YEEESSSSSS! It’s done, over, finito! Thank f**k for that! (excuse my French Mum and Nan). My time working (slaving away) on the farm has finally come to an end and I write this blog currently sat on the bus from Ayr up to Cairns. Since the last blog post not much changed, I still went to work on Darren Kiehne Farm picking bell peppers almost every day and the work still sucked. We had days which sucked more due to horrendous weeds in amongst the peppers which were about 5ft tall and a constant battle when trying to pick. We also had better days where we were weeding and things were a bit less stressful, still horrible on the back though. But all that is now behind me and it’s over with! I hope I never again have to pick another bloody capsicum, I have an insane amount of respect for anyone working a manual labour-intensive job like that not only for 3 months but their lives. As was the case for the group of Tongan men that worked on the farm. They through choice or need elected to be there and my god did they work hard. They are honestly the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life, out picking our bin total every single day by a significant margin. Us backpackers would be ruined yet it just didn’t seem to phase them, whether it did, and they just didn’t show it, or they simply are built differently to me I will never know but like I said I take my hat off to them and anyone doing this type of work. They were also a great group of guys, some of them worked with us on the “backpacker” boom and it really added to my experience on the farm. I got to learn about a whole new culture and way of life from the boys that I wouldn’t have experienced if I was just with backpackers. They all had such character and although the English didn’t freely flow, we all still managed to have a laugh.
As time went by on the farm and the backpackers that had been employed there became more accustomed to the work/knew what we were doing we continued to pick more and more bins every day. During my last few weeks on the farm one day we pick 106 bins of capsicums between the hours of 7 – 4:30, considering the two 15-minute breaks and the hour’s lunch break that worked out 106 bins in 8 hours of work, over 3 tonnes of red bloody peppers. Clearly, that means nothing to no one unless you’ve been there and done it and I don’t really care because I know and the people on that farm know how hard that graft was and yet every day, we got through it and picked a crazy amount. In my last few weeks, I don’t think we dropped bellow 90 bins a day and topped 100 a couple of times (bear in mind the Tongan boom was pretty much always in the 100’s. I think one day they hit about 150 the mad bastards. But now I’m done I always go back to that first week where we were getting 50-60 bins a day and were all ruined. Then would be told “don’t worry in a few weeks you’ll get 80 to 100”. I thought they were bloody crazy and there was no chance, but it just goes to show that you can do things your mind and body thought was never possible, and the experience will serve as a reminder to me in the future that I’m capable of anything. I’m also grateful the day after I left the boys hit 110, so I got out at the right time but fair play to you boys I feel your pain! I also think I got out at the right time as things were starting to get hot. Thankfully and smartly we completed our farm work during the Australian winter (which in north Queensland isn’t much of a winter) but as things started to head towards spring, we would often be picking in temperatures up in the high 20’s to low 30 °C. The farm runs through until late November time when its summertime and I imagine temperatures get into the 40’s so any crazy people still working then, which ultimately they will be, I’ve got even more respect for you and good luck!
As for the farmers they grew on me too. With the number of backpackers and people they must have employed over the years, I am not surprised they are sceptical of everyone that steps foot on the farm, but the longer I stayed and the more they knew I worked hard, done my job and a good job at that I earned their respect. The farm was run by two brothers Darren and Anthony who were two massive typical Aussie blokes (I never got a photo, but I don’t think they were the type haha). They also had a 3rd brother who owned a farm near Ayr and we even did a day’s work on that farm where I walked 14 miles in one day weeding a sugar cane field. Yeah, they could be in a shit mood sometimes but often they were good guys and I leave the farm having a lot of respect for them both. They always tried there best to find us work when things on the farm were slow! They also always supplied the beers at the end of the week which is bound to put anyone in my good books. On my last day, both farmers brought a crate of Coronas for us all to enjoy, so I think that signifies that I earnt their respect during my 3 months on the farm. Which brings me some personal satisfaction knowing how hard I worked to earn that. Darren and Anthony, I doubt you will ever see this but regardless, yeah you worked us into the ground, but I appreciate the work as without it I would still be stuck in Ayr. You also paid a decent wage and didn’t mug off your workers as some farmers do and for that, you are decent blokes in my eyes. Far too many farmers exploit the backpackers and don’t treat them like the human being they are. Although Darren and Anthony were the top dogs, we were mainly given orders by Josh our boom driver, who although at times I hated with a passion deep down is also a good bloke. I must admit though I won’t ever miss nor want to hear the following words come out your mouth “don’t pick the green ones” and “there’s a lot of shit coming up here”. My god if I had a dollar for every time those phrases left his lips, I would be the richest backpacker in Aus.
