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.
If it wasn’t for the people here, I wouldn’t have been able to do farmwork. It’s the kind of work that you need to be motivated for.
If you aren’t in high spirits, a work day will last forever.
I have met all kinds of people here from all over the world. All with different interests and hobbies. It’s a good mix and the variety keeps the hostel fun. I have certainly had the most laughs in Australia right here in Ayr. It’s needed when we are being woken up at 6am with a hangover to work in fields in hot temperatures around snakes and spiders.
So a big thank you to everyone I have met here, you have been great company. I hope to see you all again for a drink somewhere.
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.
To the bottom right of this image you can see a giant shrimp. The problem with this is that we are miles from the ocean and a good ten minute drive from the nearest river.
How does it end up on a dirt road surrounded by pumpkin paddocks and sugar cane?
This isn’t the first time I have encountered something this strange. A few weeks back a coworker spotted a fish in the paddock as he was about to pick up a pumpkin. It couldn’t have been there for too long as it wasn’t too decayed. His confused face was a picture, the reactions were even better on the trailer from the packers. We placed the fish on the conveyor belt to be placed in a bin as we do with pumpkins, watching the guys about to pick it up before realising what it was was hilarious.
Are birds picking them up and dropping them? Some of these fields have also flooded in the past, I don’t know if the floods were so bad that fish could swim from nearby rivers up here and get stranded once the waters subside, but it’s another possibility.
Anyone know the reason or experienced this for themselves?
Hostel life is like being back at university. If you didn’t attend university, simply stay a night in a working or party hostel and there isn’t too many factors that tell them apart. It is hard to think of a time in my life that has been as entertaining on a daily basis, I probably have to go back to being 21 in Texas for such shenanigans. I know, I know… this is rather contradictory to this post two days ago about how I am going to miss ‘the simple life’, but this is more about the hostel and nightlife than the town itself.
I was walking to a bar a month or so ago. Ahead of me was a guy I knew heading to the same bar with a beer in his hand. It is not unusual for a group of 60 people to walk together to the bar, as the hostel has a drinking curfew of 10pm. This means there is a wave of people from each of the four hostels in this town collectively walking in search of the next beer. Usually the weekends are trouble free, despite this.
Anyways, back to the story. As we walked, a police car came around the corner ahead of us and down the road we were on. The problem with this is, it is illegal to drink on the street and having a beer in your hand will result in a fine. The police car stopped. The guy knew what was about to come, so he decided to throw the beer away and run away from the police. Not the wisest choice he has made, I’m sure.
What happened next was hilarious. The police cars sirens went on, the guy ran round the corner, the police car followed before the guy stopped dead and ran back around that came corner to try to escape the police. This happened four times. The police car impressively kept up with this and he was caught down a back alley trying to jump a fence.
He spent some time with the police before being handed an $800 fine and a weeks ban from the bars. He couldn’t go within 50 meters of any bar. The fine was a combination of littering, obstruction of police or something similar and of course, drinking in the street.
What is funny about this is how the policeman handled the situation. He recognised that we were there when the chase occurred and told us about it in the early hours. That’s right, it wasn’t the backpacker that told us how he was arrested, it was the policeman that night! Apparently the chase made the policeman’s day and he had a laugh about it, as well as telling us how he hopes the drinker had travel savings to pay the fine.
Lesson learned, don’t drink in the street and don’t assume you are faster than a car.
I would say this was the funniest experience I have had since arriving. Not a proud one, but you have to laugh at these things. From naked people jumping into the pool, fake snakes in the shower and peoples beds, the food fights, the games of football between nationalities, the fun banter between nationalities during the World Cup… It has been a bunch of fun. Sometimes chaos, but always fun.
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.
Whilst the watermelons are not quite ready to pick, I’ve been picking pumpkins to afford my weekly rent at the hostel and to tick off more of the 88 days I need to do to obtain a second year visa. This was going well until one pumpkin decided to ruin my day altogether causing me to jump around and swear like a madman. I ended up here after my shift, it thankfully happened only 30 minutes before finishing picking.
What happened was this. The gloves I was provided to pick with worked well, but are prone to wear and tear with the spiky stems of the pumpkins. They are also terribly itchy when walking through the vines, one of the more frustrating factors to deal with at on this particular farm.
