A Day in the Life of a Hotel Employee in Australia's Outback

The bizarre lunar landscape of Coober Pedy. Sarah Healy

Written by  August 21, 2018

What does an average day look like working in an underground town?

While hordes of tourists make the harrowing journey to Australia's iconic red centre, not many contemplate working or residing here. Working in hospitality, it's an interesting experience to remain in one place while everyone around me is in a constant state of flux. 

At the hotel I work at, my position is as an "all-rounder." As the name suggests, this means I work in virtually all areas, including housekeeping, laundry, reception, and the restaurant. Guests remark that I seem to be everywhere in the hotel, which is an accurate observation.

My roster can change weekly and even daily, depending on the needs of the hotel. However, no day is the same and the people that I encounter in the desert sure make it interesting.

Yesterday my day looked a little like this:

I begin work at 6.30am, as I was on the morning reception shift. At this hour of the morning, I usually only encounter the miners who are grabbing breakfast in the restaurant before they set off for work. On reception, the main morning tasks are ensuring all the systems roll over to the next day, emailing reports from the previous day, and scheduling a cleaning list for housekeeping.

The rest of the day is quickly filled up dealing with phone queries and walk-in guests. What I love about this position is interacting with guests. You sure do get some characters in the desert, many of whom I have the pleasure of meeting again when they do their return journey from up north. My shift ended at noon, as I had a serving shift in the evening. 

Time is precious during my break. Lunch is usually my first priority, then if I need any food supplies I nip to the supermarket. There's only one in town, so it's an easy choice, as there is no choic). I don't have a car, so I slowly amble through the town carrying my shopping. I enjoy meeting the local Aboriginals and observing the bewildered faces of tourists as they navigate the weirdness that is Coober Pedy.

Before my second shift begins, I try to relax and take a nap, or head to the gym to revive my energy levels and clear my head. (Yes, Coober Pedy does have a gym.)

At 5.30pm, my waitressing shift begins where I am usually on tills, while also running plates and cleaning tables. Like reception, my favourite part of this job is interacting with people. I think my smile and Irish accent serve me well in Australia and usually attract questions and attention. 

Yesterday evening was quite interesting and offers a glimpse into outback life.

While delivering a food order to the saloon bar, I was gifted an opal from a local Greek who has gifted me many things during my time in Coober Pedy and teaches me how to say thank you in his language. While not an opal that will see me retiring any time soon, it was a lovely gesture and one worth treasuring.

This was quickly followed by one marriage proposal! Granted, it was from the slightly inebriated hotel maintenance man, and not an offer made out of love, but so I could stay in the country. His words "I believe we would laugh together until the very end" did touch me my core. It was a sweet drunken gesture.

Keep smiling even when you are smeared in food grime, sweaty and have to deal with difficult customers.

At the end of the night, a kind gentleman I had served earlier approached me with a tip. I was really taken aback, since tipping is not the norm in Australia. I was really appreciative and he told me that he was warmed by my constant smiling while serving customers. (So there you go, a hot tip for serving: Keep smiling even when you are smeared in food grime, sweaty and have to deal with difficult customers.)

To top it all off, a sweet couple thought I would be a perfect match for their son, who is the same age as me and only a mere 800 kilometres away. An arranged marriage from the desert, now I have heard it all!

The night wrapped up at about 9:30, once all the customers left and the cutlery was reset for the next day.  

What I love about the outback is the friendly nature of the people, the fact that they do not take themselves or life too seriously, and the banter that ensues. It reminds me very much of rural Ireland where a friendly manner and witty banter reigns supreme.

In addition to this, a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie exists among the kitchen and waitstaff. "This is not an empire," the chef told me when I first started working and I love flat organizational structures in a workplace. Everyone simply pitches in and does the work until it is complete. The people are what make my experience here great. No wonder I smile as I wait tables in the middle of the desert.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Sarah Healy

Sarah Healy is a freelance writer, designer and adventuress originally hailing from the green isle of Ireland. Currently traversing Australia, she’s running desert marathons and working in hospitality in the Opal Capital of the world, the unique outback town of Coober Pedy.

Website: sarahtheadventuress.com/

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