Help X

Our Help X Experience with the Hoults

When I was researching our Australian leg of this trip, I came across the Help X exchange programme website (www.helpx.net)

HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts.

You could participate in the programme on farms, hostels, pubs and families all over Australia, and was a great way to save money on accommodation and get the ‘true Aussie experience’. I’d spent quite some time messaging a few families in Cairns on the website and eventually one family agreed to have us in exchange for some babysitting and housework for four hours a day.

We were picked up by Joanne (the mum) in Cairns city and she drove us to her house in the suburbs of Cairns. Joanne was in her 50s and a single mum from Darwin with three children: Patrick (10), Annie (13) and Georgie (17). When we arrived at their 40s style house, Georgie had already made a tuna pasta bake and a vegetable pasta bake for dinner. The family had so many different food likes and dislikes. Joanne, for example, was a vegetarian and had been all her life, Georgie only ate chicken, canned tuna and beef mince (only in bolognese), and Patrick only liked peanut butter sandwiches… As Joanne was a vegetarian and didn’t like to touch meat, the children cooked 90% of the family’s meals.  The children had strict house rules and were each expected to cook a couple of times a week, clean the house, wash and iron their own clothes and walk the dog. The children had lots of questions about what our lives and schools were like back home – they particularly enjoyed hearing about the Oratory’s ridiculous rules. As their mum only bought healthy food and no junk, they would us ask what certain sweets that they’d seen on TV were like. They’d never tried peanut butter and jam sandwiches either!

We woke up pretty early the next day as Joanne said she wanted us to have breakfast with the children every morning before they went to school. We ate a very early breakfast with Patrick at 7.15am and then dropped him to school before getting on with our ‘chores’ for the day. Once we’d done everything she’d asked we went into town to figure out whether we should settle in Cairns for a couple of months or go down South. We walked around the city and quickly came to the conclusion that Cairns wasn’t too exciting and started considering our next move – Darwin or Brisbane?

Joanne asked us to cook dinner for the family that night, so we returned home later that afternoon to make a dinner of sausages, coleslaw and dauphinoise potatoes (Joanne’s idea). After 3 months of tofu, curry, noodles and chicken satay, the food tasted soo good. Joanne went out in the evening to catch up with friends so we were required to babysit as part of our work exchange. We ended up playing Just Dance on the Wii with Annie and Patrick for hours before convincing them they had to go to bed. (What hard work!)

The next morning Joanne asked us to help her fit the new washing machine she’d just bought as part of our ‘chores’. Kyle helped her carry it in from the car and then we were responsible for taking out the old one and connecting the new one. We’d obviously never done anything like this before but it wasn’t too hard! As Joanne is a single mother and doesn’t get the chance to go out that much, she went out that evening with some friends to a ukele performance and we ‘babysat’ the kids again. It wasn’t exactly ‘babysitting’ but more making sure that they don’t kill each other. They were well behaved most of the time but occasionally the two sisters would have screaming matches.

On Saturday we were assigned our biggest task yet: painting the house! I was pretty glad she did because I didn’t feel like we were doing our 4 hours of work a day, and painting the front of the house definitely made up for it. We had to sand down the panels that were to be painted, wipe them down with bleach to prevent mould, cover the edges with masking tape to protect the house against paint splodges, and then paint the panels blue! It took us about 6 hours all in all and Joanne was really pleased with the results. They’d only bought this house a year and half ago when they moved from Darwin and the house was very much stuck in the 40s. I actually really enjoyed the painting (possible career move?).

Joanne wanted to go away for the weekend and meet her boyfriend in Townsville, so we were in charge for the kids for the next couple of days. We cooked a delicious roast chicken for them all on the Saturday night and then watched a film together. Joanne said Georgie might try and sneak out to see her boyfriend, but she didn’t (well at least I don’t think she did….). It was also on Saturday that made the decision to head south for Brisbane and started planning our trip. Cairns is great if you want to visit the Great Barrier Reef or Daintree Rainforest, but you can’t visit these places everyday because it costs too much money. For example, a dive on the Great Barrier Reef will set you back about 100 pounds, whereas in Asia we were paying about 15 quid or so a dive.

Now that we’d decided to leave Cairns we were trying to decide how to get to Brisbane. I really want to buy a campervan and drive down the coast, but Kyle thought we should just rent one and see what it’s like first. The Greyhound coach is also another alternative but works about the same price as renting a van once you factor in petrol… Decisions, decisions, decisions!!!

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Hello Australia! – Cairns

After an extra four days in the Balinese sun because of a cancelled flight, we were pretty excited to start our Australian adventure. Jetstar obviously wasn’t too thrilled with that prospect, because five hours before our rescheduled flight was due to leave, we learnt our flight had been cancelled yet again! Jetstar told us they could put us on the next flight to Cairns in 2 days time, or they could route us through Melbourne. As Jetstar weren’t willing to pay to put us for the next 2 nights, we decided to fly to Cairns via Melbourne.

