The History of Backpackers Fruit Picking in Australia

Backpacking is one of the most popular ways for young people to visit Australia and other areas of the world. One of the main reasons for this popularity is affordability.

The low cost of this way of travelling leads hundreds of thousands of backpackers to arrive in Australia each year, exploring areas from the Great Ocean Road to the Red Centre. For example, 370,000 backpackers visited Sydney alone during the year ending March 2020. So, when and how did this passion for backpacking start?

 

How backpacking started 

There is no definite answer as to when backpacking first began. However, backpacks made from animal skins existed back in ancient times. What is known is that modern rucksacks were invented early in the 1900s by Ole F Bergans and camping backpacks were invented by Lloyd F. Nelson in 1920. This may have led to more people travelling with their belongings. 

A real surge in the number of people exploring the outdoors happened in the 1950s following the creation of the first frame backpack by Dick Kelty. It was at this time that the modern era of backpacking began. 

During this period, young people began to travel to other countries, carrying their belongings with them. They did this for financial reasons and to get a true sense of freedom. The first backpackers favoured the Hippy Trail which took them to countries like Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. 

However, in 1972, Maureen and Tony Wheeler wrote the first Lonely Planet guide after travelling overland to Australia from the UK. This was the start of a surge of interest in backpacking to and around Australia. 

Why fruit and vegetable picking became popular with backpackers in Australia 

Since Australia became a popular destination with backpackers, many visitors have chosen to pick fruit while in the country. The best thing about earning money in this way is that fruit picking opportunities exist year-round so there is always a need for seasonal workers to pick different varieties of fruit.. These workers are required to supplement any Australian workers that may be available. 

 

Mangoes ready for picking near Mareeba on the Atherton in Tropical North Queensland, Australia

It’s also worth noting that people use fruit picking as an overall term for general farm work. This is an ideal type of non-skilled work for backpackers to seek when they visit Australia on a working holiday visa. This is a popular working visa with people who want to spend time in the country. 

When it comes to visas, many backpackers choose to apply for a Visa Subclass 417. This type of visa can be renewed for a second year if the holder works for more than 88 days of specified work in a rural part of the country. In 2019, the Australian government made it possible for this visa to be extended for a third year if the holder completes at least 179 days of specific work. 

It has to be said that fruit picking is not always the best-paid type of work. There are also scams around that backpackers need to be aware of. However, if travellers find a reputable employment option, and look to be part of a workers union, it can be a good way of financing a trip around Australia.

Given that the history of backpacking in Australia only really began in earnest during the 1970s, it has developed quickly. Hundreds of thousands of young people travel in this affordable way each year and pick fruit as a way of funding their trip. It’s a great way of paying for road trips like the drive down the east coast stopping off at sites like the Great Barrier Reef, Jervis Bay National Park and Byron Bay. A backpacking fruit picker can see all of these places while working along the way. 

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