Thursday, 24 July 2014

Chapter 9: Farm Work - The Grape Contingent!

It's been 6 long months since I've updated this....some of you may have thought me dead. Others will have presumed that I have been lying in a coma somewhere or even abducted by aliens! The latter is probably the closest guess...or as I'll put it, I was abducted by farm aliens and transported to a place of limited internet connection, with little time to write due to heaps of manual labour being forced upon us haha! Okay, so I'm being dramatic! Here's what actually happened. :P

I left Brisbane at the end of February and began my journey south. I was due to start a job in Merbein, just outside of a town called Mildura in Victoria. After a 3 hour flight to Melbourne; 24 hours floating around the city and then a 9 hour overnight bus trip, I finally arrived at my destination.

I was going to be living on a grape farm, in a small 2 bed house, with....wait for it....19 other people living there! There was one small kitchen, bathroom/shower and no personal space. How can 20 people co-habit in living conditions like that?!

What a crazy setup! I don't have a picture of the actual house....possibly a good thing!

A typical day on the farm started around 5.30am each day. If you wanted a quiet breakfast and room to breathe in the kitchen, it was best to get up at 5am; even earlier if you wanted a shower. We were at the grape shed for about 6.45am and started work at 7. Every morning 'dawned' dark and clear. The starry night sky welcomed you as you ambled sleepily towards the people carrier that took us to work. The sun only came up once we were actually working.

Pre-dawn! Wait, what?

Sunrise behind the grape shed!

Sometimes, the dawn was purple! 

Hi ho, hi ho.....

After work, we'd go back to the house. Some of us would run the 2-3k back. Some would walk it and then there was the car....sometimes it was safer to walk or run back haha! Although there was only room to seat 10 people in there, one day we managed to fit 14 in the car, including Taku huddled up in the boot!

There was the daily run to the village for shopping and then the scramble to cook and prepare lunches for the next day or two. The queue for the shower was long and sometimes you had no choice but to have a cold shower. Then dinner and snuggle into your bunk by 8 or 9pm.

At first, work was a bit nerve-wracking. Those of us who were a little uncoordinated, like me, came to work hoping that they wouldn't cut off one of their fingers mid-trim. I was slow at first but as the weeks drifted by I began to improve. Essentially, we had to make the grapes 'look pretty' by trimming off the rotten, soft and green grapes.

We stood in rows,2-3 people to a table – these were circular with a conveyor belt beneath for the undesirable grapes, spiders, bugs to be whisked away on.

 Our beloved grape filled fridge of fun!

We had to lift crates of grapes, which were loaded onto a belt behind us to our station. Once we had trimmed them we placed them on the table, where there would be someone waiting to pack them into Styrofoam boxes before they were padded and exported. Ours days were long and often monotonous. We generally spent 8-10 hours in the grape shed per day.

But, working there had its perks. I mean the pay wasn't anyway good but we had some great fun in that fridge of a fun house. I stumbled upon many spiders - red backs in particular. They liked to spin their webs inside some of the grape. When you picked up a bunch, the general rule was check for a spider web. If there was one, that usually meant there was possibly a black widow/red-back in there. Knowing this prevented me from being bitten on a few occasions.

One incident involving a red back spider comes to mind. Now, the spiders by this point didn't freak me out as much as when I first started but I still preferred not having them on my actual person. I bet you can tell where this is heading?! :P So, I was at my station, trimming hood was up because it was particularly cold in the shed that day. Out of the corner of my eye saw this thing lower itself in front of my face. Realizing it was a spider, I quickly and calmly knocked it into the rubbish belt. Only then did I realize that it was one of these

and that's when I freaked out, rushed to the back of the room and removed the hoodie, tears forming in my eyes. Clearly I wasn't completely over my spider phobia lol.

