Categories
Australia (2018)

Why you should not (or should) work on an Australian farm

*Scroll down to skip the story and read actual useful information*

From Mildura it was a short drive on a few long roads passing barren land. Sheree, a lovely lady, had picked me up and made sure I had the appropriate licenses before taking me to the quaint village under the name Wentworth. Entering the petite area, it felt almost as if we traversed back in time. The townhall and post-office, fire department, the few smaller shops and pubs, even a functioning phonecell, all living and operating in a different era. The style of residences and accommodations had been a lot different than what I was used to. It reminded me of American shows that I had seen. The motel was situated on the village’s main road, across from the grocery store and the pharmacy. It had a main building, where Sheree and her two sons lived, about five rooms attached to it and then two rooms parallel to the main building. At the beginning, I stayed with two others in the room closest to the main building. The way this worked, as do most regional farm jobs for foreigners, the farmers would reach out to Sheree and other backpacker havens letting them know there is work. Then, you will be picked up or dropped off, which tends to be in groups – meaning you will often return at the same time as the others.

Before I got to strap on my working outfit, I was given a day to explore the close area and I found there was a fair bit to see and learn within this tiny dot on a map. First, I randomly wandered about and came upon what is called the Darling-Murray junction. It is where the petty 1472 kilometres long river melts into the 2508 long Murray. The latter also holding the title of the longest river in Australia. Whilst I read the sign giving me a brief history lesson, a picturesque sunset was happening. The sky there had always amazed me, how it at all times could be so clear and bright blue at any point of the day. Then, when the moon had replaced the sun and it was stars covering the sky, it would feel similarly bright. I could always watch it in awe for hours and now with the setting of the sun painting the sky in many colours, it was especially breathtaking. On the way back, walking parallel to the river, I had seen a couple of old paddle streamers that are nowadays used for short cruises. If the lovely junction’s town isn’t enough to steer you if you happen to be near, then perhaps the mini-Sahara near here is worth it. Perry Sand Hills, a must for a sunset. But, alas, before I got to that point, the time for working had come.

Before the sun had dawned, a small group stood at the edge of the town awaiting pick-up. Dazed, with a hint of excitement, I joined the bunch. We all wore our mandatory, bright hi-vis shirt with long sleeves and an old pair of rugged jeans. It was advised that you’d cover the entirety of your body, as it would be harmful to let the merciless Australian sun beam for too long without proper protection. That was the same reason we worked before daybreak and finished beginning noon, departing when the sun becomes too fierce to work under. Once we were picked up, the French supervisor drove us on a long, vacant road to the orange fields where more people waited. After a quick introduction, we were off in pairs. I had been paired with the oldest son of Sheree. Since the pay isn’t hourly, but per bin, and it is also per pair, praise to heavens the other person is sweating their ass of just as hard. Although plenty of the oranges from my partner were flung at the pair in the next row and a fair amount of time was spent telling me about his time in jail and thereafter, he got in a decent amount of work. Truly. We both did. Hot as it was, we picked orange after orange, chugging them in each of the bins we filled that day. Nonetheless, we, the son and I, but also the people in the rows that followed, learned rapidly that the math is off. Taking into account the minimum wage of Australia, on a typical fruit farm, only the best of the best would come even close to making that amount.

Now, seeing how I was not the only one that knew how to do a simple equation, the day after only half the people had showed up. People weren’t stupid enough to work for far below the minimum. Unfortunately, I had no other choice than to accept the measly pay, as my debit had run through and I was solely depending on credit. Having had spent nearly my last money on the tickets to that tiny town, I had no other choice than to fight for a little buck. Another thing I had found, that if you didn’t pluck the trees well enough like many didn’t, or, with figs, if there are too many wrong ones, you simply don’t get paid. What do I mean with wrong ones? Well, figs are about the most sensitive of the bunch that require delicate handling as a simple, quick snatch would damage it. When there are about 5 out of 25 damaged figs, you will not get paid for that box. On top of that, the pay was a helluva lot worse. But, having thought I had experienced all, the worst had been the drought in jobs for the two weeks that followed. No jobs at all, yet the owner of the motel consistently came with a nearby date that marked the start of grape season. But, unsurprisingly, that got postponed about daily. At this point many people left. The ones that needed their 88 days remained and so did I, as I was already living on borrowed money.

