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Pearling & pearl farm work in Australia

Are you interested in finding a pearling job in Australia?
Not really sure what to expect or it's all about, but keen to find out?
Then keep reading learn all about pearling jobs and pearl farms in Australia!

If you've ever heard someone talking about pearling work or pearl farming in Australia, and wondered what it's all about this is the page for you.

We discovered that there wasn't a single page on the entire internet that covers this topic in detail, so we decided to gather all in the information together just for you!

We hope you find this page useful! In return could you please click some of our social media buttons to help spread the word to other people!

Pearls (oysters) grow best in tropical waters. As such all of Australia's pearl farms are located in northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory and northern Queensland.


Pearling in Australia - an overview

Broome (located in Western Australia) is the epicentre of it all, and produces some of the world's best pearls. Numerous pearling companies operate out of this town, the biggest of which is Paspaley Pearls, also known as Paspaley or Pas for short. Paspaley have their headquarters located in Darwin, and fly many pearl farm workers out from Darwin as well as from Broome.

Pearl farms in Australia - what are they?

Basically a pearl farm is a bunch of big long floating "lines" in the ocean, with "oyster panels" hanging off these lines into the water. These oysters grow a pearl over a period of time, and it is eventually harvested sometime during April/May through to September/October, after growing for 1, 2 or 3 years.

A pearl boat going up the line
A pearling boat working up the "line"
Photo couresty of www.abc.net.au

Due to the extremely warm temperature of the ocean waters in the tropics, many things grow at a prolific rate. Such things as barnacles, sea worms, different types of sea weeds, etc all love to grow on the oysters in these oyster/pearl farms, and if left unchecked, can damage the oyster or even kill it. And you guessed it... no oysters means no pearls.

Anyone who has done any pearling in Australia will know that the majority of the work is done by deck hands on cleaning boats, they will also know that there are many interesting jobs involving scuba diving, working in the hatcheries, and other various positions.

Pearl jobs Australia - what are they?

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So the first obvious question is "What is a deck hand on a pearl cleaning boat and what do they do"? In this case, a picture is worth a 1000 words. Looking at the picture here, you'll see a typical 3 person "pearl cleaning boat".

Daydream Island Resort, Queensland
A three man pearl cleaning boat in action.
Photo supplied by vgm8383

Basically you'll spend all day on something like this. It is hot, hard, physically demanding, and often smelly work - it is not for everyone. One person pulls up panels of oysters and puts them through a high powered washing machine that sprays jets of water from the top and bottom. This removes all the loose stuff that is attached to the panel and oysters.

When it comes out the other side of the washing machine the two other people will knock, bump and scrap off the remaining barnacles, sea worms and anything else that is there. Finally the panel is places back into the sea (with luck) before the next panel comes through. It's a high paced, physically demanding job in hot and humid weather.

A pearl boat working the line
The guys working on a pearl boat, slowly
making their way up the line.
Photo couresty of www.bbc.co.uk

Depending on the farm/company you work for, you may stay on land each night and be driven, by boat, to your pearl cleaning boat each morning. It is also normal to stay out at the pearl farm for extended periods of time (something like 2 weeks there, 1 week back on land), staying either on a larger boat or on a nearby island. Either way expect early starts (somewhere between 4 - 6 am) and long days (8 - 11 hours).

So you may be asking yourself "If it is such hard work, with such early starts and long hours, why would anyone want to work on a pearl boat?" It's a good question. And trust us, some people DON'T want to do this work, but those who do enjoy these perks:

  • Seeing some of the most remote and beautiful parts of Australia's coast line.
  • The great people you'll meet.
  • The sense of adventure: doing something most other people have never considered.
  • The freedom to work hard for 2 weeks, and then enjoy a full week off.
  • The amazing wildlife you'll see, ranging from crocodiles, turtles, dolphins, jellyfish, sharks, fish & sea birds.
  • For backpackers, being away for 2 weeks (not paying any hostel fees) and receiving 3 full meals each and every day, whilst not being able to spend a cent.
  • Watching the sunrise and the sunset over the ocean each and every day.
  • Let's not forget the money $$$ you make.



Still not sure what it's all about, or if it's for you? Keep reading, here is an extract from one of our staff who worked on a pearl farm for 4 months - see, we really do know what we are talking about!