I could not have hoped for a better crew of people to work with either. In our house we had many different nationalities - Irish, English, Korean, Chinese, Japanese Italian, Chilean and Turkish. To this day I have no idea how we didn't end up killing each other in such close quarters. We had a lot of fun, joking about and trying to not get too 'lost in translation'. There are many, many languages that I need to learn. It would have been great if I had been able to speak Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and Turkish. Turkish especially, so we could have understood our supervisor better! :D He was a funny guy. We almost considered him a lovable father figure in the end, even though he acted like a dirty old man sometimes. Generally, we ignored it because he was very likeable and let us get away with talking when we should have been working! That and he was tame unlike a certain Turkish packer who asked many of the girls for sex and who was very, VERY creepy. I remember that particular guy coming to the house and saying he was moving in - I think had he done it, we would have all definitely moved out...yuk! The thought still gives me shivers!

There was often a lot of laughter at work...sure, it was one of the few ways to stay warm and sane. After a few weeks, the group had meshed well together and we all got on well. I grew very friendly with one of the girls from Chile in particular. We often distracted each other from our work and usually ended up in fits of laughter over the stupidest of things. We fought over who got the last crate of grapes - usually, the worse crate, so we always tried to offload it onto the other person! My Chilean friend liked to play tricks on me and sometimes it was better if we weren’t working at the same table. A particular example comes to mind. I was trying to extract a red back (spider) from a bunch of grapes. It was taking a long time and I was hunched over the belt so it wouldn’t fall back into the crate. In the meantime, 'my friend' haha ran her fingers along the back of my neck causing me to scream and jump with fright, thinking there was another spider on me! When I found out it was her, we started to laugh and then, because we couldn't stop, we started to cry with laughter. The looks we got, they all thought we were crazy and sure maybe we were! Staring at grapes all day does funny things to the mind! :P

Robbed this from Lorenzo!

Another story to back that theory up is when a few of us were separated from the group to trim the greener grapes. We were dubbed the 'Green Team' - I know, highly original name, and were in our own section of the shed. This meant that we often got away with a lot of goofing around and fun because the supervisor trusted us to do a good job. If only he had known about the dancing! You can see for yourselves that we worked our asses off on those days haha

I took up running to get fit - and also to stop me from going crazy if I'm honest. It worked too! Before I could barely run for longer than a minute and now, I'm able to run over 3k in one go. Not a bother on me :) Big shout out to a lovely Irish cailín who got me motivated in that department. There is no greater feeling than walking into K-Mart, realizing that you need a smaller size than before and skipping home, proud as punch :) I couldn't believe it!

Part of my running route!

If we had any down time or days off, we'd spend it either shopping in Mildura, dancing and drinking in Doms Nightclub, eating delicious wedges in Sandbar (below)

treating ourselves to lunch in Hog's Breath Cafe(below)

or catching up on sleep back in the house. For the most part, we tried to stay out of the house as much as possible. On the subject of alcohol, we did consume a fair bit. Sometimes, it really was necessary although we could have done without the next day hangover lol. We had house parties, pizza parties, pancake parties, birthday parties, bowling parties and drinking game parties. We invited some of the other backpackers from the shed to the latter.

I 'remember' (read: remember being told about), one night where I simply couldn’t remember getting to/and coming back from Mildura because I was too drunk - obviously they wouldn't let me into the nightclub in my state....being able to walk is apparently a requirement for entering an establishment like that haha! The following day, I had 'The Fear' as we call it back home....I couldn't remember a thing. Many people had to remind of how I had embarrassed myself the night before. My Chilean friends, the lovely Irish cailín, my Japanese friend and I spent the next few hours laughing at my drunken state. Thank God, they didn't take advantage of the situation or anything.
I was not the other drunken mess in our time in Merbein. Another girl, after drinking a fair bit, started singing (read: shouting repeatedly) 'Drink' and 'I don't care, I love it'. The only way she could be subdued was by one of the Chilean girls force feeding her Doritos to try to sober her up...haha! It was like watching a dog being fed treats lol

There were a few hook ups and relationships formed and broken during the 10 weeks that we spent there. People came and went and slowly work began to finish up. Our number dwindled, people moved on to other jobs and other places but the friends that we had made within those walls were some of the craziest people I have ever had the privilege to know. We may meet again, probably in Melbourne or in one of their many homelands. It'll be very difficult to forget them <3

Tali gets a special mention here!

My beautiful farm girls!!

And to finish, a crazy group shot!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Chapter 8: Part 2 - A Voice From The Past!

 Here's the piece I wrote a while back! I'm the living proof that waiting for the right reasons is totally worth it! Don't judge me for all these philosophical ravings haha!

