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!

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