Aussie diary: stranded in the outback

The last two weeks have been crazy. One minute, I’m sitting in a kitchen in Brisbane trawling the internet for jobs, next thing, we’re on a plane pointed at a small town in Northern Queensland, with a promise of a job earning $800+ a week. Happy days.

Not really. After getting the call promising the work, we went and booked our one-way flight to a place called Proserpine. Not long after that, we found some slightly unfavourable reviews of the Irish pub that was going to put us up and organise the work for us. The phrase “slightly unfavourable” being a severe understatement.

After hearing that the job which seemed too good to be true was just that, we said that we might as well head up anyway. We figured we could always give it a go and head off if it wasn’t working out… Or so we thought.

We got off the plane at Proserpine Airport and saw that the airport was very small. We then started joking about how we were going to be stranded in a town in the absolute back-arse of nowhere. “It mightn’t even have internet – imagine!”

The shuttle bus left us off on Main Street, Proserpine and were received by the welcoming party AKA the town drunk… Or at least one of them. We could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t used to seeing people get off the bus with bags that looked like they might be around for a while.

We found the Irish pub where we were meant to be staying pretty easily (it wasn’t hard in a town with one street). We went in and asked how much it would be to stay for the night. This town seemed as lively as a morgue, and we weren’t sure whether we wanted to take the job straight away. The reviews of the hostel, along with the absolute misery that radiated from the town had been enough to place us in reasonable doubt.

There was a sign up at the reception stating that said in big red letters: “Minimum FIVE week stay”. The girl told us that a $150 deposit was needed and that we only got it back if we stayed for the five weeks. Alarm bells were instantly going off in my head: “Is that what’s needed to get people to stay here?”

That was enough for us. Taking our chances in the bleak wilderness of Proserpine seemed far more enticing than pledging five weeks of our life to this shady deal in the pub.

We spent that night in a quiet hotel across the street and pondered our options over a few bottles of wine and a Chinese (the Chinese was open late that night – until 9pm, wow!)

We found out that there was a place a half hour away called Airlie Beach, which is the connection point to get out to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. The lady in the hotel said that that’s where “all the backpackers go”, so we figured it must offer something more than Proserpine…

We caught the bus the next morning and were amazed once we got there: YOUNG PEOPLE. There were young people everywhere, and pubs up and down the street. We couldn’t believe that we spent the night in miserable Proserpine, while this party town existed just down the road.

We spent a couple of days in Airlie Beach, dragging out the job hunting in the tropical town as much as we could. We found an ad for a cheap camper van and one thought crossed our minds: ROAD TRIP.

From then on, we tried to fit any potential jobs around our plan of buying this van. We even checked out insurance and were told that to insure all three of us would cost us a ridiculous $30 per month. On a twenty-year-old camper van. You wouldn’t get the likes of that at home.

So we found an agency that promised to find us farm work, in exchange for buying a year’s membership. The membership cost $100 but we saw it as an investment if it got us guaranteed work. And yes, we did look the agency up first to make sure that it wasn’t a scam.

They got us sorted with a job in a place called Caboolture, just north of Brisbane. Perfect. So we went about getting the van and said that we’d drive it twelve hours down Australia’s East Coast and park it in Caboolture. We figured that the money we spent on the van would be worth it, as it would eliminate accommodation costs for the rest of the trip.

Then we hit another problem. We were so close to buying it that we took it to a mechanic, to make sure that this twenty-year-old van would actually be able to drive over 1000km to Brisbane. It was actually in better order than we thought, until the mechanic took it for a spin and said that a wheel bearing was on the way out and that it’d cost a couple hundred to fix.

We were getting the van cheap, but we weren’t going to buy a dodgy van. We told the two Argentinian girls who were selling it (who were very nice) that we would buy it if they would fix it – a fair enough deal. But they didn’t want to spend their money to fix it, so we parted ways.

We hopped back on a flight so back to Brisbane, after we learned from our mistake. We had our sights set on Caboolture to pick strawberries (not the most glamorous job, but it’d earn a few dollars). Once we landed we tried to get in contact with the farmer, to no avail.

We said that we’d stay in a hostel and head up the next day. The next morning, we’d still heard nothing from the farmer, so we decided to get in contact with the job agency. After trying two numbers that had been disconnected since the last time we rang, we were starting to get worried. We eventually got through and were told that the company had an office in Brisbane and that we could go there to get everything sorted.

The guy there offered very little to help us, only to try ringing the woman again. We were getting nowhere again so we decided that another night in the hostel seemed our safest option. We eventually got a call from the farmer at around 8pm. She seemed unsure about everything I asked her, but asked if we could be in Caboolture (an hour outside the city) for half 6 the next morning. We told her that we didn’t have enough notice, but that we would head out the next day.

We then went looking for directions to the place where she said to meet her: A caravan park in a northern suburb of Brisbane. It was then that we came across a video describing the “out of control” crime rates and stabbings in “Brisbane’s most notorious caravan park”.

So we turned around and headed straight back to the hostel, where we are for another night. This is not ideal.