In the last blog, I wrote about my first month in Australia. Unfortunately, it hadn’t all been fun and games and I was feeling pretty shit about the whole situation. I’m pleased to say things now seemed to have turned around a little bit and the farm work situation has improved drastically. I last published a blog on the 26th of May having only completed 10 of the 88 days within a 4-week period of being at the working hostel in Ayr. Pretty rubbish I’m sure you will all agree. I had been really down the previous week, but my mental state had improved slightly due to my cash in hand opportunity. Pretty much directly after publishing that last blog, things picked up for me. On Monday the 27th I was back on my first farm, here I helped with some planting, weeding and spreading insecticide which was pretty easy. I worked on the farm again on the 30th once again doing more weeding, which was very boring, but I wasn’t about to complain seeing as I finally had some work again. I’ve also started listening to lots of podcasts to help pass the time, (feel free to comment any recommendations). In between those two days of work, I also worked on another farm (now my 3rd). I worked for 5 hours this time in the packing shed, packing eggplants. Once again, this work wasn’t hard but was very fast paced. The setup was very much a well-oiled production line with me being the last piece in the chain. Basically, the picked eggplants (felt sorry for the lads picking them) were tipped onto a conveyer belt and washed before passing a lady who was inspecting them. The inspected eggplants were then sent along the conveyor belt to 4 Asian women who then packaged the eggplants into boxes. Either 12, 15, 18 or 21 eggplants in a box depending on their size. The boxes were then put on a conveyor belt in front of me, whereby I had to put lids on the boxes and then stack them on a wooden pallet until the pallet was full and could be moved for shipping. Like I said it was easy and I managed to keep up with the furious pace much of the time other than when I had to stack loads of boxes and then there would be a big build up from the 4 ladies packing the eggplants. Thankfully they helped me out from time to time. When I started working they also asked for my name, I must have told them Calum about 4 times. Each time they repeated a different name back to me, they simply couldn’t get Calum. In the end, I gave up trying and settled on being called Alan, which I was then called for the rest of the day. By lunchtime, the boys had finished picking and we all went home, another day in the bag and $100 dollars in the bank.
Come Saturday I was on my 3rd farm of the week and my 4th day for that week. This farm was massive with over 600 acres of land and I was told it would be full time going forward so I was keen to impress. I was also told they wouldn’t be keeping everyone, so I was determined to secure my place. This time I was picking red bell peppers, or capsicums as they are called here. The actual capsicum bush was pretty nice, and the fruit snapped off relatively easily. The only problem, like all the picking, is the fruit is on the ground, so you are always bent/hunched over to be able to pick the fruit. Safe to say after 8 hours of picking my lower back and hamstrings were in bits! In addition to the back pain, there was also the pain in my hands to contend with. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to wear gloves, which meant that all the cuticles around my fingernails got cut and ripped by the sharp edges of the broken plant after you had picked off one pepper. When you went down to pick a second pepper off the same bush you often caught your skin said bush, it was agony and I would often let out an expletive. It was also the first time I had picked using a boom. What this means is everyone has their own row which they walk down picking the bell peppers. These are then placed onto the boom, which is a big moving conveyor belt which then carries them to the tractor where they are then collected in big plastic boxes. Each box supposedly contains about 300 kg of peppers. After 5 boxes have been filled these are then collected off the tractor by a truck, which also replenished the empty boxes and we would carry on picking. Like I said it was a very long day. Leaving at 6 am, starting at 7 am, working for 3 hours till 10 am before having a 15-minute break (or smoko in Aussie language) which is paid so that’s nice. Before working from 10:15 until 12 when we had lunch for an hour, not paid. We would start again from 1 till 3 pm picking before another 15-minute smoko, once again paid. Before a final 45 minutes of picking until 4 pm. A total of 8 hours of paid work. Which although killed me I was very happy about as it would mean good money going forward if I stayed on the farm. That was the day done and although it was hard I was really hoping to stay on the farm.
Luckily, I seem to have done enough and have now been on this farm for two weeks. Unfortunately, some people were indeed let go, but a group of 6 of us remain. The first week of work was very full on working a total of 48.5 hours over the course of a 6-days, Monday to Saturday. Although it was bloody hard work and the pace of picking the peppers was furious the $1000 dollars that were paid into my bank account made it all worth it. The farmers are also nice, provided you work hard and do your job right. At the end of the week we all sat down for a few beers on them which was certainly deserved, the beer barely even touched the sides. After that first week, the second week was a bit tamer hence why not everyone remained. The farmers stated that the crop that had been planted months ago to be picked at this time had been damaged by bad weather so wasn’t as good and meant a little less work for the week. I was kind of glad as it meant my body could recover a little from the previous week. I’ve aged about 50 years since starting farm work, with pain in my back, knees, hands and wrists. Luckily it seems to be subsiding a little and my fingers have now toughened up so no longer get cut, although they are constantly dirty and probably won’t be clean until I’ve finished the 88 days. On the second week, so the one just gone, we worked a total of 4 days and 31.5 hours. Some days were spent picking peppers again while others were spent weeding the long rows. One day I spent the whole day simply walking up and down the long rows in search of weeds to pull out. I ended up walking 10 miles throughout the course of the day.
That, therefore, brings you pretty much up to speed, I’ve had a nice few days off this weekend and will be back in work Monday, where I think we are in for another busy and tough week. But I am thankful as finally, I can start ticking off the days at a good rate and save some money ready to blow it all on a two-month road trip of the east coast. I have now completed just over 22 days so am ¼ of the way through this farm work life. By no means is it pleasant or fun. Its tough hard work, but the fellow backpackers on the farm make it bearable along with everyone back at the working hostel. The end goal is also the driving factor, with any luck, provided I stay on this farm, I should be finished by mid-August and shall have hopefully saved up a little money. This will then all be spent on a two-month road trip down the east coast which I think about every day and is the motivation to go and pick another pepper. I can’t wait for this all to be over, to be honest, but at the same time, it is very much a part of the journey and something I will feel an immense sense of achievement when I finish. It will also make any future jobs seem far more enjoyable. Finally, it proves that even when times seem to be a bit shit, and nothing seems to be going your way, just stick with it and things will likely turn around in your favour.
Let’s hope then that the next time I write about my time in Aus I’m still on the same farm and the blog will be titled “Halfway to Freedom”.
Happy Fathers Day to my dad back home. Thanks for being the best role model and supporting me in all my adventures! Missing you and mum lots.