We boarded the flight in Bali in the 26 degree heat and touched down in a VERY cold, grey Melbourne. 😦 Having spent a LOT of my undergraduate life watching ‘Nothing to Declare’, I was well prepared for the customs debacle at Melbourne International Airport. I feel cheated; no one swabbed my bags for drugs, no one confiscated any weird food, no one took my walking boots to quarantine, and no questioned me about my ‘plans’ for Australia. It was pretty disappointing actually. Just four hours in Melbourne gave us a taste of just how expensive Australia was going to be. Gone are our cheap delicious meals at Warung Makun, and hello 4 pounds for a tiny croissant! I was in the mood for a magazine to kill time before our next flight and that was even $12 aussie dollars! We were feeling pretty anxious at just how much money Australia was going to cost us.

Lol Kyle waiting for the shuttle in Cairns!

Lol Kyle waiting for the shuttle in Cairns!

When we finally arrived in Cairns we expected to find clear skies and sunshine, but it was cold and raining (I thought the Balinese weather would follow us for some reason!). We’d arranged an airport transfer to the hostel and waited 45 minutes for it to turn up. When it finally did arrive we were greeted by this crazy Australian driver who shouted at me for not being there earlier. He couldn’t quite understand that the flight had been a little late AND we’d been waiting for him for 45 minutes. There were a group of guys on our bus and the driver couldn’t drop them in front of their hotel because of the Ironman Race, so one of the guys said to him, ‘no worries, we’ll try and find it with our GPS’. The bus driver lost it and said, ‘You don’t need a friggin’ GPS to get there, it’s right next to the cafe’… Welcome to Australia.

When we arrived at Tropic Days hostel it suddenly hit us that we’d have to start getting serious and look for a work. We decided to hold off on our job search until the following day and went into town to see what the city of Cairns had to offer. On first impressions Cairns was…. awful. It looked like a suburban American town with outdated shops signs and tourist tat (HAHA).

We then walked to Woolworths (supermarket) to see how much food was…

A loaf of bread was about $4

2 small chicken breasts were a minimum $10

2 small bananas $3

A small chocolate bar $3

Needless to say everything was pretty pricey! We bought some supplies and headed back to the hostel where we collapsed on our beds to sleep after the grueling 15-hour journey from Bali to Cairns, a trip that should have taken 5 hours max.

Had to have a yummy steak before that though!

Had to have a yummy steak before that though!

The following day we decided to head back into the city to see what it was like during the day time. It had a huge ‘lagoon’ (essentially an outdoor public pool), a shopping centre, an art gallery, and an esplanade with lots of shops and restaurants.  There were so many restaurants that finding work looked promising. We returned to the hostel for its famous ‘All Australian BBQ’ to sample some crocodile, emu and kangaroo. There were about 70 backpackers at the hostel and it was a pretty amusing night to say the least. The BBQ was hosted by the hostel’s owner, Gabe, and he was full of hilarious stories and everyone sat on the edge of their seats listening to every word he said. He told us how his mother and father had been hippies or gypsies, and had travelled all around the world having children in different countries. We then all queued up and were given some croc, emu and kangaroo to try. Before we tried the croc everyone said the ‘tastes likes chicken’ thing, but I actually thought it tasted quite different to chicken. The crocodile was a lot denser and chewier than chicken, and had a slight fishy taste.

Fruit picking/farm jobs at the hostel...

Fruit picking/farm jobs at the hostel…

We got chatting with the people on our table and everyone was pretty much in the same boat as us – working holiday visa. There were two Chinese students on our table and they were mesmerized with the concept of the working holiday visa, and couldn’t comprehend how our families could let us go away for a year and not get a proper job (haha!). He was really jealous that we could have the opportunity to travel around the world and visit all these amazing places. I told him that not all my family understood my decision, but hey! We met one girl who’d quit her job as a nurse 2 weeks before, rented her house and sold her car so that she could travel around the world with her boyfriend. She couldn’t bear to be without him for a year, so she decided to go with him!

After enjoying our Australian feast, we were given another ‘Australian experience’ – a didgeridoo lesson. Gabe gave us a basic introduction into the didgeridoo and to be good at it you basically had to be able to blow a raspberry for as long as possible. After practising the motions for a while, Gabe asked three people to come forward and perform the didgeridoo in front of everyone. Three people came forward and they had to choose their choice of didgeridoo from a traditional didgeridoo, a white pipe… and a hoover. Gabe told us how he was very annoyed to find the hoover in the bin one day – didn’t she know it would make a fantastic didgeridoo?! The three didgeridoo volunteers were absolutely awful.

We spent the next couple of days setting up bank accounts, applying for tax file numbers and printing our CVs. After 3 days at Tropic Days it was time to move to the suburbs to do the Help X programme with an Australian family that we’d found.