Waiting – a necessary or unnecessary evil?!

When do you stop waiting and take action? When is waiting necessary? (Buses…J) When is it an excuse? Can it be construed a playing it safe? These are all viable questions that I have asked myself at many stages in my life. It is quite possible that at some point, I have answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions. Even as I enjoy a lazy, unproductive day, I contemplate this question. Is staying in my current situation a necessary evil or am I still playing it scared?!

For some, waiting may be an excuse to avoid reaching their full potential. For example: are you sitting, reading this and thinking that you want to do more with your life?!

But, no, you couldn’t possibly! That’s for younger, more confident, better off people.

This is a sign that you are playing it safe. I firmly believe that a life half lived is a life not lived at all. It has taken a lot for me to realise this and had I the knowledge earlier I wouldn't be where I am today.

Others merely wait for their lives to begin. I felt this when I finished my undergrad degree. I often wondered why other people were out having fun and having great life-altering experiences. Why I wasn't one of them?! Didn't I deserve to be getting ahead in my chosen career? Why wasn't I travelling the world? What was so different about me? (One reason was the financial one, of course) When I look back on this time, I realise that money was not the real problem. It was just an excuse. I could have applied for a J1 visa and gone abroad, taken an Erasmus year in college. I had convinced myself that I had to wait - that my time would come if I was patient.

Good things come to those who wait?..... but waiting around can be construed as just playing it too safe.

Should have, would've and could have! Three things that myself and my friends use quite frequently. Too frequently! It seems like we are all focusing on the past. On assignments not done properly, places we haven’t explored, last night’s indulgences or horrible boys we've kissed. It seems that life is passing us by. Instead of focussing on the great things we have in the present, our time is consumed with thinking about things we could have done differently in the past.

But what does this have to do with waiting and making excuses? Well, those of us who are stuck in this waiting rut are focusing on the past instead of planning for our futures! 

Waiting, however necessary is a boring and sad excuse for a life that could be amazing. There I go again – ‘could be’ – but in this context I am thinking positively. Two months waiting in limbo is far better than a life spent there. I work where I work so that I can save. I save money so that I can travel. I travel to allow myself to grow and by growing I become who I want to be. So, waiting in my case is a necessary evil! It will allow me to live rather than merely exist.

If you are making excuses for not living the life you want or waiting for your life to begin – just STOP! Stop waiting. Take action. Waiting is only a necessary evil when it leads to a positive and exciting end. It is never necessary in the long run. Waiting should not replace living your life; it should give you limited time to prepare for the next adventure.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hope you liked it!

Love Tasha x

Chapter 8: Late Twenties, Here I Come!

A new entry...great, I hear you say! Yes! This post is different to the usual narrative of my stay in Australia. Truth be told, I don't have a lot to record at the minute. I'm preparing to take a trip to Auckland, New Zealand in a week so I'll get back to my travel experiences after that. Hopefully, I'll be able to share some exciting news with you then too!

So, yesterday I got an early birthday message from a relation of mine in England. Completely out of the blue - especially since my birthday isn't until next week haha! Two simple words:

But, it inspired my way of thinking and propelled me into a wave of extreme positiveness that made me the happiest I have been in a while. The fact that I'll be starting off a new birth year always has great significance for me. Mainly because it's a chance to start afresh. The last 6 months has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I have uprooted myself from my life in Ireland, quit my job, broke up with a great guy, and travelled half way around the world. It's been a bit of an adjustment. I'll admit, it hasn't been easy. I've felt isolated, afraid and insecure at times and sometimes I've felt like I was stuck in a waiting rut. Waiting for things to happen. Waiting, yes, I find myself waiting again.

However, thanks to that message, I'm not thinking in the same way as before. I mean, I'm in Australia. Not exactly doing what I want to do yet, but I have all avenues open to me! I'm not afraid of what I might or might not do. I'm looking forward to all possibilities that may come my way. Getting older for many people is a negative experience and most of us associate negative connotations with getting older. Some focus on the bad things that have happened in the past year and that in turn sets you up for disappointment or low expectations for the coming year.

