July 12, 2009

let the harvest trail begin...

After traveling 2 months across Australia it was about time to get to work. Serious work that is.

Having met two girls on the boat out on the Reef at Cape Trip and coincidentaly being put in the same dorm in Cairns, we decided after a few days of hanging out in Cairns to do some fruit picking. Finding the right place was not so easy, there was no work available at most places due to a very bad year for the farmers. Too much backpackers looking for work, too less grown fruit. So, after tons of phone calls to the harvest line, working hostels and farms, we were on the bus to Ayr. Ayr that is a small town south of Townsville, Queensland and there is not much to do except farm and harvest work. That was 3 weeks ago.

Arriving at the Delta Backpackers">hostel and hearing all the horror stories about work for the farm mafia here, was a bit devastating. The waiting list was endless and people were already waiting for 2 months to get work. The place itself isn´t that flashy either, well it´s a working hostel after all, dirty clothes and shoes everywhere. Lucky me, I was put in a 3 bed dorm with 2 really nice Asian girls, while the other two were spending their nights in the 12 bed dorms downstairs. We were waiting for a few days and got to know all the 145 other people living here. Mostly Pommy´s, Irish and a few Germans. How many card games can you play before going crazy? Let me tell you a lot. :-) Having spent a week at the hostel waiting for a job we were the lucky ones to be called in to start working at the squash farm.

So, that is what a fruit picker is doing day in and day out.

Squash that is some sort of zucchini, grows like zucchini, which is on the ground, and tastes like it. The plants are mostly waisthigh and a bit stingy and therefore you have to wear long trousers, longleeve shirts and over them cut up socks, gloves and against the sun a hat. lots of insect repellent otherwise the mossies will eat you alive. We that is 12 girls picking the squash and 1 bucket boy.

We get up at 5am everyday, like most of the people working her. We either can drive one of the old, rusty, almost-falling-apart cars here or we are taken by the bus to the nearby farm to start working at 6:45am. It´s the most beautiful sunrises everyday and the scenery is quite stunning. That´s one of the advantages. Another is, that we are not contract but get paid by the hour, so there is no rush.

We are able to work 7 days a week, since the fruit grows over night. It has to be a certain size to be right. Small squash sell at the local grocery store for 10 AUS $ a kg. We pick for Coles and Woolworth´s. We carry small buckets with us to collect the squash, which then get collect by the bucket boy. One row takes like 30 minutes. Since I was a pretty fast picker in the beginning, I am a "floater/ flyer" right now, which gives me two buckets. We are four floaters basically floating between the rows to help out the slower pickers to catch up. That gives the back pain a little bit of a relax while walking inbetween. The down side is, you have to be fast and cannot get a break.

At 10 am we have a twenty minute smoker´s break and lunch is at 12:30pm. The time between smoker´s and lunch is the hardest, since it gets hotter by the minute. But after a while you sort of get used to the heat and the sun. In my sparetime I prefer the shade now though. Work tends to end at 4pm with a cool drink out of the farmer´s fridge in the shed. Then we are exhausted but still in a good mood heading for the hostel for a hot shower and a chat with the other people living here.

We are not completey alone on the fields, the overseer is follwing us with his truck, when he´s in a good mood he turns up the radio really loud and we dance to it - everything for a bit of diversity. He´s alright, a grumpy farmer that is, always making bad taste jokes and cursing all the time. But he lets us pick in our own speed and doesn´t hurry us along the rows. And the after work beer is for free! :-)

That´s what a fruit pickers life is all about. Not a lot of diversity and definetaly not a lot of thinking required. You get used to switch off your brains while you are at work after a few days.

The last few nights have been very cold, like 10°, that´s why we had some short days, since the fruit isn´t growing so much to be picked. But the new fields are already ready to be picked in a few days and the short days are over. The same procedure as every day starts all over again.

More images here.

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