Let me take you back to 2011 when I first came to the glorious country that is Australia. After a road trip from Darwin to Cairns, I was on my arse skint (poor, cashless almost) but I was determined that even if I had only come travelling with £2,200 ($3,150 AUD) in the bank that I WOULD see it out for the full year, no matter what (partially thanks to working in the Outback!). Looking back, that was the most reckless but best decision I ever made!
It was a hot and glorious November when we arrived and we looked for jobs as soon as we landed, we realised our money wouldn’t get us far here. By the time we got to Cairns we had secured jobs (both me and Rachael) at the Leo Hotel in Clermont, outback Australia! We would be working behind the bar, in the kitchen and doing a bit of housekeeping. The pay was $18 an hour with free accommodation and meals. They emailed us when we were on the road and wanted us to start immediately.
We had already booked 2 nights in Cairns (love Cairns) so after we’d spent a few days chilling in the Lagoon it was on the greyhound to Mackay on the overnight bus, 13 hours later we arrived. We had a few hours to kill so we headed to a local supermarket for food, then it was back on the bus for another 5 hour bus ride to Clermont. 18 hours! I’d never realised how big Queensland was before then.
We got there, jumped off the bus and were greeted by ‘Oh, you’re the girls coming to work at the Leo!’ we said yes, and let the guy help us to the hotel thinking he was our new manager. No… turns out its such a small place that everyone knew we were arriving. It’s the kind of place where you can’t fart without someone knowing about it. Rachael looked at me and said ‘what the HELL are we doing?!’ – I wondered the same myself!
The town is TINY…like smaller than where I’m from in Skelmersdale and it has approx 1/5th of the population! FUN FACT, because I just looked this up. Clermont has a population of 2,000!
There really is nothing much here other than a little shop, a post office, a bank, 2 pubs and a few motels that all the construction workers and miners fill up! There is a library and a caravan park and that’s about it.
There is a lagoon at the end of town that actually has a tree with a PIANO in it! Seriously, apparently it flooded that bad one year that the flood waters were so high a piano floated up and got stuck in a tree…true story! The lagoon is nice and the people are really friendly. Your walking down the street and everyone smiles and says hello, asks where your from and if your alright… well, the saying is ‘How ya goin?’ which makes no sense at all…it’s how ya doing back home!
I got really excited when our boss Denise said that there was a shopping mall in town only a few streets away, so me n Rachael woke up one morning and went for a stroll to find it thinking we could get a few bits, like clothes and some presents to send back home…but no. What we found was actually no bigger than a decent sized Tesco/Coles express. There is a DVD rental shop, an IGA (supermarket) and a cafe…I had no appropriate clothes for work and the nearest town for shopping is about an hour or two away by car…and we didn’t have a car, so online shopping it was. We made use of the DVD shop every week though and managed to pick up Game of Thrones books pretty easily, so it wasn’t all that bad in the end!
We were only there a week before we knew all the locals by name, I had my birthday at the time and a guy called Richard who was here for work took a day off to take me and Rachael to a town over to visit the dam which is a huge lake with speed boats on it and bought us lunch. That’s what surprised me the most about the Outback – the people here just like a chat and want some company while they are away from home, there is no hidden agenda like you’d assume. It’s nice.
Our bosses were…..characters! There was Gilly who ran the pub, ex army, ex UK but still thought he had all the rights to claim he was Australian (top left in image below) and Denise, his wife. They were firecrackers – always at the end of the bar drinking the profits and argued like you wouldn’t believe – in the bar, over the bar and in front of customers! But Gilly was really nice, especially when he was on his own. As long as his punters didn’t have to wait more than 20 seconds for a beer, he was happy.
They own a nightclub which never gets used, its storage…and its AWESOME. It’s got all cool art work drawings of Lennon, Marley, Hendrix, Steven Tyler, some crazy ass clown….walls covered in UV splattered paint, tables made out of barrels of beer with hand drawn JD and Jim Beam labels painted on them, it’s really cool. We tried to convince Gilly so let us throw a New Years party in there but he was having none of it.
Our accommodation was not what we expected – our beds (they didn’t realise we were together, and we didn’t tell them otherwise…more on that later) were nothing but mattresses on milk crates, the couch had a hole in it, there was a tiny fridge, a tv that got 4 channels and we shared the room with 2 cockroaches, a mouse and a few geckos. Nothing like the beds we were making in the motel where they had their own en suite, Foxtel TV, comfortable beds and it was clean. But, it was free and we’ve stayed in worse.
It was so hot in the outback, but when it was lightning….WOW, fork lightening that hit the road and lit up the sky was a sight I never had seen before, not like that. It was beautifully frightening!
