On Working Holiday: Flipping Burgers in Australia
Spicy lamb patties sizzle and crackle to my left, the popping oil a gluttonous accent to the bustle of food construction that fills the tent. On the table in front of me, I have eight buns splayed open and covered with tomato chutney waiting for the sheep to make their way home. Outside of our culinary bubble, where the burger is king, loud speakers blare music that sounds vaguely familiar while thousands of Aussies dance.
Unable to decipher any of the song’s words from the distance, we satisfy ourselves between burger orders watching the undulating bodies become sloppier with intoxication. We laugh when they request custom orders for “only chips on a bun” or a lamb patty added to the vegetarian mushroom burger. Some of us get requests for our phone numbers, others invitations to parties after this one day music festival. To which we all say “no.”
After 14 hours of work we will be gone the next morning.
Strangers even to each other, we are only here for one day. Arriving late the previous night after failing to navigate efficiently from the hostel in Melbourne, Australia, to one of the outer towns, the four of us are only travelers. We’re here to spend a day making money so we can pay for the roof over our head for the next week. After 14 hours of work we will be gone the next morning.
We are a temporary workforce. Restricted by our working holiday visas, we can legally stay with one employer for six months. That is, if one of us is fortunate enough to find someone who isn’t interested in simply paying for services under-the-table. This is the underside to the working holiday world in Australia. There is always work for you to survive on, but for many they have to put their career ambitions on hold. Employers want to hire individuals who will grow with their company, not sweep in for six months and then abandon ship.
We’re here to spend a day making money so we can pay for the roof over our head for the next week. After 14 hours of work we will be gone the next morning.
This is a choice we all have to make: the decision between affording a year of travel throughout Australia by waiting tables or moving on to better career opportunities in other countries. Expectations have to morph with the reality of the situation. And a huge advantage to being temporarily nomadic is the ability to be the master of your life by changing its direction whenever you feel the need.
When you are tired of a certain position there is no consequence to moving on to a new place in search of something better. We are the rolling stones of the island continent. The employers that hire us know our expiration date can be short. They are not surprised when you tell them you are ready to move on. They won’t judge you or guilt you into staying longer. Instead, you have the liberating ability to practice the fine art of quitting.
This experience in invaluable. It teaches you what you want out of life by putting you through a series of activities that test your likes and dislikes. When a job or hostel isn’t meeting your needs you are forced to deal with it because the importance of your money and time is never more apparent than when you are on the road.
They won’t judge you or guilt you into staying longer. Instead, you have the liberating ability to practice the fine art of quitting.
Plus, it is easy to quit because these are small components in your ever-changing life. The range of your commitments are only to yourself. At the end of the day, it is only 14 hours of our lives we have spent flipping burgers at a music festival. If we don’t like this, we never have to do it again.
When the stall is really quiet we steal French fries straight from the massive tub where they are stored, squeezing spicy mayo onto them in thick globs before shoving them straight into our mouths. For many of us, this is a good day. Free music. Free food. Cash. Today we have chosen to work. Tomorrow is another story.