It sounds strange to me. The place I have fantasised about leaving for so long is here, and I’m kinda sad.
Sad because it has been such an experience. I think anything that we have experienced for so long- love it or hate it- will inevitably have a place in our hearts, or in our memories. In a few months great friendships are made, many mistakes are made and lessons learned and a routine develops. It changes you for that reason, as you have to adapt your life around this new change.
I took this shot in the back of a friends jeep on the way home from work. I was gazing out of the window at the landscape and thought how different it looks to home. So flat, so dry. I have to remind myself that whatever view I’m taking in, won’t be outside that window forever. I needed to appreciate it as I may never see it again.
And this is what I will miss. Basically everything around the farmwork. The landscapes, the small town living, the constant ‘Burdekin snow’ of ash raining down from sugar cain burning from miles around.
The friendships that I talked about in my last post. Heck, even the farmwork because of how different it was to what I was used to.
So there we have it, my Greyhound is booked. My goodbyes have been said and I am all packed. I’m pleased I have done this and I would not change a thing.
88 days complete. I’m getting the coach back up to Townsville but with so many more memories and experiences than when I arrived.
So thank you Ayr, hostel friends, farmers. It’s been fun.
It is a wasted opportunity to do something pretty unpleasant and not find some kind of value in the meantime. Whether it is a new skill or increased knowledge, it makes the task worthwhile. It helps us to squeeze every drop out of this fruit we call life, after all it doesn’t stay ripe for too long.
I was reminded of this on my recent farm, the last farm I will be working on here in Ayr. Last year, a backpacker died right where we are currently picking fruit, possibly of heat stroke. This isn’t confirmed as the reason, they are still trying to find out what happened. Of course there are a few different stories relating to the event that have been passed on from backpacker to backpacker since then, however I won’t assume anything. If anyone wants to read a little more into this and the potential dangers that backpackers face whilst fruit picking in the tropical north, this can be read here in The Guardian’s article- Death in the sun: Australia’s 88-day law leaves backpackers exploited and exposed.
It gives a fair review of the work, as it isn’t all doom and gloom. I am glad to be finishing, but it will be one of the great experiences I will remember for a long time to come.
I asked my farmer, a nice man but clearly strict on his health and safety, about the plants we have been planting over the past couple days. We have finished picking pumpkins and watermelons, and now planting them to be ready later in the year. We spent six hours yesterday planting every couple feet or so (we measured the distance using our plant trays, the distance between each hole should be the length of the tray) and another three hours today planting a pollinator in the same rows every third plant. The pollinators are what attract the bees. As today was three hours, it doesn’t count as a day. Yesterday however counts towards my 88 days.
I mean, I may as well learn as I am going, I doubt I will do anything like this again so this is the time to make sure I’m gaining knowledge.
So, here are a few things I have learned whilst farming:
It’s bloody hard work.
I knew it would be, but it’s hard to actually understand until you are out there. Working full time in temperatures consistently in the twenties in winter and even higher in the summer really drains your energy!
Teamwork is key.
You see the ‘boom’ above? It is used to transport the fruit and vegetables up to the packers on the trailer. This requires everyone to focus when removing from the trailer once it is full of fruit. This is extremely heavy and a lack of concentration could have serious repercussions. It gets taken off and reconnected to the new tractor trailer, 10-15 times a day. Filling a trailer can take between 15-40 minutes depending on size. There are often at least 10 giants bins on a trailer to be filled, one trailer I worked on had 32.
Snakes are deadly, but attacks are rare.
It will be hard to answer the inevitable question ‘Is Australia dangerous?’ when I arrive back in England. It’s a yes and a no. I mean I have survived without a snake bite and so has every other person in the hostel. But if the wrong snake gets me, I could well be a gonner.
The most recent Australian death due to a snake bite occurred on the 19th of April, 2018, only an hour north of where I am in the city of Townsville. A 46 year old man sadly died due to the unprovoked incident involving an Eastern Brown Snake.
I’d say living in Oz is as dangerous as walking down a sidewalk. I haven’t had any close calls, but if that lorry loses control, the odds are massively against me. This doesn’t stop me from walking down the street, but it is wise to stay street- and snake- smart.
I have heard of deaths in this town, but this is due to dehydration and heat. Brown snakes have been spotted, but thankfully the killer animals don’t really want to interact with humans. If they can escape they will. So the lesson I learned here is don’t sneak around rural areas like you have just snuck into a creepy abandoned hospital. Be loud so the snakes slither away. The last thing you want to do to a killer animal is scare it.
Also, don’t worry about spider bites. I mean seek treatment, but don’t worry that you are about to see life flash before your eyes. The last person to die from a spider bite was a 22 year old male in 2016, the first fatality from a spider bite in almost 40 years. The introduction of anti venom has been fantastic in reducing deaths significantly in recent decades.
Hostel rules state that when going to work, a minimum of 5 litres of water must be taken. This is a must when working long hours in hot sunshine. 5 litres is no challenge on a farm, and I have learned to drink even if I don’t feel thirsty. Better safe than sorry.