The people of the outback are very trusting, very lovely in a sense, yet horrendously racist and homophobic. They would buy you a drink, offer to take you out, throw you the keys to their vehicle if you were heading up the road to pick something up, completely trusting that we weren’t going to ride off into the sunset with their beloved Ute. They would leave their wallets on the bar when they were playing pool, you’d take money out of their wallet if they had forgotten, or you’d talley it up and just charge them the next day when they were sober again. It was something you don’t get back home, there’s no trust like that anymore.
But on the flip side, they called lesbians muff munchers at any given opportunity, were outright with their views that gay people should not be allowed to get married, let alone have or adopt children! They were horrible to a few of the aboriginal people living in Clermont and didn’t like anyone Mauri either. Horrible. It was hard to live and watch. I often shared my views that gay people were no different and that people should be nice to each other but it always went unheard, and we never came out to the locals because frankly we’d prefer an easier life for the 3 months we were there!
Some of the lads who came in and out were a good laugh, we made friends and went out for a few drinks with some of them a few nights and it was good fun!
Christmas Day we had to work to help serve some of the people who had nowhere else to go, which is thoughtful and quite lovely – plus we got a decent Christmas bonus which was great. We worked around 50-60 hours a week each and must have only spent $100 a week between us each week that we were there – cereal we liked, DVDs, books and every now and then we’d go to the other bar for drinks or order in from the Chinese (the only takeaway joint in town). It was a great way to save money, and it funded the rest of our trip on the East Coast to Brisbane.
We managed to go down to the lagoon and have a picnic a few times (never to swim!) and went to a swimming pool out-of-town when we could borrow someones car for half a day, but it was very rare that we ever got time off together.
In Australia’s outback it is a huge thing to go searching for Gold, Diamonds, Sapphires, Rubies, and Emerald’s because you are literally sitting on a gold mine! There are mines everywhere. So one particular day, Dave (The Cook) offered to take us to Rubyvale to go searching for Sapphires. Local people who own the land open up ground and let you literally go digging in the sand/ground, wash it out and pick out the gemstones…now they obviously don’t look like the gemstones you get in the shops, but if you find a few decent sized ones then you can get them cut. So, we did a ‘bag of wash’ which was guaranteed a cut clear sapphire or diamond in it (it was tiny but still) and we dug for gem’s!! Altogether I think it cost us like $25 (about £17 GBP) so it was a fun day out.
The town itself was proper small, wooden huts for houses, even the bar/restaurant in town was made of big wooden planks that didn’t quite fit together properly, you could look through the gaps to see outside! The whole place was like stepping back in time, we went to the supermarket / servo (garage) / grocers and all of the shop signs looked so retro, they are all hand painted signs – I now also know the sign writer, a guy called Pete who travels the outback painting all signs (hand painted using stencils and freehand). It was cool to see, but like stepping into the 1950’s.
On the way home from Rubyvale after a very nice afternoon in the pub and digging for sapphires, we started driving home when the Police pulled up Dave for speeding – problem was that he had also had a few beers and ended up getting a DUI with an immediate ban on driving for 3 months. So, he was not allowed to drive his massive 4WD back to Clermont which was about an hour n half away, even though I was now already half an hour late for my shift! Rachael is a lightweight and after a few beers blew way over the limit, I’d have 5 Malibu’s and a double Southern Comfort and somehow blew 0.00 ZERO on the test, so I was put in charge of driving us all back to Clermont in Dave’s HUGE $WD, it was a beast to drive! He was not a happy bunny, and all three of us were 2 hours late for work.
All good fun!
The last thing we got to experience in the outback before quitting to head back up to Cairns was Australia Day in the Outback.
So, if you go to a big city to celebrate Australia Day, you’ll get a parade and a big party and even in some big cities you’ll get a Festival – Big Day Out being one of the biggest and best ways to celebrate Australia Day (no longer running). However, if you’re in a country town, you get a ‘Parade’ of a sort… you get toad races, prizes for the biggest cane toad, sheep races, chase the greasy pig competition and a local sausage sizzle! Aussies love a good sausage sizzle.
So we checked it out, we saw the parade with people dressed as their favourite Australian things – Vegemite, a shark, thongs (flip-flops), an Emu…it was amusing! Rachael got her best ‘chasing’ shorts on and was determined to go and win either the greasy pig competition or the sheep chase! But when we got there she was extremely disappointed to realise that they were children only competitions! So after it started to completely piss it down and we had watched the various competitions, it was back to the pub to start work!
After 2.5 months we’d have enough, said our Goodbyes and left Clermont for good!
Great fun, but I’m not sure I’d ever do it again. But saying that, it’s a GREAT way to save for a trip and if your doing a working holiday visa like we were, go for it! Enjoy it!
Are you going off to work in the Outback? Leave your comments below!