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What is WWOOF Australia?
WWOOF Australia (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a volunteer organisation for farms and food producers interested in organics, bio-dynamics or permaculture. You exchange your labour for free accommodation on the property.
Each host and property is so different that it is difficult to say precisely what ‘work’ you’ll actually do, but it often includes tasks like (but not limited to!):
- Garden and property maintenance;
- Animal care;
- Assistance with day-to-day tasks.
If you have any special skills and experience, you can also potentially negotiate a more specialised work exchange. According to WWOOF Australia, WWOOFers are responsible for their own Travel Insurance.
WWOOF Australia History
I’m old enough to remember when WWOOF Australia had a physical book that published host names that you called on the phone. According to their profile: “WWOOF Australia was established in 1981 and is 100% Australian owned and run. It is part of a worldwide WWOOF volunteer and cultural exchange movement. Each country operates independently, with its own lists of WWOOFers and WWOOF hosts.
Host profiles provide members with names, contact details, a description and map location of each host property with reviews and photos, as well as the skills you can learn and the kind of living arrangements and types of meals provided.
WWOOFing is a hands-on way of learning about organic farming and environmental rehabilitation, but that’s not all. Leave the tourist trail and see the real Australia, visit unique places off the beaten track, meet the locals, save on travel expenses, add skills to your resume, improve your English and offset your carbon travel footprint at the same time! WWOOFing is one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel.”
WWOOF Australia Reviews
Does WWOOF Australia usually receive overall favourably positive reviews? Reviews online seem to fall into one of two categories: 1) Gushing praise; or 2) Disgruntled warnings. I WWOOFed around Australia for a year with nothing but positive experiences, so I’m likely to leave a 5-star review. Yet, there are enough 1-star reviews of exploitative farm stays and hosts who treat their WWOOFers terribly to consider why that might be.
WWOOF Australia Pros
- Low-cost yearly membership fee;
- Well-established organisation and database of participating properties;
- A way to save money on accommodation, while staying with locals and learning about organic principles;
- Meet like-minded people who are passionate about the environment and animals.
WWOOF Australia Cons
- Negotiation takes place between WWOOFer and the host for the exchange. This often leads to unclear communication around working hours and expectations – in the worst case – leads to exploitation;
- A reluctance to leave negative reviews means that it might be harder to spot ‘problem’ hosts easily;
- Former WWOOFers complain of a mixed response to negative host feedback by the organisation;
- A hands-off approach by the organisation leads some people to feel unsupported.
How to have a great WWOOF Australia experience?
A great WWOOF Australia experience starts with some practical considerations and some philosophical ones.
- Research and Vetting
- Backup Plan/Emergencies
Research and Vet
The more that you know about your host, their previous experience with WWOOFers and their expectations, the greater your chance of having a good time. Most small businesses have a social media presence, website and/or reviews. Spend some time researching your host. Do they have lots of really positive feedback?
No social media presence? While this is not an indication of anything other than a sensible reluctance to engage with social media, if you don’t feel that you know enough about your host to be sure that you are a good fit, ask to video chat beforehand or speak on the phone. Ask questions about them until you feel comfortable. If you don’t feel comfortable or it is not a good fit for you, say “No, Thankyou” and move on.
WWOOFing is one of the best examples of the sharing economy, where your labour is exchanged for shelter, food, relationship building and a local travel experience.
Yet, humans aren’t always great at sharing and this means that a platform like WWOOF Australia can attract both the best and the worst types of hosts and guests. Hosts might think they are getting free labour without the need to give much in return, guests might think that they can put in the minimum amount of work necessary.
Negotiating involves CLEARLY articulating your needs and making sure they are aligned with your hosts. Ask questions. Listen. Do this BEFORE you arrive so that you are certain that you and your host are ‘on the same page’ beforehand regarding what you’ll do, where you’ll stay and what is included (food, utilities etc). If you are not going to eat with the hosts, negotiate less work than those who are.
If your host asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, say “No”. Consider how you can suggest something else that is in the interest of the host. If you can’t negotiate, leave. 99% of the time, it’s better to negotiate. Most hosts understand that this is an exchange and negotiate happily.
Always put your safety first! Hosts might ask you to do tasks that put your safety at risk. Say “No”. If you are travelling alone, make sure someone knows exactly where you will be and when. This might be a friend or family member. Give those close to you a way to get in contact. Australia is vast and mobile reception can be non-existent. In this case, consider a GPS or other tracking method.
As a woman, I personally do not stay with single, male hosts. This might elicit a reaction in some but has been a successful method (for me) to avoid unwanted sexual advances. Husbands can also be guilty of this, of course, so if you ever feel unsafe or harassed, put your safety above awkwardness!
