Or: The Art of not falling off Ladders
On Monday morning 7 AM sharp I sit at Sydney Central Station sipping on my flat white (do we have these things in Germany? I may be addicted). I hate leaving this city. But one must do what one must do. There are more adventures to be had in Australia, and I don’t want to (well, that’s debatable) get hung up on one bloke once again. Either way, I have to go, for now.
Fruitpicking – a backpacker’s nightmare. Most of us go through it at one point or another: for money, to obtain the 2nd year visa extension, or simply for the experience as some claim (riiiight…).
Of course most farms shamelessly rip us off. You get shit accommodation, some of which they even demand rent for, the pay is shit, and the work conditions are shit as well. I suppose that’s how Romanian onion pickers feel in Germany (I salute you).
After an 8 hour train ride I finally get to Shepparton. It’s in Victoria, about 3 hours from Melbourne, and famous for nothing but farmwork.
Absolutely nothing in Shepparton.
My first impression is “Duuuude… that’s less than desirable”. I was well aware that I shouldn’t expect much, but this place makes even the worst 16 bed dorm, bleach stinking bathrooms and tiny overcrowded kitchens seem like the Hilton Hotel. There are signs everywhere that demand cleanliness – otherwise no money on pay day – but their perception of a clean surrounding is a ton of spiders in the kitchen and toilets covered in spiderwebs and dust. The “common area” consists of two broken tables and a bunch of mismatched chairs, some of which have wooden boards as cushion.
That’s all fine and dandy, I am not a Princess Peach. But I was told there would be tents available. Turns out – there aren’t, and the next town is a good 10km away and no one willing to drive me there so I can buy my own accommodation.
One of the boys offers me to share his one man tent, just for the night. I think, well, I am short and tiny, I can fit into almost anything. Of course I hadn’t calculated that the guy would creep closer and closer in the middle of the night (is that a pear in your pocket that I am feeling on my arse or are you just happy to see me kind of style) and in the morning asks with a surprised face why I am lying all the way at the wall of the tent so that my head is sticking out funnily. I am not really one for cuddling, even less so with strangers, and the next day I am more than happy to set up my own private “room”.
Pears – a pain in the ass to pick. For someone, as I have mentioned, short as me. You get ladders to reach the tree tops, but they feel less than unsafe, and there are a few times where I am thinking, this is it. I am gonna drop to my death. Paranoid? You may laugh, but it’s not so unlikely. Just a few days before I arrived, one of the workers fell off the ladder and onto one of the huge bins, and apparently died. Another girl fell off and was hospitalized. Not so funny now, is it? Luckily, I am not hearing these stories until I am on my way to leave this place, or else I would have, well, left anyway.
On to the fun stuff: Your day as a stalwart fruitpicker starts at 5 in the morning, as the idea is that you want to use as much of the morning as possible. Around 11 or 12 it gets so hot that you can fry your lunch eggs on the hood of the tractor. If you don’t get up in time your team (usually consisting of 4) will leave you behind. Because no one really gives a fuck about you. In that case, you have to hang around the shed all day, with nothing to do but count the seconds as they pass by, which is much more of a punishment than to work all day in the hot sun.
If you do manage to get up – Congratulations! You’ll now come to enjoy watching the beautiful sunrise while sitting in a tree. It makes you feel really in touch with nature. Until your supervisor screams at you to work faster.
The pears you pick first go into a large bag that you are carrying around your shoulders like a big kangaroo pouch. They get quite heavy, and I can feel the glute gains going up and down the ladders with them. With those bags, you fill a huge bin. Bag after bag after bag… Don’t ask me how big, because I’m just a girl and we have no comprehension of size, but it takes me almost 3 hours to fill one bin. Some of the guys are quite fast and take only one hour. We’ll not speak about Asian machines who take about 30 minutes (they must have found some kind of cheat code). A bin pays $30, and I am happy if I make $90 a day. Most days (well, the three days that I actually picked) it’s only two, and on the day I leave, I have spent more money on train rides and camping stuff than I earned picking pears.
Pick up a copy of the 2015 friendly farmgirls calendar in your nearest gas station.
Farmlife reminds me of the Jungle. Your only form of entertainment is to talk about each other’s lives, and waiting around for dinner time. The only difference is that we get to use modern technology, even though reception in the middle of nowhere is – you guessed it – not always quite there.
On my second day, the Turkish supervisor fires me. On the new trees, that me and my team are supposed to work on, grow three different kinds of pears. One is green, one is half green half red, and one is red. Without even having started, he is convinced that I will fuck up. Instead of telling me himself, he sends one of my teammates over to kindly send me home. For good. No, this is in no way a comment on the treatment of women in Muslim countries.
Turns out, my tentmate saves the day: as he tells the supervisor that I have picked three bins on my own the day before, I can stay. All that counts is productivity.
My plan was to stay on the farm at least two weeks and make some good money. But when on the third day the weather forecast indicates rain, I pack up my single-skin tent and head for the nearest trainstation.