Working for gypsies! While travelling around Australia and New Zealand on my working holidays in both countries, I did a number of jobs that weren’t too great! Door to door sales, pipe laying and filling containers!
However, none of them comes close to this experience that I endured for two weeks in Christchurch. This was definitely the worst job I did while I was travelling! The hours, the abuse, the conditions it all added up to a shitty two weeks!
You’re probably wondering why I ended up working for gypsies in the first place!? Well, all shall be revealed, as I delve into the realities of working as a backpacker in a foreign country. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as you would imagine!
Working for gypsies
Me and my mate Will arrived in Christchurch in the South Island, with the intention of getting a job in construction. We assumed this would be relatively easy, as the city was rebuilding after the devastating earthquakes that had hit a few years before.
The damage was much worse than either of us could have imagined and this reinforced our belief that jobs should be easy to get. Well, they were (and are) easy to get, however, you have to go through recruitment agencies to get them.
We signed up for AWF, with the promise of steady work and a job in civil construction after a while. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way!
Every morning we arrived at AWF, we were ushered into a back room, where we waited until we were called for a job. There were around 20 of us there every morning and it really felt like we cattle being herded off to market at times.
After a few days of doing this and not working the best jobs, stacking containers isn’t much fun, we decided to try our luck elsewhere.
We had posted an ad on gumtree looking for work and to our surprise, it had been answered swiftly. When called me to let me know that these guys were not only willing to hire us but pay us $150 a day cash in hand, I had no hesitation in agreeing!
It’s fair to say this decision would result in an interesting two weeks of work!
First impressions of working for the gypsies
Once we had informed AWF that we would not be working with them again, it was off to work for our employers, who we knew very little about!
All I knew about them was that they were English and they worked on the roads. This was relayed to me by my friend Will, who had spoken to them the previous day when we agreed to work for them.
We had our arranged time to wait for them, so we arrived at our destination at the agreed time and waited, waited and waited some more. After about 30 minutes of waiting, we were thinking we had been conned and that there wouldn’t be any work at all.
However, a quick call alleviated this fear and they were just running late and would send out one of their boys to pick us up. After another 30 minutes, the guy eventually showed up and we were off to start work with our new employers who we absolutely nothing about!
Once we arrived at our place of work some way outside of the city centre, we were started our work. This mainly involved shovelling gravel onto tar that had been laid down by the massive truck.
We were doing driveways for people, but we were unaware at the time, that we were working for gypsies, until we spoke to the guy who picked us up.
He told us they were gypsies and that he had worked for them in Australia and the USA. He went further and told us that they were actually gypsy prizefighters, and regularly took part in bare-knuckle fights back in England.
So, not only were we working for gypsies, we were working for ones that liked a scrap, best not say anything that might offend them then!
The eventful first week
Once we had finished our first day, we were paid the $150 in cash, and any grievances we might have had about working for gypsies quickly evaporated as we received our money. A few weeks of this and we could save a fair bit of money were are thoughts! That would soon change.
The next few days were not particularly great. We had to get up early and then out of the city towards Amberley, which is a good 45-minute drive. Then we often had to wait around for the gypsies to get ready, which could take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour.
Once they were ready it was off to whatever far-flung location we would be working at next. All of the jobs were located well outside of the city limits, and it could take a good hour to drive to some places. That was an uncomfortable journey when there wasn’t much conversation to be had!
Working wise it was hell, once we arrived we were straight into the work and there was often no break at all, during the time we were on site. So, we could often start work at 10 in the morning and not get back to our hostel until 8/9 at night.
Another thing that seemed to happen a lot, was that the gypsies would just suddenly up and leave in the middle of the day without any warning. We weren’t exactly complaining, as this allowed a bit of time to relax and meant it would be less time getting shouted at.
However, it was really strange, they could be gone for up to two hours at a time. Obviously, this meant that the job would be finished later and that we would get back to our hostels late as well. Soon, the $150 a day didn’t seem to be such a good deal after all!
