Grey nomads give new meaning to a working holiday

They don’t have a mortgage because their home is a caravan, so they can travel the country and set up camp when and where they want.

They work for seven months of each year and for the other five months, they wander as they please. Terry and Leesa Alexander are satisfied that they have found the perfect work-life balance.

“In 2008 we were both sick of our jobs and we knew we wanted to see more of Australia,” says Leesa, who worked at Woolworths for 27 years.

“We thought if we wait to do this until we are retired, we could be dead before we get there. We had nothing stopping us. We don’t have kids and other than our jobs we had no commitments. So we sold up and hit the road.”

Terry, who worked as a salesman for a home improvement company, says they originally intended to look for work in the mines.

But that plan soon changed when they discovered the family-owned recruitment firm Agri Labour Australia could find them jobs much more to their liking.

“We thought better of the mines because they were really hard to get into, so we connected with Agri Labour Australia about finding work on the land,” Terry said.

“We both came from the country and love exploring Australia. We started picking mangoes, then we did almonds, grain and cotton. The cream of our income now is ginning (packing) cotton. It’s extremely good money.”

The couple now work on cotton farms at Hay in the Riverina for four or five months and then head north to Yeppoon to pick pineapples.

“The rest of the time we just wander around,” Leesa said. “We have a much better life doing this than we ever had working fulltime jobs we didn’t like.

“I just keep wondering why we didn’t do it earlier. It makes me really angry when I hear people say there isn’t work available in Australia. If you are prepared to get out to the country and work hard, there are plenty of jobs.”

Leesa said work on the land was a perfect arrangement for grey nomads, the semi-retired and those who are nomads, but not yet grey.

“A lot of the training is done on site and once you are trained and have done a season with an employer, you have the skills and are more employable on other properties in future seasons,” she said.

Agri Labour Australia managing director Casey Brown said seasonal work on farms was proving the perfect semi-retirement for some, while for others it was a dream lifestyle and a chance to see Australia.

He said mature workers – grey nomads and the semi-retired – now accounted for between 5 and 10 per cent of Agri Labour Australia’s workforce.

“Terry and Leesa have done six harvests with our clients over the years, picking mangoes, cotton, almonds and grain and travelling from the Atherton Tablelands to Mildura, Hay and Griffith,” Mr Brown said. “We have another worker who is 74 and continues to work with us on some projects as a way to supplement his income.”

He said in order to attract older workers to the farm life, it was important to look after them during the recruitment and employment process – that means working with the individual (or in many cases couples) to understand their skill-sets, level of physical health and fitness and their appropriateness for different roles on the land.

Terry and Leesa plan to continue to enjoy life on the land for as long as they can. Terry said he couldn’t understand why there weren’t more Australians trying it as there were many grey nomads who could supplement their income while seeing the country.

“Don’t be afraid to try it. I went from an air-conditioned office to chasing sheep and cattle and I couldn’t be happier,” Leesa said.