Farmwork is big business.
I knew maintaining a farming business would be big bucks, but I didn’t really understand the figures until I started working on them. They go into the millions, and farmers here have pretty high standards of living. Seeing some of the homes of families on route to work and the boats they use to head to second homes shows that the hard work really can pay off. But could I personally live in a very quiet farming town with considerable wealth? I really don’t know about that.
Weather can really ruin a season, and this year was no exception.
I have been told that this is the worst winter Ayr has seen in years. I mean it has been hot enough for me and I have managed to get my days done, but it has been a struggle according to the farmers and hostel owners. It can be a big gamble being a farmer, as the work may get done to prepare for the season but that won’t stop a cyclone.
The fruit does some miles!
Once we finish a days fruit picking, the hundreds of bins of fruit get loaded onto a huge 18-wheeler and head for the big cities. Some domestic, some international. what seems baffling is that if the fruit is not bought or taken by the supermarkets for whatever reason, it may well end up in the local supermarket. So the fruit I pick up at Coles may be the one I picked earlier in the week. One supervisor once told me how his phone dropped into a bin and headed for Sydney. He didn’t know where it was until someone in Sydney picked up his call, telling him not to worry as the truck was heading straight back up to Ayr again!
Free/ fresh food tastes even better.
There isn’t much more satisfaction when eating than knowing your food is fresh, and even better, food you picked yourself. Our farmers are more than happy to let us take a pumpkin or watermelon home after a shift. I had made lovely pumpkin mash not too long ago, the first time I had tried it. Also, check the size of this eggplant…
I could go on all day about the little things I have learned in these five months, from the techniques to becoming a better picker to operating farming machinery. But I hope this was a nice little insight and as always, I’ll see you in the comments for any feedback and further questions.
Everyone I have met here has been lovely. There are of course exceptions, a few bad apples and the odd crazy person, but overall I have felt welcomed here.
This seemingly contradicts this post I published not too long ago, with some rather horrible posters asking backpackers to leave. But this was a one off, and I haven’t met anyone that seems to have a bad word to say about us. Not to mention the businesses that are getting plenty of backpacker money.
I remember my first farm job here in Ayr. I worked picking Achacha’s, the farm seen in this post. It was a great job. Tiring, but I realised after other farmwork that this was a great place to work. The farmers, Shane and Craig, are great. Scary at first glance, but great people to get to know. After finishing on the farm, we went back to Shane’s house for a BBQ and lots of beer. The family didn’t hold back on the food, even providing honey made from the achacha fruit.
It also reminds me of my very recent trip to see Sugar Cane burning that I documented in this post. Another time a farmer went out of his way to call us and made sure we didn’t miss out.
I am going to post about another adventure soon, as I am travelling south for two days with my current farmer and team. He has a house that is accessible by boat (or via car when the tides are out) and we are going to do a bunch of leisure activities as well as a few jobs around the house. It’s going to be fun.
Locals are a great addition to any experience. I would say it is one of the most important things to do on any trip, talk to those that live there. They know the place better than anyone, as well as the lesser known places that shouldn’t be missed. They don’t have to help make our experience a memorable one, but because so many want to, I will remember them throughout my travels.
I love small towns. People say hello as I walk by. Shopkeepers remember me. I could be waiting to cross the road and a car will stop right there to let me cross without a crossing in sight. What’s the rush? No traffic jams, no rush hours, no long journeys home. Everything is calm.
Not that I would want to move back to a small town, not yet anyway. The chilled life isn’t one I would recommend for young people due to the lack of opportunities. But for those that like this kind of life, good for you. I can see why.
It is nice to experience one again. I’m currently working around the corner from my hostel, behind the hospital which has greatly reduced my stress of potentially being bitten by a venomous snake. We leave for work at 6.10am and get there at 6.20am, enough time to drink our coffee from the flask before our 6.30am start. Half the journey is through the farm itself and into the shed.
I would complain about the early start and freezing cold weather (yep, even the tropical north has cold winter weather), but the sunrise makes up for this.
After work, we have little to do but socialise with our fellow backpackers and choose between the five pubs and restaurants that grace the towns main street. There is nothing but the main street.
This makes it easy to find friends… if they aren’t in the hostel, I can probably guess where they are in two or three guesses. It also makes it very hard to find alone time, such as this present moment as I enjoy a pint and some loaded pork fries. I took this shot below to show you this beautiful dog, a rescued dog in fact.
As I’m typing, regulars are coming in. I have been finishing early this week on my current farm as we have picked all the pumpkins we can, now we are cleaning up the farm and preparing it for the end of season. This is being spread over the week to give us more farmwork days, instead of us working overtime and doing it in 2-3 days. The regulars coming in are the same ones I’ve seen everytime I’ve been in here. Older regulars that I assume are locals and have been for a very long time. It makes me think. Have they lived here all their lives? This is one of the reasons I left my country to travel.
I remember my home village and know that I will see the same people going into the same shops and pubs when I head back home as I did when I was growing up. It freaks me out a little. Life is too short and the world is too big for me to stay in one place. I won’t be travelling forever, but if I had one piece of advice for young people today, it is travel. There is more opportunity now than there ever was. Make the most of it.