Not that it had been a hellish experience. I met loads of backpackers. We did sightseeing around the area or complained merrily about the ordeal. We had tried looking for a job, but that fell through. One guy I met, eventually ended up cycling around a greater part of Australia, all in the name of charity. Some went on to travel more, others tried their luck in a bigger city or a farm elsewhere. But, a number of us remained until the grape season had started. The owner of the land of grapes had been a lot more pleasant to work with than those of previous ones. He’d chat between work and bring us sandwiches, before hopping back on the tractor. The work itself, was laborious, satisfying and fun. Passing the occasional spider, we snipped branches full of juicy grapes and filled dozens and dozens of buckets on a day. Knowing the pay wasn’t going to be horrible added on top of the motivation of course. Then, on the final day we cheered to a few brewskis from the farmer and collected our pay. Upon receiving, I was left with little after the borrowings and due weekly pays were handled. But, at last, I was back in the positive. Thus, with a hand full of dimes and a mind full of new ideas, I took the train to my next destination, Melbourne!

Are you interested in working on a farm in Australia? Here is some advice based on my experiences, heard stories and own opinion:

If you want work on a farm purely to make money, keep the following in mind;

  • You need to have a specific guarantee that you will be working on hourly pay. A simple email won’t suffice as it has possibly been sugarcoated.
  • Working inside – which tends to be for women I heard – or with machinery such as on a tractor gravitates towards having an hourly pay that is minimum wage.
  • For watermelons, it requires you to be both in great condition as well as mentally strong. I heard its toughness has had many people quit, including the “stronger” ones.
  • Otherwise, grapes are decent. Not the greatest pay, but for a good buck you’ll have, in my opinion a fun job. Oranges goes the same, however lesser pay.
  • That figs and apples ought to be avoided.

If you want to work on a farm for the 88 days or simply the experience and make a little bit of money on the side, absolutely do go! Make sure that you know where you will be staying and to have at least one or two proper reviews of that place. I have heard stories far worse than what I had experienced. Yes, Sheree should have been more clear about the conditions and been straight. However, she and her assistant cared about their guests. She had lent me money, at times they would come with a bbq or we’d go out for food and drinks partially on her expense and she’d make sure that we would get paid. I have heard stories of people being in an accommodation where the owner lied about the conditions and didn’t care much about whether they’d get a job. Furthermore, I still suggest avoiding figs. Try to go for grapes, watermelon or oranges and you will have a splendid time, just like I did.

Categories
Personal Favourites South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A Filipino Feat of Fortitude

“Don’t worry, my love, we will have plenty of time”, had been the words that departed my arrogant smile as I calmly entered the bathroom. Cocksure that it would be the two of us on the pier with a tumble weed passing by awaiting the crowd that was to come. Alas, I was askew, as once we arrived in our carriage, known as a ‘tricycle’, all had long amassed. Accepting defeat, we passed through the check in before entering the tiny boat that was packed. I placed my bottoms on the seat that had been illuminated by sunlight. Like an over the top lit Christmas tree, I sat brightly in the sunshine. A bench of hot coals under me and a face glistening red from sweat produced by the searing hot, shining sun above. Perhaps now is a good time to apply sunscreen. Anxiety was resting on my shoulders, whispering in my ear how our bags would fall in that alluring, blue water would we place it down, as there was zero cover. Soon we would find a secure place for our luggage, however for now, we had to continue carrying the burden of the clump of fear stuck in the mind, displaying the event over and over. I have never been the same since the dive of my phone. I shook my head, as a fog of dizziness flew by. Winter, They said. It is winter.. Avoiding the sun had not been a task easy however. Thus, we awaited the commencement of the departure from El Nido to Coron as sweaty blobs, hoping the boat would turn from the sun.

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Uncategorized

Prominent in the Philippines

The day before we had seen a colossal turtle while snorkelling. My head dipped under the water with the rest of my body and the tube guiding air to my mouth gallantly wavering on the surface of the beautifully clear, blue water. I glanced up at her, smiling. However, she urged me to quit waving my hand like an idiot and to focus my attention down below. A massively big turtle was calmly passing by, blithely deviating from his track as to cozen its pursuers. I jutted my arms out straight, as if I was near enough to pet it. Fervently, I followed the turtle with eyes gleaming. I was amazed by its size, something unexpected. When we had abandoned the stunning beach after a delicious meal, they had briefed us that we would search for this water dweller. However, I imagined the size of the slow-pokes swimming in a pond, similar to when my phone had chosen for a dip. Mistaken that I was, I was now staring at this, with my comparison, giant turtle. Amusingly, it hadn’t been the highlight of the day for everyone. It was the royal blue tang, well-known as “Dory” to most, that shook my beloved to excitement and had her let out a giggle. Enamoured of her adorable cackle, I could not help but chuckle myself. It had been a long day of snorkelling and hopping islands. Two baked buns, one more than the other, had little choice left but to crash into a deep sleep after a mojito or two.