In my opinion, that's a waste of time. I'm happy to be getting on in years haha! My birthday always sparks happy thoughts for me. Turning twenty-seven (late twenties, here I come!), gives me great hope. I'm that much smarter (maybe), wiser (also, debatable) and more aware of what I want for myself. As I walked home in the beautiful Aussie evening, I realised how lucky I was (and am) to be where I am, to have all these great opportunities in front of me and most importantly, to have the wonderfully wacky support system I have behind me.

Briefly, my thoughts turned negative as I thought of how little I had going into the new year and also how much I missed people, my friends especially, back home. But, then, this idea, a revelation one might say, came to me - that no matter where I went, no matter how far away I was, that, it didn't matter how long I went without seeing them; I would be friends with these wonderfully flawed perfect people until the day I die. That thought was the reason for my happiness yesterday and it continues to fuel the bubbling fire in me as I write this. So, a thank you is due to that individual (you know who you are) for kindling such positiveness and for making me smile like a fool as I walked home. I also thank you for the weird looks I probably got from passers by - not that I noticed or cared!

This leads me to introduce my next piece that I wrote six months ago from a rain ridden, cloudier, frustrated me, waiting for her life to start. Yes, waiting! She seems, now, like a completely different person to me as I write this. I feel more myself and mature in many ways. However, that same girl is in here somewhere too, as a reminder that waiting is only a limitation that we put on ourselves. She was right, the waiting period is over for me! I will post it directly after this and I hope it sparks positive thinking and inspires you as it did me as I re-read it!

Love Tasha x

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Chapter 7: 10 Great Days in Melbourne!

So, I've returned from Melbourne in one piece, thankfully. Apart from a hole in my wallet, a bit of a burn and some new friends I haven't changed much. Or maybe I have! It was daunting to pack up an go to a new city. I didn't know my way about, barely knew another soul (except for one Irish friend from home). I felt like a fish out of water. After checking in at the hostel, I headed to the common area and within minutes found myself engaged in a giant game of Jenga. That's how you get to know people. I met a lovely girl from Dublin that night. Small world, huh! She's lives one suburb over from me! Mental.

The hostel was a pretty cool place. Strict enough in matters of drinking and that made it a pretty safe environment to spend ten days. They staff were great. They really made an effort to provide entertainment each night. I arrived on Monday, which was game night (i.e. Jenga, Monopoly, Uno, Nitty Gritty etc.). After, we went to the Espe, a bar down near the beach. There was a band playing called Secret Tsunami. They had a great front man, who totally rocked a pink cowboy hat! Alas, I have no evidence. That was an early night for myself and my Irish friend.

The next night was New Years Eve! We had drinks in the hostel in the garden before we went down to the beach in St Kilda. Standing in the ocean as the clock stuck 12 and rung in the new year as a new person. Honestly, I've never felt more alive than I did then. Knee deep in warm water, looking at a cloudless sky on the other side of the world! It was incredibly liberating! At that moment, I made a decision to leave 2013 behind and to move forward. I also decided that I was going to stay on in Australia. More on that later. Didn't get any firework photos but, if you can imagine the entire city skyline stretched out in front of you, the lights of the city twinkling at you from all sides, stars and constellations in clear view, seagulls frolicking over the baby waves crashing on the sand, music blaring in the background - coming from a packed pub on the beach, people counting back from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.....and then colours exploding against the inky black sky. Hugging anyone and everyone. Splashing around in the water. Lots of laughter. Never felt so free. A great start to the year.

New Years Day was a bit of a washout. Yes, rain. So I may have watched cricket all day...or maybe it was random movies. I can't remember exactly. I was hung-over! By the evening we had started drinking again. This was Wednesday. Think it was a pretty civilised night!

Thursday, I took a tram into the city for the day. I have lots of photos from that trip. I love Melbourne. It's very easy to navigate your way about. I got off at Federation Square, which is near South Bank/the river and proceeded to wander around the neighbouring side streets.

Flinder's St Station

Side View of Federation Square

View towards MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) on the river

Cathedral off Federation Square

View from Federation Square towards South Bank

It's very difficult to get lost in Melbourne. There is actual accurate sign posts, not like in Ireland. Walked up Swanson St to the National Library. The sun was shining down and it was great to be out in it. I had a look at a free exhibition inside about the architecture of the building. On route, I had passed Chinatown and the main shopping district.

