Greetings from Kuranda QLD. It’s been a while…..
Hopefully not all my blog posts begin like this but its been tough to catch up of late. Not that I dislike writing blogs of our adventures, but our trip has been too exciting and I have been wanting to embrace every moment where possible. Even writing this sentence now is tough, the sounds of the rapids of the Barron River are enticing me to come and have a play and admire nature’s beauty. Now distractions aside, lets get on with it..
It’s been 75 days, just shy of 11 weeks since arriving in Gayndah Queensland. Those 11 weeks have felt awfully slow yet when writing this blog, it feels as if our time here has flown by.
Gayndah “Queensland’s oldest town” Lies in the North Burnett Region 163 km south west of Bundaberg. The town is built on the Burnett river which trickles all the way to Bundaberg before flowing out to the Coral Sea. It’s river system is dependent on 5 other rivers throughout the Burnett region which rely heavily on flood rain. As all these river systems rely on flood capture it only takes 6mm of rain across the region to do damage!
- The reason I am talking about the river systems is to help best describe the township of Gayndah and its long history of subject to flooding. So enough of the boring stuff lets’ best describe the township!
We left Toowoomba early Monday morning on the 13th of April. It wasn’t long out of Crow’s Nest that the landscape started changing. The green oasis of Toowoomba started fading to oranges and yellows and by the time we hit Goomeri we were in the middle of a dry dust bowl of drought stricken country. Although in Drought the scenery was still breathtaking. I was expecting the landscape to be flat and barren yet to my surprise the roads wound and turned through the hill sides of scrubby vegetation where Kangaroos bounced through the paddocks alongside the Brahman Cattle eating away at the dry vegetation as their humps on their Necks and loose skin on their chests wobble away at every mouthful consumed.
We arrived in Gayndah where we were greeted with the Big Orange. After several takes with our camera balancing on a bin lid we ventured on to take in the town. The town sat on the top edge of the riverbank and if you were to look at the river down below it would be hard to believe the water could rise so much. On the other side of the town rests a small rugged peak called Archers Lookout that looks over the town and the horizon which illuminates the mountain peaks of Bania National Park.
Old Queenslanders on high stilts made up the one-way long street all painted in quirky colours of pinks, pale blues and greens. Other Queenslanders lay there weathered and beaten from the flood damages that have occurred trough the town’s long flood history. Two Old Pubs sat adjacent the big intersection at the heart of the town which made no sense of giveaway or direction. The town offered you your basic needs such as butchers, a grocer, news agents and a hardware store, in-between the shops there were beautiful old buildings that were nicely renovated that consisted of a post office, an old bank with a lovely wrapped veranda and a beautiful old blue stone school. After our little tour of Gayndah, we left for the citrus farm which lay a few clicks upstream from the Burnett river.
The Citrus farm we worked on is a family run Citrus farm that has been passed down through the generations since the early 1900’s. The Citrus farm is home to many varieties of citrus fruits that comprise of Oranges, Mandarins, Lemons, Limes, Grapefruits and soon Mangoes.
The farm is built on the Burnett River which irrigates the 170-hectare farm which consist roughly of 90,000 trees. You can get lost wandering the endless orchards fields, row by row they stand in uniform like a giant army that fades out to haziness as it reaches the horizon line.
The farm has a caravan park that is situated on the river a few hundred meters from the packing shed (my place of primary work). It was a quaint little park that had all your little basic needs. The packing shed was primarily made up of backpackers working for their Visa cards. We had three other couples living in our camp that consisted of French and Italian nationalities. They however lived in an old farmhouse next to the caravan park, so we practically had the whole waterfront to ourselves which was quite pleasant.
Working and Lifestyle
Every morning we would walk the dogs around the Orchards before starting work. We would usually get up around 5am each morning as I usually started work around 0630 to make boxes. Making boxes is primarily what I did during my 11 weeks. The only fruits that I did not make boxes for were Lemons, Oranges and Grapefruits and depending on the volume of Mandarins on the day I would be in between making and stacking boxes onto pallets. I much preferred stacking boxes, it was a very mundane job though, the job entailed looking at the size number on the barcode and stacking the 25kg boxes in accordance to their size onto pallets, however I liked the fact that you could move around, have a chat to the backpackers whilst you were lifting heavy boxes and burn some calories in the process. The box machine was something different!
The box machine was notorious for breaking down. The reason I believed I was picked for the job was the English barrier amongst the backpackers, as I had to communicate regularly when the box machine was playing up. Sometimes it was the carboard that went into the machine that was the problem, either to brittle or bowed due to climate conditions, and other days it was the machine itself, too much glue, loose nuts, air leaks you name it! When it was working though it proved to be good, a box every three seconds!!
If everything went well, I would have a busy day but a cruisy one at that. When it was cruisy, I would practically just stare at the clock and watch the time slowly go no-where, standing in one particular position all day really did a toll on the back over a long period of time too. When the machine did not want to play ball, it was pure chaos!
The packing shed ran like clockwork, punching out boxes all day one after another, as soon as one gear from the clock’s mechanics failed, production stopped. I unfortunately was the main gear, without boxes there was no packing and as soon as something went wrong my stockpile of boxes would quickly fade away. Then there would be hell to pay! In hindsight I should not have a worried too much, being paid a dollar under minimum wage per hour I shouldn’t have cared really, but the hard working nature in me made me care too much, as stressful as it was I did enjoy trying to stay on top of things and ensure there was enough boxes throughout the day to keep production going.
