Prior to COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of young, independent overseas travellers were directed towards seemingly isolated regional settings across Australia each year, via conditions attached to the Working Holiday visa scheme. The program (since put on pause for new applicants) stipulates that individuals must fulfil visa requirements through employment in industries with identified labour shortages. To extend their stay for the maximum duration, working holidaymakers must undertake casual labour for specific lengths of time. A majority choose to travel to agricultural settings, where short-term, casual employment is relatively easy to acquire.
However, there is a disconnect between the way these encounters with external temporalities of temporary migration and seasonal labour function in policy versus on-the-ground. These divergent interpretations of temporal structures are partially generated by the need to seek out agency, in circumstances that tend to invite precarity and uncertainty. As migration status intersects with other aspects of identity, it becomes possible to recognise the heterogeneity of the working holidaymaker status and how this manifests in everyday life. A foundational concept of this paper is that there are distinctions between working holidaymakers who embrace transience and those who resist it. In practical terms, this means that working holidaymakers treat the strictures of the visa program as malleable and these shifting interpretations do not readily align with anticipated usage. Based on fieldwork undertaken in 2016, this paper points towards explanations for the low uptake of seasonal labour by Australian residents and hopes to offer some potential solutions.

About the Presenter

Esther R Anderson (they/them) is an anthropologist at the intersections of academia and industry – specifically, working as an advocate for the tourism sector in Australia. Esther completed their PhD at the University of Southern Queensland earlier this year, prior to taking on a Senior Research & Policy Officer role with the Queensland Tourism Industry Council. Their thesis related to working holidaymakers’ encounters with temporary migration, seasonal labour, belonging, and place in regional Queensland. Esther is guided by a personal commitment to meaningful policy and accessible, public-facing research. Contact them via email at esther.anderson@qtic.com.au or find them on Twitter at @EstherR_And.

About Anthropology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Anthropology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of anthropological research and ideas among UQ scholars and invited researchers. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment.


Michie Building (09), UQ St Lucia Campus (also available via zoom - please contact Sarah Haggar for Zoom information)