Perhaps the worst thing about working for the gypsies was the abuse that we got. They weren’t afraid of letting you know when you were doing something wrong and this would be delivered in quite a vulgar way. For instance: “Tom, ya bastard, I’ve shown a hundred times how to shovel the gravel, for fuck’s sake, are ya useless!”
Obviously, this is not nice, but knowing that they were bare-knuckle boxers and that answering back probably wasn’t the best course of action, we just kept our heads down and tried to ignore the abuse as much as we could!
Malaise in the second week
By the second week, we had begun to cotton on to the fact that the work we were doing was not very good. Basically, the gypsies were doing dodgy driveways. They simply prepared the drive a little, laid down tar, and then gravel (known as chip) on top of that.
I had thought the first day we worked for them, that couldn’t be all we were doing, as it didn’t seem like we had finished the job. I was right, every job was the same and it was starting to get to me that I was associated with these guys ripping people off. Even $150 a day could not ease my conscience!
It now made sense why we were working well outside the centre of Christchurch. We were away from the hub of the rebuilding work and people out here would be more susceptible to persuasion. It had obviously worked as we were never short of work, jumping from one job to another!
By now, the gypsies had sweetened us up by giving us our very own car to get to and from work! Even though they were not the nicest of people to work for, they did look after you, and the car was certainly handy to have. Although, it didn’t stop my conscience working overtime.
As the week wore on, I began to get more and more tired of working for gypsies and being a part of what was essentially a scam. I needed to find a way out, and decided that moving hostels to where my friend Will was staying was the perfect excuse!
I told them that I would take a day off work because I had to check out of my current hostel and move into my new one. Obviously, I could have done this before and after work, but I’d had enough of the abuse and this was the perfect excuse to get out of the job!
Realisations after finishing working for gypsies
Once I finished working for gypsies, I felt much better. I was no longer stressing about the abuse and working conditions that I had to put up with, before going to work. Also, I could now actually enjoy myself in New Zealand, which had been difficult during this period.
Yes, I went backpacking in New Zealand, primarily to work, but that should not come at the expense of my well-being and enjoyment. Once I realised this, I was much better for it, and some quick cash was not worth it if I was not enjoying my time in the country.
One of the only benefits of working for these guys was that we got to see some great scenery while we were driving to and from work. Even though, the work was crap, looking at the landscapes about me, did make me feel a little better! There are some great places to visit in the South Island, that’s for sure!
A few days after we finished working with the gypsies. I was googling their names and anything related to gypsies doing dodgy driveways in Australia and New Zealand. What I found was a little bit crazy!
Turns out these guys had quite the reputation. Not only had they been reported by a popular Australian current affairs show, called, quite imaginatively, A Current Affair, but they had chased after the camera crew filming them!
Unfortunately, the video of this incident is no longer available, but there is a link to a page about them. I knew they were dodgy guys, but I didn’t realise just how dodgy they were. It was a good job, I kept my feelings to myself while I was working for them!
Finding work in New Zealand
If you are reading this and thinking of travelling to New Zealand on a working holiday visa, don’t let it put you off. This situation is definitely not the norm. It was our own fault for accepting to work for the gypsies, when there were plenty of jobs available in Christchurch.
If you are in New Zealand, or more specifically Christchurch, my advice would be to head to one of the many recruitment agencies. They have plenty of work, especially in Christchurch. The working conditions are certainly better than those described above!
I mainly worked for Adecco during my time in Christchurch, and they were very good. I was working for the majority of my time there. If a job finished they were very quick to find me another one.
Looking back on working for gypsies now, it’s actually quite funny. At the time it was a living hell! These guys were con men and horrible people to work for. But then, when you are a backpacker desperate for cash, it’s amazing how easy it is to get into situations like this.
It was certainly an experience and one that has hardened me and taught me a few life lessons. One definitely being to take more care about who you work for!
Have you had an interesting experience working abroad that is similar to mine? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Disclaimer: I know that in some parts of the world, the word gypsy is considered derogatory, I apologise if anyone is offended by the use of the term in this post. However, in the majority of the English-speaking world, the word does not have overly negative connotations, and merely reflects a certain demographic of the population.