Working Holidays

Picking Fruit in Victoria

February 2002 | Kirsty Henderson

I arrived in late January in Shepparton, Victoria absolutly broke and in search of an income. I was led to this small city two hours north of Melbourne by my Lonely Planet promising of work picking fruit. I was expecting the work to be horrible and hard, and it was, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it!

After a brief stint picking apricots and a lot of sitting around in the hostel waiting for more work, I landed my own job on Lenne's Orchard, a farm 20 minutes from Shepparton. When I arrived I met with some people who had previously been staying at the hostel, and we were joined later by others who had left later on. It was as though the entire hostel had shifted to this farm, so I was with a really lively crowd of backpackers.

I stayed in a basic room with two Irish girls for $6/night, and people arriving too late to get a room set up a small tent city under a tree for $5/night. Most farms in the area have on site accommodation, but I think this is something pretty unique to Victorian farms. There was a massive kitchen with basic cooking facilities with a pathetic supply of dishes, a shower and toilet block, a washing machine, and a big eating area with a TV perched in the corner.

We had a week to wait before the fruit was ripe enough to be able to pick. It was good to be able to get to know everyone over this week, but it seemed to drag on forever... I should have brought a larger supply of books!

By the time the fruit was ready, so were we! Everyone was anxious to start building up their bank accounts agian. Everyone was paired up (no up intended) with another person as picking was done in twos. I picked into my own huge bin, but there were two bins to a trailor and your partner picked into the other one to keep it balanced. The trailors were moved by Bernie our supervisor on a tractor and he took care of us and about 30 others as well. Big Kev was the other driver with about the same amount of pickers and the whole operation was run by Matt, the farm owner's son.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect on my first day picking, but whatever it was, the reality was far worse than anything I could have imagined. It was drizzling and cold all day, my feet were soaked within the first few minutes, the ladder slippery and the pears tiny. After about eight hours work (the day was shortened by two hours because of the rain) I had picked a measly bin and a half. At $25 a bin I was not impressed. Only one person managed to somehow pick three bins, so we were all pretty discouraged and ready to pack it in.

But we all stuck with it and the next day I did two and a half bins, then three, then finally, I was up to four a day. I even managed five once, but the pears were huge that day. Many of the guys and a few girls were picking six bins a day and we were all happy that we were finally making some good money.

We worked six days a week with Sundays off to head into town and restock the groceries. Saturday nights were usually wild affairs involving casks of wine and at least one of our crew being tossed out of a bar, but after a week of hard work you can't help wanting to party pretty hard. Getting into Shepparton was a mission involving a 10 minute walk to the main road before attempting to hitch into town. Two or three of us would go in at once and my average wait was about ten minutes. Getting back was a bit more stressful as you had to jockey with other hitchers for position while hoping that your food didn't melt in the scorching sun. But with the food restocked and the emailing done, Sundays were spent lazing around in the sun, playing cricket, and reliving the debauchery of the previous night.

Now this might all sound very appealing to some of you, but I haven't spent much time talking about the actual horrors of the job. Some of the trees are huge with stabby, brittle branches appearing to be aiming for your eyes. The ladder is eight feet high and have been known to break or tip over. The flies are relentless, constantly buzzing around your face and ears and there are spiders, frogs, and beehives lurking in the trees. A full bag of pears weighs around 15 kilos and a full bin 500 kilos and for me to get four bins I'd have to work constantly with a 15 minute lunch and no breaks. On top of all that, the weather was anywhere from 30 to 40 degrees with a usually cloudless sky and scorching sun.

I only found out later in my travels when I picked fruit again that pears are, in fact, one of the hardest to pick, but I'd do it again! Life was simple, the bank balance was growing, I worked a job I never would have done at home, and I made loads of new friends who I still keep in touch with today.




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