The farming of oysters for pearls and associated products is called pearling. The heart of the Australian pearling jobs industry is located in Broome in Western Australia. You can also find pearling work in Queensland and near Darwin.
How is a pearl formed?
“Pearls are formed when a pearl oyster coats any hard particle entering it with layers of nacre, a form of calcium carbonate.” – http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/
Or as Paul Birch, the general manager of Willie Creek Pearl Farm, puts it “What you do is you insert a small part of a nucleus into the gonad of a live oyster. Over the course of about two years that gets turned and turned and coated in nacre [the secretion known as mother-of-pearl] and in the end you have a beautiful pearl.”
What are pearling jobs like?
Pearling is not a job for everyone, it’s extremely hard, smelly and often tedious work. However, if you like the sea, early mornings and want a 2nd year visa then this job may be for you. Some boats often set off around 6am and return around 4.30pm.
Some pearling jobs give you the opportunity to live on the boat. In this case you would probably stay on the boat for 2 weeks and then be back on land for a week. Living on a boat is not for everyone but it is a great way not to spend money!
It’s extremely unlikely that you would become a pearl diver if you find work on a pearl farm. As a backpacker you’re far more likely to be taking shells out of panels and putting them into crates for cleaning and reseeding. Or you may be one of the lucky ones who gets to work in the onboard kitchen.
“Working on the pearling boat involved going to bed at about 9pm getting up at 5am, starting work dead on 6am, sweating and being covered in seaweed, sea water, sea shit and sea lice by 6.30am and for the next 10.5 hours after this, brekkie about 9am for half an hour, lunch at 12 for half an hour and finally finishing a long, hot, dirty, horrible day of work at about 5pm, racing for the shower as only 2 on the boat, eating a nice cooked for you free meal and then chilling out watching a dvd every night”
Where can I find pearling farms?
Broome, Western Australia The most well known, and popular, location for pearling work is in Broome, Western Australia. The weather is great all year round and Broome is a lovely place to base yourself for a while. Western Australia also prides itself on producing the best pearls in the world.
The main companies in Broome are Paspaley Pearls, Willie Creek Pearls, Blue Sea, Kailis and Clipper Pearls.
Northern Territory Pearl culture farms in the Northern Territory are found on the Coburg Peninsula to the north-west of Darwin. Pearl cultivation also occurs in Darwin and Bynoe Harbours.
Queensland You’re more likely to find pearl farm tours than work here anymore. The industry is in decline in Queensland.
When is the best time for pearling?
Casual work can be picked up all year round but the busiest season is the harvest season from April/May through to September/October when most places double their amount of staff (most of which are backpackers).
How can I find pearling jobs?
The best thing to do is head to Broome and start phoning the pearling companies. You could also ask around at your hostel as you may find some of the backpackers staying there are also working on a boat.
You can generally pick up work quite easily as there are constantly backpackers coming and going after completing their 3 months regional work.
How much can you earn?
If you’re living on the boat then as well as receiving wages you’ll get food and accommodation (by accommodation we mean a small bed in a cabin). You’ll normally be able to earn around $150 a day.
Different pearling companies have different rates and rosters, so the frequency of work varies. Some work two weeks on then one week off. Others work by the neap tides which is about eight to 11 days on and four to six days off. You can make about $1,500 for ten days. The best part is you can’t spend any money while you’re on the boat and you get three good quality meals a day.
- Pearling – www.fish.wa.gov.au
- Working on a Pearling Boat – TravelBlog
- “It’s not for everyone” – The Guardian
- Pearler of a job draws to close for the last of Queensland’s pearl farmers – www.perthnow.com.au