Anyone who has travelled to beautiful Tasmania via ferry knows that Devonport is the place where you first set foot on Australia’s only island state.
The port on the Mersey River was established by colonial settlers leading into the mid-1800s, with both locally mined coal and then timber benefiting the new town which started on the eastern bank. Later development of a wharf on the western side and then a railway line to support that side of the river, despite going the long way round via nearby Forth, allowed the two settlements to grow. Despite being effectively two towns separated by the river, the sense of being one community was formalised in 1890 when the single township of Devonport was proclaimed. In 1901 the two sides were consolidated by a bridge and the now-joined town progressed and thrived.
With much of Tasmania’s sea freight arriving at the closest sea port to Melbourne, it is perhaps unsurprising that the tidy river front on both sides has an industrial feel about it. But you only have to move one street back, particularly on the western side where the CBD is located, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in any Australian regional centre.
Being Tasmania’s third largest city with a population of almost 25,000, all essential services and facilities are available. The new Paranaple Arts Centre provides a cultural focus for the region and also houses the Regional Gallery, Town Hall Theatre, and Visitor Information Centre.
For visitors from the UK, the green rolling hills surrounding Devonport may look very familiar, unsurprisingly reminiscent of the county of Devon after which the city is named.
The place to be during the Australian summer
Summer temperatures are mild. With a record maximum of below 35 degrees, winter is still only described as cool – not only a very comfortable climate in which to live, but also conducive to growing various farm commodities. And of course north-western Tasmania claims the cleanest air in the world and revels in its clean-green image which assists the marketing of their produce, particularly for export.
Apples were synonymous with Tasmania for most of the twentieth century, but cherries and other berries have established a solid foothold in the island state. The small town of Spreyton is only five minutes from Devonport and is well known for its apple orchards, and ten kilometres to the west is Forth where vegetables dominate. An enormous berry farm employing well over one thousand people at harvest – picking blueberries, strawberries and raspberries – is only a half hour drive up the Bass Highway.
Potatoes, carrots and onions are produced in this part of the State and are often planted by contractors who lease grazing land to plant by machine in significant acreages. Harvesting of these commodities also takes place by machine but needs seasonal labour to assist. Potato grading for example takes place with a couple of people on the move on a harvester, while an experienced driver is always needed to pilot the machine.
Seasonal work opportunities
There are many seasonal work opportunities in the surrounding areas, and Devonport has hostels and other accommodation options for the budget-conscious. Two large vegetable farms at Forth require over 100 workers each during the mild summer, with ground work available as well as on the machines. Both also have extensive sorting, packing and cool-storage facilities that require workers to process the vegetables that are brought in out of the fields. Virtually all vegetable work is hourly paid.
While apple and cherry picking are generally paid under piecework conditions, cherries in particular are popular with backpackers and other inexperienced workers, because good money can be made by anyone who puts in a good effort. The large cherries grown in Tasmania mean that less effort is needed to pick each kilogram into plastic tubs which, even when full, are not heavy.
Seasonal work in Tasmania is almost all available during the summer and autumn months and doesn’t really start until November when strawberries ripen. The short season is generally completed by May and work during the winter months is largely done by regular farm staff. So while parts of the mainland swelter during the heat of summer, visitors to northern Tasmania can enjoy working in the beautiful surroundings in mild weather conditions.
New local Harvest Trail service
The recently opened Devonport Harvest Trail Services office is the ideal place for workers to find the jobs they are seeking. A short drive after disembarking from the Spirit of Tasmania ferry will take travellers into the CBD, and the first stop should be the Harvest Office in Best Street to register their availability. The Harvest Trail Information Service liaises closely with the regional offices and can direct workers from any part of Australia to ensure the best chance of picking up farm work on arrival. Talk to the Contact Centre staff on 1800 062 332 to find the appropriate office, including the team in Devonport. The service has the safety of government control and costs nothing to use.
If adventure and travel is your passion, and farm work can help you to fund it, you could do far worse than to land in Devonport and use it as your gateway to one of the most beautiful and rugged places in Australia.