Let me tell you about my job. One word.... Grapes... lots and lots of Grapes.
A quick update, from the last time I blogged. We left Stanthrope and headed to Emerald to work at 2. P.H. Grape Farms. We were all excited because we found a job, not knowing what was ahead of us but a $20.34 per hour salary. Let me tell you what happens next.
My Italian friends (Andrea and Marco) and I moved into the Noagoa Caravan Park here in Emerald, and around us leave some of the most interesting people I have seen in my life. We live in a small cabin that is about 20 X 10 feet. We have a small kitchen/dining room area which includes a stove top that does not get hot enough to boil water, and a side room that has bunk bed for three people that is intended for two.
Everyday my day starts at 3:15 am, then again at 3:30. We arrive at the farm about 4:15 every morning, clock in and start work. Farmers are some of the most disorganized people on the planet. The first day on the job, ten of us are standing in front of a shed looking at tractors and forklifts scurrying around, not knowing what do to because we were never told. The next thing we know we have one of the supervisors Michael who has a strong South African accent, yells at us to "move those tractors over here now!" That is how it is every morning began for the first week, people yelling and pointing at us were to go and what to do.
My job is as a pick up boy. In teams of three, one of us drives a tractor, and two of us sit on the back of a trailer. The grape pickers place boxes of grapes under the trees in the shade. Our job is to go pick up those 10kg boxes of grapes. At first it seemed easy. We watched a training video and we were all excited because we thought had the best job on the farm. Little did we know we would be moving about 3000 boxes a day. The pickers got faster as well and we had about 100 to 150 boxes a row to pick up almost everyday. Mentally it eats away at you because you are there 14 hours a day, and it so repetitive you go crazy. Drive, pick up box, drive pick up box. The same thing everyday 14 hours a day.
In the afternoon when it is hot out, which is most days, off in the distance you can see clouds. Sometimes rain clouds and thunder heads, but directly above us it is beautiful and sunny with no clouds in the sky and humid. Every time you see a cloud head your way, it seems to change direction at the last minute, and a part of you dies on the inside. Sometimes in the morning, when are driving on the pitch black roads on a tractor with no lights you can see off in the distant thunder heads and strikes of lighting, while at the same time see the many stars above you in what I call the “no cloud zone”.
The pickers are migrant workers from an island in the pacific called Tonga. They get a seven month work visa and come work the harvest season, picking grapes, oranges, lemons, etc. They are very hard workers and very friendly. Driving through the lines of grapes we have to weave around the Tongan’s who have a trolley with box lids, and bottoms that stick out of the side of their trolley that you have to constantly navigate around. As we pass they say “Malo Malo” which means “thank you, thank you”, or Malo Lee Lee which means hello. I am not 100% what Malo means because you hear them say it about 100 times a day to each other, and probably means something else in their language.
One morning, the farm manager Brian got upset at the Tongan’s because they had picked bad grapes, and started ripping into them. I will never forget what he said, he opened a box of grapes and said, “these are shitty grapes, you are cheating 2 P.H. You cheat me again you are fired and going back to Tonga. If we sell shitty grapes we lose money, we lose money we don’t make money, it is all about making money. I am here to make money, you are not making me money by picking these shit grapes. You are not making money by picking shit grapes. Its all about money. If you make a mistake today you are fired.” That day they picked too slow because they were afraid of getting fired, so the next day he gave them another speech. To quote him again, “we are like a football team not golfers, we don’t move slowly. We have to cut then trim, cut then trim, place in the box! Cut then trim, place in the box! We are not golfers, we are like men, act like men! I don’t know what the men are like in Tonga, but here in Australia men are like football players!” We were quoting him for weeks, and are still laughing about it.
Brian himself is 54 some odd years old, but looks 74. One day it was raining in the morning and he drove me across the farm to get another tractor so we could get the boxes to back to the shed faster. The tractor he drove to wouldn't turn on so he stepped out of his truck and said “right this one doesn't work.” He takes a wrench and shoves it into the side of the tractor and sparks start flying out and the engine comes to life. Then he says “don’t turn it off today” very assertively then leaves. I’m pretty sure he got electrocuted, but Brian is a man, a football player not a golfer, so he walked it off.
Another character that we worked with was Sela. A small Tongan lady, who was very assertive and yelled a lot. She would drive around a small green quad through the lines hunched over. Every morning she would yell “PICK UP BOYS PICK UP THE CARDBOARD NOW!” “PICK UP BOYS THESE TROLLEYS NEED BOXES!” Marco one day said to her, “Sela I am so tired, it is so hot.” She responded, “HOW ARE YOU TIRED, YOU WATCH BOXES ALL DAY.” She never thought we were doing a good job and always was screaming.
Our supervisor was Paul, also from South Africa, and was the nicest guy on the farm. He was also helpful and we all respected him because didn’t scream at us. He just expected us to get the job done. The other supervisor was Dianne, who was this sweet short red haired lady one moment then would turn around and yell the other. She is now our new supervisor for our next job, which I will get into later.
After working 83 hours a week for two weeks straight we finally got a day off. When we heard from our supervisor we all screamed in excitement, hugging and picking each other up. I have never celebrated like that for something so small. Everyday during work I think of running off and heading to Rockhampton which is the closet town on the beach, but at then end of the day, when I am hanging out with my other co-workers and new friends and we are having a beer, exchanging stories from the day I realize what an experience this has been and am thankful for. I look at little things during the day such as as a Kangaroo, off in the distance, or Emu’s poking their head around and I am reminded that I am in Australia, on an epic adventure.
2 P.H. offered us another job cleaning stock root off of citrus trees, which I will be doing for the next 10 days before we head out on an epic month long road trip across the country with the italians and a german co-worker/new friend Vince. We went in today to watch a video on how to do our job and sign some paper work. Diane is our new supervisor. We had to take a test on the video we watched except the questions were never answered in the video. So I was the first one done, turned it into her and then she looked at me funny, and said, “you got three wrong, shut your fucking trap and pay attention to the video!” Then I politely tried to tell her that the questions on the test were not answered in the video, and she interrupted me, and yelled "Bullshit! all of you need to fucking shut up and watch the video, we are watching it again!". And we never did so I could never prove her wrong. Then she was super friendly to us as we left.
The plan is to leave Emerald December 6th and drive to Alice Springs up to Cairns then down to Sydney for Christmas and New Years. Next time I will be blogging hopefully will be from the road, and not Emerald.
Till next time, Happy Thanksgiving.