Along with the farm, I guess I should also talk a little bit about Ayr, the place I lived for the last 4 months that I haven’t really spoken about too much. The town itself wasn’t too bad, yeah there wasn’t that much to do there, but it still had everything you would expect from a small village or town. In some ways, it was a bit like an Australian version of Tiptree. The weather was 95% of the time bright and sunny, but most days we did experience a black snowstorm or two. Now, this sounds very odd, but it was the term given to all the ash that would fall to the ground due to a nearby sugar can field being burnt. In the region, the main crop grown is sugar cane and apparently, some of the biggest and best crop is grown in the Burdekin region (the region where Ayr is located). I mean the fully grown cane is easily two stories high. When the cane is ready to be harvested, the field is set on fire. This is to burn off all the rubbish that isn’t needed (i.e. all the green leaves and shoots) leaving behind the bare sugar cane making it easier to harvest. Every day during the sugar cane crush, which runs from June to November (I think) you would see huge plumes of black smoke billowing up into the sky from nearby cane fires. This obviously kicked up a lot of ash which would then fall into the town, in a very similar fashion to that of snow falling on a winter’s day in England. Hence the term black snow. Often you would drive by a field on the way to or from work where the fire would still be ragging, and it really was quite the spectacle seeing a whole field ablaze and flames probably 10 -20 meters high just next to the road. You could also feel the incredible heat even driving past the burning fields. As for the rest of Ayr, the locals were alright although I got the impression, they weren’t too keen on all the backpackers. The 3 pubs in town do the job and would also be a decent night out on a Friday or Saturday if everyone got together to let off some steam. The place I probably visited the most was the gym or Coles supermarket haha. But as I said the town itself was fine and probably far more luxurious than a lot of places people go to complete their rural work in Australia.
In previous blogs about farm work, I had written how I didn’t feel myself and at times had been depressed and miserable. I mean having come from the most amazing 6 months of my life travelling Asia to struggling to get work and then the work being horrible I’m not surprised it was tough on me. But my last month in Ayr was certainly my most enjoyable. I have a feeling this was likely a combination of the fact I knew I was leaving soon which brightened my mood but also some of the people that arrived at the hostel itself. As I mentioned in the last blog everyone is in it together and you become such a close nit family. Every housemate that I shared in house 3 it was a pleasure, I really couldn’t have done it without you all and you made life far more bearable with your banter and uplifting attitude. From the originals, Spencer, who is always fantastic, Dessie, Aaron, Ryan and Renee thanks for getting me through the harder times at the hostel I couldn’t have done it without you all and I hope to see you all soon! To the second generation of Niamh, Jane & Jess (most crazy girls I’ve ever met), Jonny, Ant and Chelsea! You really brought an explosive positive attitude to the house for my final month and I had the most enjoyable and happy time with you all! So, thank you for everything I miss you all already and I wish you all the best for your remaining time in Ayr.
I’ve also got to shout out my fellow slave labourers on Darren’s farm, all those who went through it with me my god it was tough, but we got through it together. From the crowd of us who struggled in the early days to the group of us that were there when I finished plus everyone in between thanks you for getting me through it and providing laughter even at the worst of times. The biggest shout must go to my main man Jack though, there with me from day one until my last, yeah you may be an Irish prick but without you mate I don’t think I could have done it. You kept me sane on the long days and kept me positive on the long weeks. Somehow, we still managed to find a way to have a laugh and a joke every day even when royally in the shit and I’m buzzing to see you again down in Sydney! Sorry I had to leave you there to graft away on your own for a few weeks mate, but you’ve got it in the bag, after all, you were the bin bitch and head backpacker plus you now take the title of driver boss man!
So yeah that’s it no more blogs on farm work, I hope I’ve been able to convey just how much a crazy experience this has been and what I’ve been up too. Apologies at times if it all got a bit deep and serious but I wanted to capture my emotions and feelings so when I look back on this, I can really remember how I felt. Honestly, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I know the experience will shape my life moving forward when picking peppers is a distant memory. It’s also got me in pretty good shape haha after burning crazy amounts of calories during the day! Silver linings and all that. But now I can finally get back to writing about all the amazing things I’ve done and how great (hopefully) Australia is after being here 4 months and not seeing any of it. The next few months have plenty in store – as of next week Fred, Lisa (Fred’s girlfriend #cute) and I are going to explore north of Cairns around Port Douglas for a week and have rented a car. Let’s hope I’m not the third wheel too badly. Then we have booked a camper van for 5 and a half weeks to drive between Cairns and Sydney exploring all that the east coast has to offer. Thankfully I won’t be third-wheeling the whole time here as Ollie is coming along for the ride too! Connor for those who have been keeping up with my travels from day one and is obviously part of the original 4 elected to fly down to Sydney and get a job so we shall see him down there mid-October time. Until then there is a lot of exploring to be done and I’m looking forward to blowing my hard-earned cash!