 

As dawn had come, shimmering its light through the curtains leaving sun ripples on our blanket, after that deep night’s rest with praise to the generous bar-lady pouring rum as if she was overstocked that evening, we had set plans to hike in search of cascades. Once we overpowered the strong gravity on the blankets, and our bags were hike ready, we commenced. Given a short route description in Tagalog, we headed out with a boiling sun heating our necks. A lovely dog, named Doug by the enamoured couple, left his tiny paw prints along the track following and guiding us with pride and joy in his eyes. In reality, a second dog had been there, yet we do not speak of him. When approached by a threesome of puppers, the double-sized dog had frantically chosen the direction we had come from, nearly flying until it had gone passed a turn and not to be seen again. Not Doug. Our dear Doug, when exposed to a threat, whether the tiny Cerberus or a giant buffalo, filled with fear he stood his ground and made no sound.

The first cascade on the list had been the small one, as I had gathered from the Tagalog explanation. The water had a delightful cool touch, which had been gratefully welcomed on this hot winter day in the Philippines. Having viewed a many National Geographic shows, I had anxiously hopped over the tiny, brownish puddles worrisome to be struck by that nasty parasite to in a string of time be aired on an episode and have a new disease named after me. My brother got the Danniasis after his travels in Asia. Whilst hopping, I had made the decision to climb higher up for a more picturesque view. Watching the dog follow me, with ease both getting up and down, he seemed the perfect Assassin’s pet. Perhaps with their next release, which is bound to come. The four-legged stray pet seemed to be comfortable amongst humans. A blissful smile resting on the carefree canine. The beach-life truly does bring joy to all, it seems.

Upon reaching the main cascade, after having bought snacks off a young girl keeping a shop all by herself, we signed a log book. Guiding Doug to pass the creek, having small fears that our new, temporarily adopted dog may slip, we cross and prepare for the dip we had been waiting all day for. “It is cold”, are the words I mumble, as I dip my toes into the encroaching ripples. The water that engirdled my pale toes was clear, yet its descendants further in grew darker and darker, until it was pitch black. Imagining the grotesque creatures inhabiting the deeper, darker water, near the dead log, created for a complete different ambience. As the words had left my parched lips, she had already been deep in, ice cold water surrounding her gorgeous waist. With a playful smile, she splashed water upon me and jested me to grow some and enter. A lady known to take her showers cold out of preference did not shy away from diving into the freezing water that only had grip of my tiny toes. Doug was waddling with waggling tail behind me, as well dubious of whether to proceed to enter said frigid water. Yet, bearing the cells for the next kin, it came with the duty to be – or come across as, which I am most certain I am far too late for – manly and thus I did. I followed the lady with the beautiful smile Step after step I advanced. Until I stood beside her, writhing of cold, as well as basking in the release that had come from cooling my body on one of the many searing hot days that make for the Philippines.

 

Watching her feed the staunch dog that seemed bound to us, having followed us, now guiding us back, I could not help but smile. I reminisced back at the day I finally had gotten to see her in person. Shied away behind her father, she had shown to be smaller than I had expected. Lips arched into that gorgeous smile. Her hair curved around her head, the frame to the perfect picture. That very moment, I had not been anxious. All fears, nervosity and anxiety had disappeared like stars come dawn. Not a single trace left. It felt normal, yet special. The way it was supposed to be. For so long I had yearned to see her in person. Bound to be, but distanced, we fought each and every barrier to be there to hold one another. It hadn’t always been easy. Struggles, fights and aching. But now, at last, I was here. Holding her hand, watching her feed a stray dog that may or may not be dying by the hand of the leech on his ear and everything felt perfect. That, is how love is supposed to be. Perfect through its imperfections and difficulties. The woman who agitates the hell out of me, yet is the balance amid the chaos. The sunshine on the darkest of days merely by being present. She is a present indeed. Worth every single effort. She gave me a loving smile – mesmerising really, magical, capable of bringing joy on the gloomiest days – as she handed me the chips to give Doug a handful. Hungry that he must have been, politely he awaited without snarling or wheezing. He did not bite upon receiving the snack either. A stray canine with manners topping most pets. May Doug have won the fight against the leech.


Gazing at the horizon, viewing Filipino ships in the the clear, blue sea, I had a gluck of my nth mojito and thanked myself for the choices I have made. The choice to be happy, rather than stuck in a college dorm surrounded by walls seeping depression into the room. The choice to enjoy life as I find my place into the world. Thereafter I thanked my family for supporting me with every step that I took. Too often I had to listen to the phrase “If I was your parent I would never let you do this.”, yet here I was, from a South-African tour, to a cycle and hitchhike in Europe to a love in Asia and never had I been doubted or restrained by my amazing family. Then I thanked her, Kath, the lady that brought and brings strength and happiness into my life. Grateful for the life I lead, I must move forward. Once finished with the Philippines, I shall, however, that must come after the mojito. What is next? We shall see. See, we shall.