You might need to have an awkward conversation or change your plans, but it’s better than being in an unsafe situation.
Say “No” and be ready to leave immediately, if necessary.
Have an emergency plan
If you have an emergency situation while in Australia, call 000 immediately.
Some important information about 000 from ACMA:
- You will not be charged for calling Triple Zero (000). These calls are free from any kind of phone;
- You can call 000 without having to unlock the keypad or enter a security-protection PIN;
- You can call 000 even if your mobile provider does not have network coverage in the area. Your call to 000 will be carried on any available mobile network. You must be in the coverage area of one of the mobile providers in Australia to make emergency calls;
- When you dial 000 you will first hear the recorded message ‘You have dialled emergency Triple Zero. Your call is being connected.’ Your call is then answered by a Telstra operator who will ask whether you need police, fire or an ambulance. You may also be asked to give the state and town you are calling from. The operator will then connect you to the emergency service you requested and will stay on the line with you until the call is answered by them;
- You can still receive emergency help if it is not safe to speak, or if you cannot speak. When a 000 caller doesn’t respond to the operator’s question ‘Emergency. Police? Fire? Ambulance?’ the call is transferred to an interactive voice response (IVR). The IVR asks you to press ’55’ if you require emergency help. If you don’t press ’55’ after being asked three times, your call will be disconnected. If you press ’55’ you will be connected to the police. If you are still unable to speak, the police will attempt to call you back and might also send a patrol car to your address.
Finally, always have a backup plan.
This could involve how to get to the nearest bus stop and the bus times, or having $100 cash to pay for a taxi. It could be having the phone number of a hotel in the next town, or getting a lift from a member of a ride-sharing group to the next opportunity. The point is, the more prepared you are, the better that you can deal with any changes in plan or problems with your host. Most hosts are lovely, but it is best to be prepared.
There are considerations to be made around the sharing economy. This type of exchange attracts both the best and the worst of both host and guest. I’ve met so many truly wonderful people while WWOOFing. Yet:
- Say “No” to hosts that don’t match well with your personality, skills or needs;
- Anything negative or stressful – avoid it;
- Keep an open mind and treat everyone with respect;
- Be friendly, flexible, and negotiable… but stand your ground if something isn’t right or you don’t want to do something. Keeping an open channel of communication with your host/s leads to better outcomes;
- Humans don’t always agree, so don’t be afraid to cut your losses and move on.
WWOOF Australia FAQ
How much does it cost to WWOOF in Australia?
A WWOOF Australia 2-year membership costs $70 (Single) – $120 (Dual).
Sign up here.
“A WWOOFer should be willing and happy to volunteer 4-6 hours daily and must treat hosts with consideration and respect.
Please note the 4-6 hours can be organised around any day of the week, but should be no more than 38 hours in any 7 day period so of course hours in a day can vary.
It is important to discuss this with the host prior to your arrival.
WWOOF Hosts sometimes work weekends so you might be required to volunteer on those days too.
It is important to bring clothing and footwear appropriate for farm life, i.e. sturdy shoes/boots, clothes such as jeans or canvas pants, hat & gloves.
Hosts will provide any protective clothing required.
Memberships are not transferable.
One person per Single membership, two people or one family only per dual membership.”
Does WWOOF provide food?
Ask your WWOOF host if they will provide food that meets your dietary requirements. Clearly state any dietary requirements (Vegan/Vegetarian, Dairy-Free etc). and confirm with the host that they are happy to provide and/or prepare this food for you.
If not, negotiate to bring and prepare your own food, at a reduced work rate.
My experience has been that labour = FOOD + board (accommodation). This is the usual agreement, so I work less for accommodation only, but you must negotiate this with your host before you arrive for the opportunity.
Do you get paid to WWOOF?
No. WWOOF-ing is a volunteer exchange between you and your host. Some hosts offer paid work in addition to WWOOF-ing duties. You must negotiate this with your host.
Please do not accept less than the Australian minimum wage for any additional, paid work. The national minimum wage is $812.60 per week, for a 38-hour week, or $21.38 per hour.
Can you WWOOF full-time?
Yes, you can WWOOF full-time. The upper limit to how long you stay with your host is negotiable. The minimum is 2 nights, but you could WWOOF for as long as you are legally allowed to remain in Australia.
See WWOOF Australia for visa information.
I’ve found WWOOFing to be a positive and enjoyable way to learn more about organic and permaculture principles while travelling on a budget in a local way.
Consider the pros and cons of this sharing economy platform, have a backup plan and negotiate.
Make sure you read the WWOOF Australia T&Cs.
Then, relax and enjoy your time WWOOFing!
Milking a cow or feeding a baby kangaroo? Who knows…
Have you WWOOFed with WWOOF Australia? What was your experience?