The girl who mistook her finger for a grape-vine!!

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March 30th 2011
Published: April 2nd 2011
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2 April 2011
Hello All!
A week ago, on what we thought would be our last evening in the Barossa, we sat on the lawns of a lovely little family-owned winery and listened to live, local, acoustic music while eating our picnic dinner. It was lovely! But... we are still here in the Barossa!! Do you remember mention of grape-picking in my last entry? Well, fools that we are, we did it!! We have just finished a week of hard physical work and are both a size 8 now! We saw an ad. for grape-pickers and phoned. The immediate response was, "You're hired". That was the easiest job interview I've ever had! After I expressed concern about whether we would manage with our "nurses' backs", he said he give anyone a go. Good, anyone was us! We started the next morning at 7.30am in eight degrees with dew on the vines, mud underfoot, "snips" in one hand and a bucket in the other. Oh... and always a spare bucket ready to go so there is not a moment of time lost in inaction! Morning-tea and lunch was spent sitting under the vines on a hessian bag (the days ended up being a perfect sunny 26 degrees) and visiting a man about a dog was either two or three vines away or walking 300 metres back to the porta-loo if there was one! Nine hours later we staggered to the car with grape-stains on our fingers, dirty and bedraggled, went to bed very early and did it all again the next day. Much to the amusement of the young European back-packers, after those two days I decided I had worked hard enough and had a rest day!! We then did 3 more days and finished today! Our backs held up beautifully as there was a lot less bending than expected. We either approached the grapes over the top of the vine or under it on our knees which led to fast picking, was like being in a jungle cubby-house but could only be tolerated for a short time. It was an experience! And though we earned about half of what we would have nursing, it was a great experience, and is what this trip is all about. Get into life, have different experiences and see things we wouldn't otherwise. It gave us a bit of an insight into the lives of some others too. They were a mixed group of people (or peopw as the South Aussies say!) consisting of back-packers, as well as older people who had picked for years and a motley group of men with beards and long hair who were obviously more at ease under vines than they would ever be in an office where the F-Word wouldn't be as well tolerated as it was among the pickers. No airs and graces there! But they were all great and very friendly. Old Rex was particularly great. At least 65 but looking older and weather-beaten with a distinct limp, he talked non-stop including about his experiences building the road across the Nullabour years ago! He really challenged our biases and assumptions when he spoke of history, politics, and of his favourite past-time, reading medical journals! He worked an extra shift today which means he will do 13 days in a row! I had a deep and meaningful conversation with Moses (so nick-named years ago when he had long hair!) through a vine while he picked on one side and I on the other. He and most others will pick for as long as the season lasts (6 days a week for about 6 weeks). He injured his back at work years ago and consequently was sacked. With 5 kids to support (the last two were surprise twins) he takes whatever work he can. Another, Mel, who has been on the dole for ages, said she would rather earn her own money, be useful and get out of the house. She was pretty happy at the thought of earning what we thought was not much ($18.42 ph before tax) though apparently some picking contractors pay only $13ph. What was brought home to me was that the less education you have, the harder you have to work physically, the less pay you get and the less power you have. There was also a strange element to this experience that I have not had before having always worked in the not-for-profit sector. That was the sense of being the hired labour for the profit-making wealthy bosses in their beautiful stone houses on the hill! (though this youngish boss is kind enough to put on pizza or a BBQ once a week after work and pay a wage considered generous in this business). We discovered that each vine has its own character, is thick or thin, tall or short, laden with leaves or sparsely covered, and laden with grapes or not. Normally most vines are picked with a machine which violently shakes the grapes off, but with all the rain in the past 12 months, mould is growing on many grapes, so much is being hand-picked so that mouldy bunches can be cut and discarded onto the ground. So we were not only picking but quickly inspecting each bunch as we went. And many farmers are simply deciding not to pick at all as they have too much mould or the wine-makers have already rejected their crop. What a financial devastation that would be to have no income for the whole year. There was always the risk of losing a finger at the hand of another or indeed at one's own hand! Sue cut a nice deep "V" into her finger (hence the title of this blog entry) but fortunately that was the worst injury sustained! I called for an empty bucket on one occasion today and as per the usual practice, Sue threw one over the top of the vine from her side to mine. To her surprise, I yelled out, "ouch" but it was just an April Fool's joke - and in the end the joke was on me as it was April the second not the first!!
So we head west tomorrow after a late check-out.
Hope you are all well.
Must go and have some yoghurt and a few contraband grapes!!
Ros, (Sue and Molly)
PS Thanks to those who have left comments on our blog - most recently Marie, Gwen, Honey and Vicky. We are unable to reply on the blog but it is great to receive them!

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