Revenge of the Zucchinis ”you’re the chosen one!”
08:00. ”It’s over. Finished.”
Eighteen people stands along the boom, Victorinox knife in hand, bucket along the side in belt, just worked their first hour on a supposed five hours shift in the zucchini field, now staring at our farmer Anna Booth who just came out from the shed. ”I got a call from the market -it’s no use continuing. The season is over”. We look at each other -over?
The view of the day, one row took approx. 20 min to finish.
Harvest machine including us fruitpickers
My story as a zucchini picker ended in just five days. Which in one way made me happy. No big brimmed hats or long sleeved shirts can help you from the heat twelve o’clock midday on a zucchini field, and I just came from a 16 degrees Sydney and before that a cool Sweden. It was killing. As killing as your back after bending a hundred times per hour, cutting the zucchinis… or the smell from your joggings… well. I have the thought of that once in your life you should go pick zucchinis. Now, at the fruit and vegetable area at Cole’s supermarket nowadays, armadas of fruit pickers now stand behind every little tomato I see.
But my intention was to work for three weeks, not five days. At least money-wise. So it turned out that Anna had phoned the Rapisarda Enterprises and that everyone interested where guaranteed work there within a week with packing rockmelons as the season just started. Follow the Harvesttrail as they say and I felt I shouldn’t miss the chance. Because this work involved no picking in the sun whatsoever. I think I could have managed zucchinis for three weeks if it wasn’t for the sun. Now I had the chance to stay in the shed, packing rockmelons into boxes. From a belt. No bending. In picking terms this was luxury.
Me and some melons
So five days later me and eight other girls was standing in one of the biggest packing shed I’ve ever seen, packing rockmelons in cardboard boxes, approximately 33 boxes per hour. The guys did the stacking and strapping of the boxes. After several complains from our supervisors, returned boxes and bad melons sent around to have a look on how a no-no melon looks like, you realize there’s a difference between a melon and a melon. Some of them are bad, some even worse, some of them are ”twelve’s or fifteens” some of them are rubbish today but seconds tomorrow (food for the cows one day, ingredients for juice another day -it’s all about the price on the market) and some of them are rockmelons, just another kind and ”we don’t pack them yet”. The job was good and fair and the shed properly kept. I thought melons were handled with care, now I know better since I’ve been squeezing dozens into boxes after they gone through a fifteen minutes ride on a truck from field to shed, through a boiling hot bath, disinfection and drying, up on a conveyor belt to bounce down in different sizes onto another belt for us to pack them tight not to wobble. And then put on another conveyor belt to get a lid on, then stacked and rolled into a cooler storage for to be loaded on a truck later.
Together with a group of 17 I lived in a couple of barracks on the field of Anna Booth, five minutes walks from the zucchini field. All around was sugar cane fields, which made my only connection to the rest of the world -reception on my mobile phone- really bad. If I weren’t staying close to the smelling rubbish bins being bitten by mosquitoes and flies, I couldn’t receive calls at all. The only existing washing machine turned everything inside it into yellow. It’s really exercising to hand wash -did you know that? Once a week we had the chance to go into town for shopping for an hour. When the rockmelon job started our group reduced to six people and we had to walk for half an hour to the nearest village, Clare, for to be picked up for work. With two bad channels on the TV our hobby after work in between smoking marijuana (well, some of us) became to feed the Green Tree Frogs with moths who swarmed around the lamps in the evening, together with the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that made your legs look like you had chicken pox when you woke up every morning. We as well had one or two bandicoots that spread everything from our rubbish bins on the ground at night, taking everything more tasteful along. Once we had a visit of one of the most venomous snakes there is in Queensland, the Brown Snake. Happily it changed its mind on the way up the kitchen stair and disappeared. More cute where the geckos that climbed the walls and windows at night.
Green Tree Frog on my hairbrush
I spent half a week and plenty of money to finally arrive at Booth farm in Clare, outside Ayr on the North Coast of Australia. Doing some counting, It turned out that the money I earned picking zucchini’s wasn’t as much as I paid for getting there and accommodation during the five days spent there. You suddenly realize that all commercials, brochures and booklets you read about how easy it is to find a harvesting job, how much money you could earn but as well how heavy work it is should not be taken by word. The fruit market is an open market in Australia, as well the fact it’s all about vegetables -things, which depends on sun and rain, season, soil quality and lack of diseases.
Heavy unpredictable rain in June in the Burdekin area caused some disease to the zucchinis that made some of them looks like ogres. Not suitable for the market.
As well I came in sight it’s about to give and take between farmers and harvest workers. When I came to the farm I had by phone heard the work was about eight hours a day and to stay shorter than a week was out of the question. On five days I did all and all eight hours picking zucchinis. Simply it was no more work per day than that. But to be a vegetable farmer dealing with a crop that has to be picked no matter what, a changing market and employees that are casual, mostly backpackers who could leave within an hour or two without any notice… if there is one day out of five with an eight hour shift and someone calls for work -of course you say it’s eight hours work per day. But if you’re ready for hard work and hard working conditions and to not have any rights when it comes to the work you do, but get to know the Australian country, Australians and other backpackers you will definitely have a extraordinary experience. And be happy that you don’t have to do it for the rest of your life. I brought a rockmelon with me back to Sydney… it didn’t taste that good.