Lollipops instead of fruit a sign of the times for backpackers
Working in high-vis gear is a popular option for backpackers in Darwin. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Rather than working on orchards or cattle farms, word has spread among female backpackers in the Top End about another industry that’s on the move.
The young women are opting to pick up a stop/slow bat and control traffic in the Darwin heat as a means to fulfil their visa requirements.
People entering Australia with a working-holiday visa (417) are required to complete 88 days of regional work in order to apply for a second year.
Chris Boyer, the owner of Trafficwerx NT, said 18 of his 25 employees were women.
“We fall under the construction modern award; this means the women are on a $28-an-hour wage plus penalties — on weekends the girls are likely earning $50 an hour,” he said.
“Sometimes we will only have workers for their visa, but a fair few of our employees have chosen to extend for at least six months.”
Irish traveller Louise Crothers says the job has opened up employment opportunities nationwide. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Why so many chicks in high vis?
Mr Boyer said he believed women had a calming effect on drivers frustrated by the typical spike in roadworks during the Darwin dry season.
“I think drivers show a little more respect to women on the road,” he said.
“Women tend to be a little more cool-headed responding to situations; drivers do get frustrated waiting and the women respond calmly to all situations.
“Similarly, I think frustrated drivers are less likely to have a spat at a young woman standing there calmly.”
Many of the backpackers choose to extend their stay in the NT and call Darwin home. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
Rebecca, 26, from Scotland said donning her high-vis jacket and steel-capped boots seemed better than picking fruit.
“I didn’t expect my travel time in Australia would turn into me standing in bright orange on the side of the road, but it’s got to be better than farm work,” she said.
“I haven’t seen much more of Australia since I arrived, but that’s how much I dig this job — I am more interested in getting to know the Territory.”
Operations manager Louise Crothers, who is from Ireland, said she took up traffic control as a means of extending her visa, but enjoyed the role so much that she was now an Australian citizen.
“More and more travellers are spreading the word that farm work isn’t the only option when planning your second year. Construction also opens up plenty of other high-earning positions around the country.”
Chris Boyer says most of the young women are travellers applying for their second-year visa. (ABC News: Gabrielle Lyons)
French traveller Tiff, 33, said having female traffic workers demonstrated equality in the construction industry.
“I have definitely noticed that more girls are taking up this sort of job compared to guys — it’s a hard job too, so it’s interesting to see,” she said.
“Considering plenty of the workers doing the digging and heavy-lifting work are men, I think they respond better to female traffic workers. It just keeps the workforce balanced.”
A lot more than ‘looking pretty’
While more young women were taking on the role, this did not mean it was easier than other alternatives, Ms Crothers said.
“A lot of the time folk will walk up to some of the girls with their bats and say, ‘Smile love, you’ve got the best job in the world’ — sometimes I am 10 hours in, and I can tell you it’s a much more challenging job.”
Mr Boyer also said working in traffic in Darwin came with a certain “thickness of skin”, considering the sometimes oppressive weather.
“Especially on a hot day, the temperature radiating off the road can be up to 80 degrees; the girls work just as hard as the guys and they enjoy the gig,” he said.
“It’s not an easy job, it’s not as simple as standing with a lollypop. There are plenty of standards to meet to keep everyone on site safe.
“I think plenty of people think these girls are standing there looking pretty, and it’s not the case.”
Appealing reason to stay
Ms Crothers said many of her employees were backpackers, yet more than a few chose to stay after their 88 days of remote work was done.
“Darwin has a work-hard, play-hard attitude which is perfect for backpackers and people choosing to call Darwin home,” she said.
“The girls hit happy hour after work in their high vis, and we regularly look like a hot mess. But the girls just embrace it because instantly we fit into the culture of Darwin — everyone here rocks their high vis.”
For Tiff, she completed her second-year visa requirements elsewhere but decided to settle in Darwin before looking to construction work.
“I arrived in Darwin in 2015 and I just never left. Sometimes the weather can be tough, but I really like it,” she said.