Fruit Picking in Australia – Back to the Roots

A plague to the backpackers of Australia. The 88 days of rural based work to qualify for a second year working visa in Australia are sought after and yet dreaded. Like great sex with an STI that lasts 3 months. There is a few who don’t mind it, but for the most part people tend to stay drunk, eyes closed, bitten tongue until it’s over. Myself, I was lucky enough to take it gently, just a minor rash… mango rash that is.

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View over the winery

I began my rural work on a winery near Mildura. I came to realize that this was one of the few jackpots in the Australian backpacking world. Steady shift work, good pay and I gained a bit of knowledge on wine production which is interesting to my career as a chef. This, I would have happily done until my time was through. Unfortunately, the vintage season is a short length and I left with a little less than half of my required days.

All of a sudden it was my last few months in Australia and I’d procrastinated. It was crunch time with 49 days to make up. I began searching for the necessary evil that is fruit picking and it was back to the roots for me. As much as I was not looking forward to this, the upside was getting a hands on feel for where some of the food I work with daily truly comes from and the work required to produce it.

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The sad eggplant that won’t make the shelves all because of his nose!

I spent one day on an eggplant farm and it was anything but gentle. Bent over and broken is how it left me. Hunched over for 8 hours, rifling through the overgrown plants searching for the ‘perfect’ eggplant, it quickly became excruciating to the lower back. I’d watch the end of the row as it came closer only to deceive myself. There was just another row. I woke up feeling as Walker Texas Ranger would if he wasn’t, well Chuck Norris of course. Beaten and sore, I was lucky they called us off for the day, but I knew I couldn’t quit as I needed the days. 48 left.

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View over the mango and sugarcane fields

With my new realization of how out of shape I actually was, I wasn’t too upset about waiting for the eggplants to ripen for picking. This was a blessing in disguise actually. Unfortunately though, time was running thin and I needed work, so I spent a day picking chilies instead. Easy work comparatively, but tedious and shite pay while paid per kilo. Do you know how many bird’s eye chilies are in a kilo? 47 left.

That evening two phone calls came from the overpriced and overcrowded work hostel. The first had me crying… eggplants were ready tomorrow. Then as I sat in sorrow, the blessing came. I had previous forklift experience, so I was moved over to a mango farm to drive forklift instead. This was a lesser jackpot, but definitely still a win. From this point on, I literally sat on my tush and worked on an ass groove in my seat while relocating approximately one hundred thousand kilos of mangoes a day.

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Mangoes for days!!

It quickly became boring and painfully monotonous, but it was easy enough work to put up with as I counted down my days.

  • Pick up 500 kilo mango crate, place it in bin tipper.
  • Move empty clean bin to pick up queue to go back to the fields to be filled.
  • Repeat 100-200 times.

By the end of this I became one of the farmer’s best drivers because I didn’t do the one thing I wasn’t supposed to… smash into stuff. Still, to make my day better, I would drive by the entrance to the packing shed where the curse of monotony had overwhelming taken over. I would take a moment and watch their zombie like movements stacking pallets in the dusty sweat chamber and pettily think to myself, ‘It could be much worse’. Mango rash compared to many graced my forearms ever so slightly due to my limited contact with them. For those of you unaware about mango rash, it is caused by the sap and could range from a minor irritation to puss filled sores. Not the most pleasant from such a beloved fruit, but I guess it is one of those beauty’s on the inside cases.

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High above the mango trees on the cherry picker

I finally counted down to reach 0. My time was up and over it I learned a few things.

  • Why they make backpackers do this kind of work for the second year working visa – Simply because they know they can as most want to stay. Australians don’t want to do it and its work that needs to be done. This led to some clever chap who came up with a scheme to make backpackers do it. Fair play and as much as this was less than pleasurable, kudos.  
  • How much perfectly edible food was wasted due to human idiocy – On the eggplant farm there was a large bin full of ‘damaged’ vegetables due to a small blemish or some imperfection. This resulted in them not being fit for the grocery store shelves as no one in the right mind would buy an imperfect looking vegetable that tasted the same (severe sarcasm). Vegetable prejudice. 
  • A problem sadly still happening in today’s society and a complaint I heard from many female backpackers is the unfair job opportunities amongst the farms. The farmers would give certain positions to certain sexes. For example, the chilies were quite often a job women were given or in the packing shed opposed to on the mango pickers. This is unfair treatment and should not continue. 
  • This not learned, but reiterated to me through these jobs. It feels good to go home after a hard physical day at work and crack a cold one.

As my last day came to a finale and I finished washing the last cherry picker, I turned around into the setting Australian sun and mike dropped the hell out of that pressure washer. I was bound for Cairns.

What did you do for your rural work in Australia?

 

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