But there is something about experiencing this small town life that I have enjoyed. It is all the good stuff that this kind of laid-back lifestyle provides. The friendliness of the locals. The ablility to walk down the street without bumping into a thousand people on the way. The chance that when you do bump into someone it is someone you already know. It hasn’t been enough for me to want to relocate to a small town permanently, but it is something I have enjoyed whilst I complete my farmwork.
Small towns have a different kind of beauty and I am glad to experience one again, I am just pleased it isn’t for too long.
It happened a few weeks back on a Sunday in this very small farming town. Something that changed the mood and even made it onto international news sites, but not a claim to fame Ayr needs. Every little town wants to be placed on the map, but why anyone would want to be seen in a negative light is beyond me.
I was walking to Coles (a major Australian supermarket) from my hostel. A few minutes walk and because there is so little to do in Ayr, it is a trip I make everyday. It’s what we do in the working hostel. Make sure you don’t get enough food in for a couple of days because, well, how would we kill time after work? It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
I was walking down the street to the supermarket, it’s a straight road until you get to the car park. It’s a quick left at a building with blacked out windows, what this building is in not sure. I’m not even sure if it is occupied.
This is the poster in question. Warning, strong language.
There was in fact another poster a few steps up, however I don’t think it was appropriate to upload here. It was much more racist and I would probably have to blank out the majority of the poster. The funny thing is the choice of wording here. ‘Ayr is a backpacker free-zone.’
It really isn’t.
Ayr is a farming town like many others in rural Australia, heavily relying on backpackers to keep the industry moving. I assume the reason I have to do the 88 days of farm work to obtain a second year visa is due to a shortage of young people willing to work away from the cities. I don’t blame them, it really is something you have to have a passion for. If all the backpackers left Ayr overnight, they would be pretty screwed here. Most locals know this.
You can read a little more about this in articles over here at the relatively local SBS and the UK’s Daily Mail Online.
Also, if I’m not of ‘Northern European descent’ I’m not welcome here. Well, I’m a backpacker of Northern European descent. So being British allows me to stay, but being a backpacker cancels it out. Confused? Yeah, me too.
The Mail Online article above is interesting as it talks of the backpackers that hit back at the posters. Also, the locals that disagree with such discrimination. I have to say, the locals have been lovely since I’ve been here. The hatred in the posters is not seen in the town.
Don’t get me wrong, backpackers can be a troublesome bunch. I see working hostels as like being back at university. Young people working hard and partying hard. We are loud on the weekends when everyone meets for the bars to let off some steam generated by a week of long farm days. I can also see how much money goes into these bars, restaurants and hostels from the backpackers. It is a cycle that cannot afford to have a small minority of people breaking it up.
What are your thoughts on this? are you a backpacker or live in an area that is popular with them? Love them or hate them, they will never be as bad as the people that are capable of creating such hateful posters.
They will be happy I’m sure to know that I only have 25 days left.
Where? I hear you ask. Or shall I say, whayr? This small town has me very limited as to what I can do, so bad jokes it is.
In all fairness, it is what I expected from this small town. In fact it is a little bigger than I actually thought/dreaded. It has a Coles and a Woolworths, a few bars to cope with the demand that is only there on weekends from the few backpacker hostels that occupy the town. That and the odd few locals that have a beer after work, mostly guys in high visibility jackets.
I am starting my 88 days of farm work here, days that I need to accomplish if I am to extend my working holiday visa for a second year. So a little info about this small farming town:
This is where it is in Australia.
From Townsville it is an hour drive south, from Sydney it is a 22 hour drive north. Basically, if I was to drive to Sydney and you were to fly from London, it would be a pretty close race. That is how vast this nation really is. I’m sure some of you folk know what this is like in your home countries, but being from the north of England, I guess an equivalent drive would have me somewhere in Spain.
That euro-trip would in fact be shorter.
It has a population of 8,281 people. Aboriginal people make up 7.7% of the population and Italian is the second most common nationality in the town at 2.1%.
There is very little to do here, other than farm work, consuming alcohol or sampling the local KFC, McDonald’s and Domino’s. There will of course be some local eateries that I will try at some point, however the signs don’t dominate the streets like the global brands. I guess that is to cater for backpackers and make them feel at home, wherever home was.
There is also ten pin bowling, I almost forgot that.
The hostels here are all workings hostels, focusing on getting backpackers farm jobs to extend their visa. This is a great opportunity to meet like minded people all hating their new farming jobs together over a cold beer and some acoustic guitar. I guess the farm work is necessary as young people leave these towns for the big cities, leaving a vacuum in the farming industry. A second year visa option fixes this.
This feels like proper Australia. Different to Sydney, much smaller and more rural. Farm work will be a completely new experience for me, one that will be challenging but I am sure rewarding. I think for my future posts I will start with how many days of farm work I have left, it will help me keep a log. For now, thanks for reading my little insight into my temporary home!
I’ll see you soon, if the animals are friendly to me here that is.