What does a girl like you on a normal day “at work”?
So what I’ve been doing for “work” this year has been a little different from paid employment. I’ve been travelling through Australia, Canada and the United States through a loosely organised network called Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). The deal is hosts invite you into their homes and provide you with food and board in return for labour and odd jobs they need doing. And my those jobs can be odd! I’ve built a chicken coop, dug trenches, cleared lantana, treated a flyblown sheep, taken honey out of a bee hive, made cobb, dusted chickens for mites, taken orphaned wombats for walks (and cuddles), stripped bark off logs, made natural cosmetics, planted seedlings and looked after a very needy duck with abandonment issues. And weeded, weeded, weeded at every place I stayed as growing organic means no pesticide use. But I never got to milk a goat, which was pretty high up on my to-do list this year.
How did you get into the industry and what made you decide this is what you wanted to make a living out of?
After finishing my honours degree I just couldn’t face the fate of lonely archival research that starting my masters right away would entail. And while I could maybe, just about, almost be able to tell you what post-modernism actually is, I felt I had no practical skills. WWOOFing seemed like the magical answer, combining my interest in greener, sustainable living, wanting to learn how to grow my own food, my wish to travel and at the same time connect to people and communities in new places. Although it was hard to pack up all my corsets, ball gowns and heels! They don’t exactly fit in a backpack and are a little unnecessary on a farm.
|The Gorgeous Tamora Tea and a cute Goat!|
What tips would you give new others who might be interested in a similar career?
Be prepared to get down and dirty, this kind of work can get pretty unglamourous. View any new job you’re asked to do as a chance to learn a new skill. Ask all the questions! Be aware there are so many different ways to live a life, you may not agree with all of them you come across, but value what your hosts are sharing with you. And although networks like this are about meeting new people and gaining new skills through work exchange, I found it easier to screen hosts through shared values. As an example I’m a vegetarian and found it easier staying with hosts who specified that they were too. Going and staying on a cattle ranch in the outback probably wouldn’t have been as fulfilling for me. Pack sensible work boots.
When did you discover there was life outside the corporate 9-5 Office grind? Was there a specific event or epiphany that brought that about?
My work experience is all in administration or call centre tech support. Although my stint as a temp was good due to flexibility, the novelty of new offices isn’t really emotionally or intellectually fulfilling enough. Life is big and beautiful and there is so many ways to get through it outside of corporate slavery. This year was all about experiencing how others had managed to drop out of consumerist society and create for themselves lives that involve more than work-eat-buy-sleep-repeat. Pro-tip: it is possible!
Have you ever struggled to get what you do at work or out of work taken seriously?
Only by my mother. Most people are pretty interested in the idea and see the value of combining travel with learning such a diverse range of new skills. The idea of a working arrangement that is non-monetary based is a radical idea to some. And it is scary to plan out months of travel knowing that you wont be having any money coming in. But food and accommodation are your two major expenses while traveling, knowing those are taken care of means you can make a little moolah go a lot further overseas.
Your work is very specialized – is this something you’ve learned in an education system or did you fall into it?
My academic qualification is a BA Honours in History. So while my degree makes for some interesting dinner conversation, it didn’t exactly give me any hands on practical skills. Perhaps studying history gave me a different lens to view our current world and see the areas that need changing though. WWOOFing is definitely a learn-by-doing way of picking up knowledge and skills.
What effect has the Internet had on the way that you work?
The Internet is pretty essential in every workplace these days and is especially crucial when you are heading out into the unknown. It was indispensable for researching areas I wanted to visit and then working out transport to get there. Some national networks, like Canada, had highly organised websites where you were able to set up profiles and upload pics. This was great as hosts and workers were able to check each other out before agreeing to any arrangements. It was helpful to check your next host wasn’t going to be a total slave driver, live a sort of lifestyle you didn’t agree with or was offering to teach a skill you wanted to learn. Host were able to post wanted ads in forums as well, asking for workers with specific skills or who were available at certain times.
What is the biggest, most exciting project you’ve worked on / are most proud of?
Our first hosts ran a wildlife centre in Victoria, Australia. We had to look after a mob of kangaroos, baby wombats, a possum, two koalas, two sugar gliders (zomg cuteoverload!), a flock of sheep, two horses, wedgetail eagles, a sparrow hawk and a crafty billy goat. Our hosts got to leave their property for the first time in over a decade to go on a motorcycle tour for ten days. I find it a major accomplishment nothing died or escaped while in our care. Also building a chicken coop for Jennifer Abbot (who made The Corporation) and her beautiful family on their amazing rambling permaculture farm certainly powered-up my handy-woman abilities. The sheer amount of botanical knowledge I’ve picked up is pretty impressive too.
Have you got anything exciting in the pipeline that you would like to share with us?
Just dreaming big right now. I’ve learned a whole new bunch of skills and ideas this year and I need to take some time to decompress and process everything I’ve been through. From this I’d like to work out which next green step I’ll be taking and what area or industry I want to be more involved in revolutionising. There is so much work to be done in the renewable energy sector, expanding organic farming practices, sustainable architecture and building, even in taking on the make-up industry to develop new formulas that don’t contain toxic chemicals. These are all major issues I want to see developed in the right direction, now I just need to figure out my place in working towards a better world!