I worked for Paspaley Pearls for four months while I was living in Darwin. Getting the job wasn't too hard once I knew where to go and who to contact (I got the details from an English backpacker buddy of mine). I had to attend an interview at the head office, fill out some paper work, and pass a police check.

When I flew out for my first swing I had to be at the airport at about 4am, and was a bit surprised when a group of about 15 of us boarded a small sea plane, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't a sea plane! It was pretty obvious which of us were "newbie's" as we were staring out of the windows the whole time, while the other "regulars" got some shut eye (sleep). After a 2 hour flight over some amazing landscapes we had a bumpy landing on the ocean. A speed boat came out to us, with 15 or so people who were leaving after their 2 weeks were finished.

We unloaded our baggage (max. 10kg per person) and some supplies, and the speedboat took us away. It was an amazing feeling, seeing this beautiful red and orange rocky scenery all around us, salt spray in our faces as we sped along. After a short trip we pulled up alongside a ship. I think it was about 40 meters long in total, and also had a small roofed barge or platform behind it. The regulars quickly put their stuff in their sleeping rooms and got off to work. For those of us who were here for the first time we had a bit more of a relaxed day.

Firstly we were welcomed aboard by both the captain of the ship and the "boss" of that pearl farm. We were given a tour of the ship (it had four levels), shown which rooms were to sleep in (I was in a four person dorm room, but there were also two bed rooms for couples or girls, and a couple of larger six person dorms). The ship had a surprising large amount of stuff on it considering its size. On the roof there was a gym, there was a "TV" room, the dining room, the top decks, a "phone" room, and other stuff. Out on the back of the ship there was more tables and chairs, and the back barge/platform was a combination of recreational stuff (dart board, fishing areas, general chill out, etc) and mechanical equipment.

The boss then gave us a run down on what our duties where to be, safety, what to expect, and what was expected of us. This whole tour and introduction lasted about 2 hours, and then we had a early lunch, and finally we were given all of our equipment (gumboots, gloves, arm guards, and our tools) and taken out to our "pearl cleaning boats". These boats normally have teams of 3 on them: a "foreman", who basically is the captain of that boat, and two other workers.

It's hard to explain how you actually go about "cleaning oysters", but let's just say it really is some very hard and dirty work. Not everyone can do it. It involves using a blunt chisel to scrape barnacles and other bits and pieces off the shells. It's fast paced, and very hot. And there is plant that grows on the panels called "fire weed" - I'll let you find out in person all the joys of this lovely tropical weed. The one thing I will let you is that you will only ever once in your entire life treat this weed in a casual manner, one touch to your skin is enough to gain your respect! You'll also learn how to tie some very useful knots (I still use them to this day), and lots of other amazing and useful things.

At the end of the day we took our cleaning boat back close to the ship, gave it a clean-down, and were picked up by the speedboat and transferred back to the main ship. Everyone was rushing around, putting their gear away and heading for the showers. And the showers at the end of a hard day on a pearl boat are like magic! Later that evening we had dinner, and then sat around talking to the other guys and girls, getting to know everyone. There really was a very strong social aspect to the whole experience. When you are 30+ people on a 40 meter long ship, you learn to get along with everyone very quickly. And there was a great mix of people, of combination of Australian and backpackers from all over the world.

The food is really good. Breakfast is a full buffet, lunch is brought out to cleaning boats, and dinner is also huge. I never went hungry once while working for Paspaley. On the ship you can buy beer (maximum of 5 per person per night) and they are really cheap ($1.20 each when I was there). You can also buy other things, such as cigarettes/tobacco, sweets, chocolates, and a few other bits and pieces. You don't have to take money out with you, they write down everything you've bought and deduct it automatically from your pay. In the evenings you can do pretty much whatever you want. Play some music, go fishing, play darts or a board game, read your book, sit around talking, watch a movie, do some photography, or whatever else takes your fancy.

So that's about it really. Early starts (5am), long hard days cleaning oysters, and stuck in the middle of nowhere for 2 weeks straight. Would I do it again? I'm not sure if I could handle being an oyster cleaner again, but I'd go back out as a cook or something else... I don't regret the experience and will never forget it - you truly are in some of the most amazing and remotest of Australia's coastline, with stunning scenery around you, a huge amount of animal wildlife, and the sunrises and sunsets were simply superb (I've travelled lots of Australia, and these were the best I've ever seen). Along with the fact I met some great people (some of which I still keep in contact with) and the money I made, I would fully recommend this experience to anyone who things they can handle a hard day's work!