 Front of National Library

 Statue outside

After that I took a walk up to Russell St to the Melbourne Gaol. This is where Ned Kelly served his sentence and was killed in 1880. I also saw the City Court which is on the same street. While I was in town, I did the mandatory lunch and shopping routine before I jumped on a tram back to the hostel.

Melbourne Gaol

That night is when all the fun kicked off! Haha! There was a BQQ back at Habitat (the hostel) or a sausage sizzle as it can be called here. I was sitting with my Irish friend. We got chatting to this young Aussie guy. After a few drinks, the three of us took a trip back into the city. We went to a bar in Chinatown - I can't remember the name of it, so you know it was a good night haha! All I know was that it had this fantastic vintage Juke Box, a supply of Jameson and a pool table. Also, we Irish drank the Aussie under the table and staggered back to the hostel around 4am.

Got to see a pre dawn view over St. Kilda Beach. As you can see, it's a pretty nice photo!

Friday, well after only two hours sleep, I obviously didn't do much! We did a cool thing that evening though, now that I think of it. I had volunteered to go down to guide the penguins into the pier. They come in at night to breed, feed their young and to shed their feathers (which they do all in one go). It's not a march of the penguins scenario but there were a few about. Each of us were given a high vis vest and a red light touch. We had to make sure that nobody was taking flash photography. Penguins are very sensitive to flash photography and it can cause them to go blind and therefore they wouldn't be able to hunt/see underwater. Funny enough, they don't register the colour red. So when people wanted to take a photo, we were on hand to light their way - so to speak! It was fierce windy up their on the pier. If I was to live in Melbourne, I would definitely volunteer every week!

This is the turnout on the night we went down. Packed!

Saturday, I went into town to meet up with a friend from Galway. We went to the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a really diverse experience. Very child friendly and I got to make a bracelet and take it home. I watched a bit of the cricket with a group of Poms in the afternoon and that night we all went out dancing. Made a few new friends. It was one of those perfect nights out. Sunday, we watched the last match of the Ashes (Cricket). England v Australia and it was a wash out! Aussies won 5-0. Had a cat nap in the afternoon. Had drinks with the Aussie, who was on a high after the cricket. Beat me at pool and then we watched Pulp Fiction until stupid o'clock in the morning!

Monday, I went to meet another friend in the city. We went to this place called Lentil As Anything. It was a vegetarian restaurant, where they had no set prices. You could have as much as you wanted and then donate what you thought the food was worth. It was delicious and the idea is pretty cool. I heard a story about a guy who brought his girlfriend on their first date there. You'd think that wouldn't go down well but after they ate he donated 50 dollars before he left which certainly impressed his date. That night, there was a fierce game of Monopoly going on at the hostel when I got back. Over a few drinks, of course! It was game night at the hostel and it wasn't long before the giant Jenga resurfaced. It was fun and then we went out dancing that night! Great fun!

Tuesday was definitely a movie day! The Fast and the Furious and Catch Me If You Can. I may have booked my flight back to Brisbane that day. Wednesday was my last full day in Melbourne, so my Irish friend Sara and I took a trip down to Brighton Beach which is a few stops away from the city by train. Brighton Beach is home to the colourful bathing boxes (I'd call them sheds) and gives you some nice views of city skyline.

We enjoyed playing the tourist and got lots of photos. It was a warm 25 degrees that day which was my downfall. I had forgotten to bring sun cream. The wind is very deceitful so you don't feel it happening, until it's too late. I had turned into a strawberry by late afternoon and was still a walking talking human radiator by 11pm that night.

I was sad to say goodbye to the people I had met that night. One or two people particularly. But, I'm sure we'll meet again as I'm planning to extend my stay in Australia. And we'll keep in contact in the meantime. But, as I had spent too much already, I knew it was time to go back, sleep, save and recuperate! It was a good thing though because in the days since I left, Melbourne has been hit with a heat wave. I swear it has hit 45 degrees at some point and we're expecting a slightly cooler heat wave her in Brissy over the weekend.

That's all for now,

Love Tasha x