Darwin was the first place I have tried to find a job in Australia – when I was in Sydney I looked to see what was available and found loads of jobs but my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t really need to work. But by the time it came to arriving in Darwin I was flat broke, seven months of living the dream had been fun and I’d never once had to hold back from spending because I made sure I saved a good wad of cash beforehand. But now I was at a point where I could barely afford rent and instant noodles – any backpacker out there will know the kind of broke I’m talking about. The kind of broke where you suddenly have a horrible feeling you won’t be able to get yourself out of this situation, where you realise you can’t even afford a flight home and you start feeling like you need to call on the bank of mum and dad. Its kind of scary when you’re backpacking solo to know that when you run out of money you have no backup, that you don’t have a boyfriend or best friend there to loan you a few dollars. It’s happened to us all – it doesn’t matter how good you are with your money, sometimes life just catches up on you. But that’s okay, I think if you’re a backpacker who hasn’t lived in dire straits for a while, you’re not a real backpacker. I’m very lucky and I know that if I were ever desperate my parents would be able to help me out but I know many people who aren’t that lucky, and to be honest, there’s much more satisfaction in fixing the problem all by yourself.
I knew I would be fine after I managed to secure a job and luckily after putting something on Facebook about needing work, an old friend contacted me to say he was already in Darwin working in a bar and that he knew of another bar that was looking for staff. As soon as I arrived in Darwin – within hours of getting off the plane – I had updated my CV and printed off countless copies ready to pound the streets looking for work. I walked the length of Mitchell Street and back handing out CVs, talking to managers and flirting shamelessly, and it worked! Within 24 hours I had two trials and two new jobs. I would be working at Monsoons – if you know Darwin you will know it as the infamous party bar where we all have spent nights better forgotten – and Darwin Entertainment Centre, a theatre for the arts where I would be working in the box office. Now I was very lucky getting both jobs straight away and I have no doubt that it was particularly down to the fact that I was English, could start straight away, and wasn’t completely ugly. It’s horrible to say but a complete truth that employers in Darwin, and any other city, are very keen on employing those with English as a first language and, particularly in bars and restaurants, they want good looking staff. I had friends who were German and French who struggled to find work for a while because their English wasn’t as good and I had one friend who was told he couldn’t have the job in a bar unless he shaved his beard off! In Monsoons the girls were expected to parade around in their underwear and bikinis on a nightly basis, while the guys all flaunted their six packs.But it’s not all about luck – I happen to believe we make our own luck in this world and part of that is down to our own determination to succeed. I know a few people who really struggled to find work, but when it came down to it they were not desperate for money like I had been. They had the luxury of enough money to keep them afloat and that gave them time to be lazy, to hand out CVs but not to push for jobs. For some, their priorities were more about having fun and partying first, finding work later – and they did, as soon as their situation became desperate. For me, I had no choice but to find work straight away otherwise I couldn’t afford basics like food or a bed, partying would come later and after the East Coast, a break was welcome. One thing to realise, Australia is full of jobs, everywhere you turn you hear of a new working opportunity. They might not all be career jobs but there’s a good mixture – and a hell of a lot more available than back home in the UK. After all I had heard about Darwin, it didn’t disappoint and offered a huge range of jobs for all kinds of people. I think that was one thing I loved about the city – it attracted such a range of people and all kinds of workers. I had friends who were working on fishing and pearling boats, others who were working construction or landscaping, others filled hospitality roles in bars, restaurants or hotels, worked as cleaners, hairdressers, chefs, mango farmers, or nurses and the list goes on. There was work for every type of role, the only thing that was lacking were office jobs but that didn’t seem to bother many.
So if you arrive in Darwin flat broke like I did – how can you make sure you don’t spend too long in limbo and quickly get earning again? Here are my top tips for finding work in Darwin:
- Do some scouting before you arrive – ask any friends who might be there or who are in Australia as often they have contacts. Use the Darwin Backpacker Facebook page as jobs and tips are always being posted up there. Perhaps even contact bars/hotels asking if they need staff.
- Look on Gumtree – it’s a reliable source for jobs in Australia unlike at home and I know lots of people who have found great jobs and casual work through it. My current job is one I actually found on Gumtree.
- Sign up to agencies – if you’re looking for specific farming, catering or construction work it might be worthwhile signing up to one of the many agencies in town. There is one that is free to join called Top End Consulting, but I don’t know anyone who actually found work through them. A good one for tradies was Skilled, which managed to find work for several of my friends.
- Update your CV and make it relevant – if you’re looking for bar work, just stick your bar/restaurant experience on there – feel free to even lie and make it up as I know many who used references from their home countries that were never checked. Hospitality is easy to pick up on the job and you will be trained in anything you don’t know.
- If you need a white card or RSA, make sure you know what you have to do to get it. But don’t rush and spend unnecessary money. I waited until I had the bar job to go home and complete my RSA – it took 25 minutes online and cost $10 for the Northern Territory but I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t have a bar job.
- Make sure you look good and have a big smile on your face – first impressions are everything – then walk the streets. Go by yourself, it looks better than having a friend waiting for you, ask for the manager in every place and hand over a CV. Ask if they are looking for anyone, tell them your experience and that you can start straight away.
- If anyone asks how long you are staying in Darwin, always lie. I knew I was staying for at least a month and a half but told them four months minimum. It meant they were keen to take me on as I wasn’t leaving and I loved it so much there that I stayed for three months anyway! No one wants to employ someone who is there for three weeks but they understand it is a backpacker town and people are always passing through.
- Make sure you speak good, clear English if it is not your first language, if you don’t understand anything, try to hide it then check with a friend later.
- If you get called in for a trial, make sure you wear appropriate clothing and footwear – I had to buy a black skirt and top plus black plimsolls for Monsoons and luckily could wear the same for DEC. There isn’t much choice in Darwin so you might need to make do until you can get to Casuarina – the nearest shopping centre.
- Don’t get a trial? Don’t hear back? Don’t lose faith – just keep asking around, keep handing out CVs to everywhere, not just Mitchell Street. Ask friends who are already working if they can put a word in for you or listen out for jobs that come up. You will get something – I don’t know a single person who failed to find work altogether!
- When you do get a job, make sure you have your RSA, tax file number, back account, superannuation set up ready so you have them ready to hand them over and will get paid straight away.
- And don’t forget those that helped you! Once you have a job in Darwin, use it for good and help other backpackers in a similar situation to find work. Across my two jobs I managed to find jobs for about 15 other people during my time in Darwin and that’s not even including the people who replaced me when I left. Spread the love and help everyone you can.
And if worst comes to worst and you can’t find anything permanent – why not do like a friend of mine who arrived in Darwin with a beat up old car, which he was sleeping in, and no money. He found some casual work, then more casual work, then more. It ended up being more reliable for him than permanent work because he could work several jobs around each other – he was doing everything from waitering, to bar work and front of house, to landscaping and odd jobs. It helped that he had a car and wasn’t fussy what kind of work he would take on. Within a month he had a good income and an apartment and it was another month until he found a steady job as a landscaper to get his second year visa signed off. But he still continued to take on casual jobs as well.
Have you worked in Australia – how did you find the job hunting process? Any other advice for finding work fast? Tell me about your experiences as a broke backpacker.