Tim.




Pearl farms in Australia

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In Australia there are numerous pearl farms, and as previously mentioned they are located in the northern tropical areas on Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. However, the biggest concentration of farms is in Broome.

So why are there so many pearl farms in Broome? Basically it's a combination of ideal pearling factors including proximity to sheltered bays and coves, favourable weather conditions, pristine waters perfect for the cultivation of pearls, and last but not least, access to work force - Broome is a popular tourist destination, especially with back packers, and as such there are always people looking to work.

If you are looking for pearl farm operators across Australia, here is a list of the biggest and best:

Broome pearl farms

Other pearl farms in Australia

  • www.paspaley.com (Darwin office)
  • www.bluelagoon.com.au
  • There are also pearl farms in operation in northern Queensland around Albany Island, Turtle Head, and Fitzroy Island. In the Northern Territory you will also find farms around Coburg Peninsula and the Darwin and Bynoe Harbours.


If you know any other pearl farms in Australia, or discover that any of the above details are no longer current, can you please let us know by using the Contact Us form. This way we can keep these details up to date. Thanks in advance!

How to find a pearling job?

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The problem with trying to find pearling jobs in Australia is that most of the companies rarely advertise positions online. Generally speaking there are more people looking for these jobs than there are positions available. They normally get more than enough applications from word of mouth, their websites, or simply by putting an ad on the notice board of the hostels in the area. Or they outsource the process to recruitment agencies.

However, we've done our best to get all the companies to post their jobs on our jobs notice board! With no centralised website across all of Australia, it is our aim to make this page the number one trusted resource for people looking for pearling work in Australia!

So, on that note, have a look at our dedicated Pearling Jobs in Australia jobs listing page and see what we have already have on offer for you.

If you don't find anything there you can also have a look at some recruitment agency websites to see if they have any listings, and the websites of pearl farming companies.




Pearling in Australia FAQ

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Generally speaking yes. If you are out working on a pearl farm then it is classified as farm work. There are a couple of exceptions to this. For example, if you were out at the farm, but only doing an adminstrative job, would you consider this as farm work or administrative work? Most would consider this job to be the later.

Generally speaking, most positions will count towards the 3 months work back packers need to complete to get their extended working holiday visa. The most common jobs back packers do on pearl farms is working as a deck hand, and this position does count. If you are unsure, just ask the company when you are applying for the position.

Some people will tell you that it's during the harvest season, which runs from April/May through to about October because there are a lot more positions to fill. However, they fail to take into account that over the wet season (typically from October/November to March) that even though there are less positions available, there are also less people around to fill those positions - most people leave the tropically areas over the wet season.

So... the answer to this question is that there are positions available all year long.

Some farms operate on a fly-in-fly-out schedule (typically 10 days on 5 off, or 14 days on 7 off). This is typical for farms that are located a long way away from urban areas. However, you will find some farms that are close enough that they will drive you out by boat every morning.

If you're working as a deckhand it is hard, physical, dirty work. For more details have a look at the Pearling jobs section.

Working as a deck hand you could expect to make something like $15+ per hour. Some farms where you fly-in-fly-out may pay a slightly lower hourly rate, but they will provide all accommodation and food on the farm. A pretty typical wage is around $1,500 for two weeks work, after tax for Australian's, and a little less for back packers because they get taxed at a higher rate (although you can claim it back when you leave Australia).

The most common jobs for back packers is working as a deck hand (which involves cleaning the shells). There are also numerous positions working as cleaners (cleaning rooms and stuff, not to be confused with the shell cleaning that deck hands do), cooks, kitchen hands, mechanics, engineers, and other specialised positions.

Of course they can! Working as a deck hand is very physical and demanding on the body, and it is not suited to everyone. You're gender is not a barrier to getting a job, many males are not cut out for these positions! However, due to the nature of the work you will find a lower percentage of females working as deck hands. But if you are a girl or guy and a deck hand position is not for you, then you can often find a different job, working as a kitchen hand or cleaner, for example.





Good luck on your pearling job hunt, and don't forget to click our social media buttons just below!






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This website & page was created and written by: Tim Blackburn.
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