Breaking our backs in Oz

Australia's flag
Oceania » Australia » Queensland » Bundaberg
June 5th 2006
Published: June 5th 2006
Edit Blog Post

Early morning start at the banana farmEarly morning start at the banana farmEarly morning start at the banana farm

Our little car,Zola, who needs some serious revving to wake her up in the morning!
We arrived in Hervey Bay, fresh off the plane from Sydney and were conspicuous from the start, overdressed in our jeans, fleeces and trainers, whilst the locals wandered round in board shorts and flip slops. The temperature was about 15 degrees warmer than it had been in Sydney, the sun was hot in the sky and it seemed strange to think that it is autumn/winter here. The shuttle bus took us through dry, arid and very flat landscape, now and again dotted with a few settlements. Nearer Bundaberg the landscape changed to green fields as far as the eye could see, mainly sugar cane farms. We were dropped off at Cellblock, the place we would call home for the next week or so, and found our room to be in a converted cell. Quite appropriate considering we knew we were going to be doing “time” here for 3 months in order to earn an extension on our visas.

Wandering through the town on Sunday afternoon, we had that distinct sinking feeling that we had come to a one horse town. There seemed to be plenty of shops around, a few banks and restaurants, but nothing was open, not even the
Our flat at BargaraOur flat at BargaraOur flat at Bargara

Simple, but in a great location, and ten times better than a hostel!
supermarket. After walking for an hour or so, we finally found a local who pointed us to the nearest grocery store. We grabbed a few supplies and headed back to the backpacker. The warm sunshine was a little reassuring, at least we wouldn’t have to freeze our butts off, but rather worry about sunburn and dehydration.

Monday dawned and we spent it trawling the employment agencies, phoning local farmers and putting our names down on any list relating to farm work. There are literally hundreds of backpackers here doing seasonal work, or looking for work, so it became apparent we would not be landing jobs as easily as we had hoped with all the competition around. It is quite humbling to be looking for minimum wage work and not being able to put down any relevant experience relating to picking, packing or driving tractors! A contact we had been given by a friend in South Africa, led us to some South Africans who own a farm on the outskirts of Bundaberg. Their advice on where to buy a car, how to get around, who to work for etc, proved invaluable and it gave us some direction.

Back in the hostel surrounded by a 150 mainly 18 year old travellers all trying to cook dinner in between drinking at the bar was quite an experience. It was pretty obvious there and then that the 2 small kitchens would never accommodate all these dinners, so we decided to eat raw food for the duration of our stay and managed to make salads, balancing all the ingredients on the top of the little bar fridge in our room. There was no table in our room, so even making a cup of tea was quite a mission.

Ear plugs and eye masks became our best friends as the music pumped from the pool side bar every night until the wee hours of the morning. Our attempts to find work had not borne any immediate results, so we signed up to the work list at the backpacker and both found ourselves leaving for work on Tuesday morning at 5am. Can’t remember the last time we woke up that early, but it was great to know we would at least be earning some bucks that day. The rest of the week went by in a blur. The mornings start times moved back to 4.30am and I worked between 10 and 13 hours a day. I learnt how to sort zucchinis, capsicums and tomatoes off a conveyor belt and pack them in to crates and boxes. All this whilst the very scary supervisors hollered and screamed at us and fired people right on the spot if their packing wasn’t up to scratch. Every muscle in my back and legs ached and the hours ticked by slowly. I swore I would never want to see or eat another zucchini or red pepper. The smell of rotting “fruit” is not appetizing and no matter how many times you wash your hands you can still smell them. At least I now know what constitutes a good piece of fruit/vegge when I next go shopping for tomatoes and zucchinis. I have a new found respect for those people who do manual labour every day of their lives. It takes a strong body and even stronger mind to get you through those long hours and the repetitive work. Nearing the end of the day we would all look longingly at the end of the belt to see how many more crates were still to be offloaded for packing. Sometimes
Kelly's beach, BargaraKelly's beach, BargaraKelly's beach, Bargara

We go for long walks on the beach on our days off
the crates were stacked to the roof and it was already mid afternoon. Then we knew for sure we would be going home long after dark.