My middle finger became exposed through the glove throughout the day, and towards the end I realised the benefit of having gloves to wear when working. As I picked a pumpkin, I didn’t see another one right next to it under some dense vines. As I hurriedly bent down to pick it (it is important to keep up with the trailer as all the fruit needs adding to a conveyor belt to be placed in large cardboard bins) I scraped my finger down the skin of the hidden one. This resulted in pumpkin skin- very hard and tough skin may I add- being jammed under my fingernail. This detached a portion of my fingernail from the skin underneath, causing quite a bit of pain.
It isn’t so bad, but for those that are easily grossed out, look away now. This was my finger the following day.
You can see the green skin underneath my nail (yep, it’s green, I always though it was orange!) and the white skin is from Benedine soaked onto my finger underneath a bandaid. The nurses spent a good 30 minutes trying to get the pumpkin out by jamming some tweezers under my nail, all to no avail… It would simply break up when trying to pull out. The most painful part was the bill afterwards. I didn’t get a Medicare card, so this ‘Level C Surgery’ cost me $80!
Lesson, get a Medicare card, and avoid farmwork if possible.
I have been working on a watermelon farm, ten to twelve hours a day, 5 days a week. I am lucky however, the reason we had last weekend off was due to a big event in Ayr (the annual races) and this weekend off because the watermelons aren’t quite there yet. I start again tomorrow. I wanted to write today because I have a big chunk of free time. I have no excuse not to. I know I don’t have to, but if I want to become a full time blogger or writer, I need to write when I can. I need to now my diary is free and I am not ready to collapse in exhaustion.
I am getting regular notifications on my post The Waves of Motivation and the Reason I Can Blog Daily from readers, and this post in particular is one I need to reflect on the most. I have recently received the 246th like on this post and the 86th comment between myself and the great community I have here. The reason I have so much feedback on this post compared to others is obvious to me. For one, it is a post that you and I can read and take something from. It is self help for me, but my readers can also find value in it. But more than that, it is about how frequently I was blogging and engaging with the community here. It would not have anywhere close to this number if I had no one to read it. It is all about being motivated enough to write and get posts out there regularly. Something I haven’t done recently.
I have been working hard each day, but this is an excuse I have given myself to justify not blogging as frequently. People work much longer hours than me and make it work. In fact, a few hundred words daily isn’t even particularly difficult. Picking watermelons is much harder.
Blogging is currently a hobby for me. The sad thing about this is that more often than not, hobbies cannot be prioritised due to work. Work that we prefer to not be doing but pay the bills. Because we cannot be fired from our hobbies, we don’t often put in as much effort. How crazy is that? The things we want to do for a living, we often don’t give our all.
I think this is tragic. For me, I constantly remind myself that once I’m no longer travelling Australia, I’ll have to make a choice. Do I go back to a job I don’t particularly want because I haven’t spent enough time working on the things I love doing, or do I work hard now and hopefully open new doors in the near future? It should be a no brainier.
And I wouldn’t even class this as work. As the saying goes, if you have a job you enjoy, you will never work a day in your life. And blogging isn’t work to me, even if I spend as much time here as I do in a job that pays. Maybe my hobby will free me from work in the future, and I hope yours will too.
As I was mango pruning (with Honey, the dog in my last post) a colleague noticed what we assumed was a Frilled- Necked Lizard in a tree. It wasn’t until we went up to it and gave it a little nudge that we saw it do this with its neck, helping us to narrow down the species.
We didn’t leave it be in the tree as we had to cut down the ‘dead shit’ as our farmer calls it, dead leaves and whole branches stopping the spread of disease to the healthy branches. One of the local farmers picked it up by its tail and moved it onto the ground, but not until I managed to get a good shot of it first. It was much safer for it than to be in the tree whilst we throw a great big saw around.
Isn’t the world amazing? It reminds me of this scene in Jurassic Park, involving Nedry and a curious yet aggressive Dilophosaurus.
Have you seen a frilled-necked lizard before? Would you be mesmerised or terrified if you stumbled across one?
Thankfully, I got to see an animal up close that resembles a Jurassic beast, small enough to let me live to tell the tale.