Published: August 18th 2007May 1st 2007
Roger would fix almost anything, and if you bought him a bottle of tequila he'd even help you fabricate a ladder for the side of your car.
Well… This is a hard entry to write because working on the olive farm we have learnt so much, met so many people and had so much fun its hard to know where to start. I guess from were I left off on my last entry. We have been taught to drive all manner of vehicles from a quad bike to the Collosus olive harvester. We have made some great friends and having a lot of fun along the way.
Zoe and I were primarily the tractor drivers on the day shift, working from seven am to seven pm. These hours were hard especially as we had a forty five minute commute to and from so getting up at five in the morning when it’s cold (yes it gets cold in Australia too) and dark wasn’t very appealing so we would usually lay in our bed right up to the point where we really had to get up and get to work. We were only late the one time, not bad in three months.
Our first challenge in the morning was to find the harvester. Now, you wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a 40 ton white
Little red tractor
we all tried to avoid driving this tractor. it was old, smelly, noisy as the exhaust had fallen off the manifold , the exhaust leaked into the cab, the fan didn't work nor the a/c the seat didn't nove and had no padding it fell out of gear and was generally a pig to drive. good quality tractor.
machine the size of a Portsmouth house, but it can hide surprisingly well in among the 10 or so square kilometres of trees. But hopefully the night shift would be just knocking off as we arrive (providing the harvester hadn’t broken down and they had all gone home early) and could tell us which block and a rough row number. These navigation skills took a while to learn as to start with all the trees look alike. But with time we began to know the blocks, some of the land marks and the row number (sometimes a bit of a guess).
The harvester is an impressive piece of kit when it is working but most days there would be a break down or at leased a bit of time while the harvester crew fixed something, if they got 3 days without anything going wrong that was pretty good but we would be expect something major to happen then and to have quite a bit of down time. This down time was great as there wasn’t any breaks during our shift, so some days we would be flat out all day and then when it is broken we would literally
Man on the moon
I like this pic. looks like aliens are invading. but it's just the back of Zoes tractor harvesting at night.
be flat out feet up, usually reading a book, eating lunch or maybe help fix the harvester (I kept my back ground a bit quiet to start with as I really didn’t want to be roped into re-engineering a poorly made Argentinean piece of rubbish). The harvester crew really brought “bodging” to a new level. They were quite happy with a smack with a hammer a bit of bubble gum and gaffer tape to finish. Usually it would hold for a bit then break again. Then because of something they had “bodged” it would mess up another part and they would gaffer tape and bubble gum fix that too. If only they did it right the first time. They even made some of the navy quick fixes I had seen look like a professional fix. That is impressive! If the fault was a bit much for the crew and required welding usually Roger our deputy manager would be called upon to weld it back together. Or if parts were needed they would have to come from the eastern states so we would have a choice of finding something else to fill our day with or pack up and go home.
Just to give you some scale. The harvester parked at the shed yet again broken awaiting repairs.
A good job for killing time was to go out on the quad bikes looking for leaks in the irrigation system. Nice when the sun is shining as more often than not you would get wet so really just a sunny day job. We would also use the down time for tractor maintenance (cleaning, oil top ups etc) or if it was raining or too cold for irrigation go home and take a rest day. But obviously being paid by the hour we would want to kick it out for as long as possible.
When the harvester was working our job was pretty simple, just collect the olives as they come out the chute of the harvester catching them on the bins on the back of the trailer and then deliver them to the plant for processing. From there the olive would be put through a series of machines. The first would wash the olives, the next would crush them, the next (the malaxer) would warm the mush and crush it a bit more, then into the centrifuge to separate the skin, pips and other crap, then another centrifuge to separate the oil from any water in the olive,
Sunrise on the way to work. Really beautiful. Makes it worth getting out of my nice warm bed.
then into big storage tanks to allow any sediment to settle to the bottom.
As the harvest went on people would leave. The harvester drivers (Evo and Katherine(German)) left and the bosses nephew Matt who had been driving the tractor on the other harvester took over the picking head op’s position and a new driver came in. When the new driver went down sick there wasn’t anyone to replace him so it was down to me, zoe and Matt to drive the tractors and the harvester doing the job of five people. I even had a go driving the Colossus. But Matt did most the driving then either zoe or I doing picking heads and clearing the back conveyors from blockages. We were the “A Team”! New people would arrive to replace those who had gone some were really nice like Terry and Natsuko he was from Korea really hard to understand on the radio, great with a computer but knew nothing about his car like how to check the oil or water but he was really nice and she was from Japan really nice too really quiet though but spoke good English. Terry did try to teach me
This is Sydney. My pet spider, i think its a lace web but i'm not 100%. Sydney helped keep the flys away, or if they got on my nerves i fed them to Sydney.
a little Korean but I never could remember it. We also had one guy who was a complete tool, driving too fast in the tractor and was dangerous on the forklift trying to show off, Zoe really didn’t get on with him either. So he didn’t last long. But all in all everyone was really good, they were all really chatty really friendly but still got the job done without any real nagging from the boss.
It was beginning to feel like a never ending continuous cycle of getting up going to work coming home, eating, sleeping then off to work again (I think we did 22 days without a day off) Every time someone would ask how long we had left the answer would always two weeks, so after three weeks of saying two weeks suddenly the end was in sight we were harvesting the Pendollino the pollinator tree. I really don’t know how those harvesters finished the harvest, on a wing and a prayer I think as our harvester no-longer had any working lights, the picking heads no-longer moved in and out and the cabin was leaking but we did have our driver back. So with
Evo the driver of the harvester trying his hardest to fix the impossible. at leased he was trying to do it propperly this time and not just bubble gum and gaffer tape.
Zoe in front in her tractor shining her lights forward and me behind shining my lights through the harvester some how we finished the last row and got it back to the shed. Yey! We had finished the harvest! It seemed like a small miracle. Even Jim our boss was happy which was unusual as normally he would show no emotion about anything often he would ask how it was going and we would say “ Ah. Yes. Well the wheels have fallen off the harvester .” even a comment as catastrophic as this he wouldn’t bat an eye lid, and now here he is drinking beer laughing and having a good time. It was a bit sad at the end just saying good by to some of these people we had spent so much time with over the last few months.
After a well earned week off we decided we would stay on post harvest to help tidy up the farm. We were on pick up sticks. Pretty simple really, one of us drives the tractor up the row while the other cuts off any damaged branches and throws them on the trailer. I was amazed at how
How it works
This best explains how the olives are harvested. Evo and Katherine the driver and picking head operator on the balcony, G1 the Korean walker just behind there to pull sticks out the conveyor to prevent blockage.
much destruction had been caused by the harvest, the pile of sticks we were cutting off was growing rapidly into a mountain it would have made a great bonfire but we never got to set a match to it.
It wouldn’t be long until we would be back on the road again, I can’t wait getting a bit same same everyday.
There are more photos below