Keith spent a few days picking cucumbers and zucchinis out in the hot sun and came home with aching back and sore arms scratched by the vines. We quickly realised that we would have to toughen up very quickly if we were going to make it through the next 3 months. Our immediate mission was to find somewhere else to live and to get us some wheels. The daily newspaper became our new best friend and we trawled through the daily classifieds each day, making calls to try and find us a home or a car. Someone was on our side, as Keith took a bus ride out of Bundaberg town to the nearest beachside town called Bargara, and happened to see a board advertising long term rentals in a holiday apartment. Once he had spoken with the owners and explained we would be here for a few months, they agreed to a really good rate and we arranged to move in the next few days. The two bedroom unit is a few steps from the very pretty Kelly’s beach and we have our own kitchen, bathroom and outside patio all to ourselves! All this for $130 less than the backpackers, per week! Keith found us a car in the classifieds and we have called her Zola as she has some hilarious coloured “go faster stripes” painted on her side doors. She is a 1982 Ford Meteor and takes some revving to get going in the early mornings.

Our first week in our new home was pretty stressful as we battled to find work once we moved out of the hostel. Our mornings were spent on the phone to all the surrounding farms, or driving to the farms nearby to ask for work. The days went by and just when we thought things were looking down, one of the farmers we had dropped in on by chance, asked us to work for him for a week. He runs a banana/sweet potato farm just ten kms from Bargara, so it was great to find something near home. Each morning this week the alarm clock raised us at 5am and we pulled on our old work gear and forced down some tea and breakfast. The sunrise over the sea on our drive to work was always amazing, but the mornings have been chilly and we huddled in the car until the farmer arrived to dish out our chores for the day. We worked hard, from 6.30am until 4pm every day, pruning banana trees with big pangas, cutting down banana bunches, driving tractors, packing bananas, weeding sweet potato fields and clearing the suckers from the banana plantations. Needless to say every muscle ached and when we got home each night we could do no more than soak in a hot bath and then crash in to bed at 8pm to get some shut eye. The red soil seems to get in to every crevice and so we scrub behind our ears under our nails and all over to try and get clean after a hard days work. Our work clothes are a real sight and even after hours of soaking them in hot soapy water there is no getting rid of the sap stains. The farmer was really good to us and although the work was tough he gave us a variety of work and treated us really well. He taught us so much about farming bananas and once again we have come to realise just how much work goes on behind the scenes before you pick up that bunch of bananas in the shops. The cyclone up north last month destroyed many banana farms, which means that banana prices are at an all time high, so we feel quite spoilt to have a whole 2 bowls of bananas sitting in our kitchen which we got for free! The farmer also gave us sweet potatoes the size of rugby balls, so no guesses what we have been eating for the last week!

This week we start work on a strawberry farm and will have to get up even earlier each morning as it is a 30 minute drive from here. The sore muscles and early starts seem to be less of a pain as the weeks go by and we will hopefully build up strength and get in to a routine. Thinking back over the last nine months when we travelled the world and slept late, lay on the beach and didn’t worry about rent or food bills or income, it would never have occurred to us that we would be doing harvest work in Queensland for a living! It is quite something to go from being on holiday for 9 months to spending one’s days bent over pulling weeds! But some would say we had that coming to us after having such an awesome time. So we have decided to look upon these three months as an adventure, to learn as much as we can about farming so one day we might just be able to tend to our own little vegetable garden!


10th June 2006

envy you
Dear Lisa and Keith reading your travel blogg gave me such admiration for you both. Stick in there and think of the big picture. I always think too of the possitives - at least you still have luxuies and are getting paid for your work - inagine being on a slave labour camp in afganistan or something!! Look after yourselves and if you need anything we are only - what about ten hours away! Love karen

Tot: 0.184s; Tpl: 0.011s; cc: 17; qc: 73; dbt: 0.1071s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.2mb