door-to-door the better (I don’t recommend). Street fundraising was better, although still gruelling in the Queensland climate. I was finally earning a hourly wage, and these jobs paid for a bit of domestic travelling; a few days on the gorgeous Stradbroke Island, a jaunt to the Gold Coast, and Christmas down in Byron Bay, all trips which I will write about shortly.

By the time I’d ascertained I needed to get out of fundraising, it was January and the job market had picked up, and a recruitment agency found me a temporary job selling insurance in an outbound call centre. It’s great money, the people I work with are lovely, and I finally get to work in an air-conditioned office – hooray! Australia may have done its best to kick my arse, but I am most definitely starting to get the upper hand. I didn’t expect to be so taken by this place at all, but it really is a unique country and I feel like I’m only just starting to peel back the layers and understand how and why…so I’m even planning to do the 88 days of rural work to get myself a second year visa so I can come back for another year!

Brisbane solo travel Working Holiday Visa Australia

I hope I haven’t put anyone off coming to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa…it’s a fantastic experience. You just need to come armed with plenty of savings, realistic expectations, and a bucketload of resilience.

What’s next for me? A few more weeks of work, then a little East Coast trip as I make my way to that farmwork…

4 Comments

  1. Lucy

    I feel your pain, Australia as an ex pat can be a huge struggle but ultimately worth it! Looking forward to reading more about your life down under xx

    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Thanks so much Lucy!

  2. sarah

    It’s good you show the other side to the working holiday visa. Jobs are not as easy to come by here as a lot of people think.

    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Thanks Sarah! Yes, so true.

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