Yasmin’s Job is the primarily reason we scored our gig at the citrus farm. With the outbreak of COVID-19 that was happening, businesses across the country had to comply with measures to help reduce the spread of the virus. Yasmin’s day consisted of a morning and afternoon routine of sanitising runs across the farm. Twice a week she also had to do a major clean of the farms amenities and occasionally had to provide babysitting services when the Nanny was unavailable.
During her down time Yasmin would crochet, maintain a tidy quarters, walk the dogs around the orchards and take them down to the river where they would fetch sticks, go for swims and run amuck on the wide sandy beach banks or the Burnett. Depending on my working schedule I would join Yasmin and the pups on a walk through the orchards of an afternoon but if I were to work late my wife would come out on top and have dinner waiting for me which we would accompany with a cold beer every night as we would watch the sunset vanish over the horizon. That was basically our 11 weeks and daily routine in a nutshell, the mozzies would come out of a night time when the sun went down, and with an early morning get up the next day the night consisted of a hot shower, a TV episode in bed accompanied by a hot cuppa tea and we couldn’t bare the weight in our eyelids after a busy day we’d brush our teeth turn off the lights and of a night I would dream of the box machine questioning if it was going to be a good day or bad day the next
The Good, The Bad and The Queen B
If you have been reading this, you might be thinking that it was all sunshine’s and rainbows during our time at the citrus farm. This however was not the case. Let us start with the good first!
I guess in a way we were fortunate enough to gain employment during the hardships of COVID-19. With travel restrictions enforced in the state of Queensland it seemed like a wise idea to lock down for a few months and earn some money.
- As we were in Queensland for the winter the weather appealed to us, with an Average of 20 degrees during the day we were in a much better situation then our home state of Victoria where they were experiencing 8 degree days.
- The farm was well isolated from major towns and majority of the employees lived on the premises. With Yasmin’s sanitising runs it gave us the peace of mind that we were safe from the pandemic.
- There was a lot of citrus that was not packed as it was bruised or disfigured. We had the privilege to take as many fruits as we wanted that proved to be good eating and made for a delicious Sangria.
- Majority of the employees and backpackers were wonderful people, a few of the French lads we met are even joining us in Arlie Beach on their travels. It’s safe to say we made a few friends whilst working there, although I was set out to learn Russian on my travels, I have learnt far more French during my stay at the citrus farm. Most of them crude however!
- There were a lovely couple who lived on the property called Garry and Gerry. Garry and Gerry would come around once a week and enjoy a few cold ones with us down at the park. We were also invited to their premises where Gerry had platters of goodies waiting for me. Gerry was like my Mother or an Italian Nona during my time at the farm, always feeding me goodies of stir-fries, roasts, homemade biscuits and left-over meals from the tuck shop she worked at the local Gayndah school. The two were a match made in heaven, they would love to bicker and banter (all in good favour) and enjoyed the simple things in life. I wish the two of them the best.
- The Son and his Wife who helped run the property were wonderful people. Below in the bad section nothing is directed their way. Even during our weeks of no work, they would give us a few chores around their property to help make bank. I also wish them the best for the future!
- The bird life was incredible, we witnessed Red tail Cockatoos for the first time in the wild, so much bigger than I imagined! We also encountered huge eagles by the roadsides, wild bush turkeys and peacocks and came across an Emu that could fly, commonly known as Bustards. The green tree frogs were a sight to see also, Yasmin made a friend near the camps laundry where one would come out of a night-time.
- Beau, a beautiful Red Kelpie lived on the farm. He was tall and lanky, but you could tell he came from good stock. Beau was a little shy at first but as the months slowly went on by, he became a part of the family. Moose and Dixie loved playing with him! I wish we could have taken him away with us on our adventure!
And now the bad! More bad than good!
- When we signed up for the job, I was promised 10-hour days 6 days a week. When we signed our contract, we were to be paid one dollar under minimum wage at a casual rate (the Queen B made an arrangement with some shitty farming award). There was no over time or penalty rates of a weekend. As Yasmin and I are travelling around Australia this didn’t really concern us, if we were to work full time we definitely wouldn’t agree to these terms however as this was a means for a short duration to earn some bank we signed the contract. Unfortunately for us it was a bad season, not only at our particular citrus farm but also across the region. So, our 10 hours a day 6 days a week did not exist!
- The farm had a high gadget sorting machine and conveyer system. Unfortunately, when there is lots of high gadget machinery there is a lot of break downs. This happened at least twice a week sometimes more during our time there. The bad thing was is that we had to clock off every time the machine broke down. Even though we lived on premises 200 meters down the hill we were not allowed to go back to camp. Sometimes we would wait 4 hours for the machines to start working again, then only for them to break down 30 minutes later! There was a day I recall where we were at work for 11 hours and only were only paid for three. It was bloody ridiculous. The worst was part was when there was only two hours to go to complete packing for the day, they would turn the machines off and we would have to come in just to work two hours the next day.
- The communication from management was terrible at the farm. They would never give you an honest answer when it came to your working schedule. For example; we were changing over fruits and the fruits that we were to go onto next were not ready to pick. If you were to talk to the farmers working on the orchards they would tell you that they wouldn’t be ready for a few weeks, yet in the packing sheds they would tell you they were uncertain and that there could still be some work the following week. After hearing this news from the management on the day they would then come to you at the end of the day and lay on you that there was no work at all next week. The worst part was that you came back the next week and you would work two days, have a day of, work two hours and be told at then end of the day that you were going to have another week off. It would have been better of them to be honest and just say that there was no work for the next two weeks. We could have organised and planned a trip away but without warning this made it difficult.
- During our stay we paid 7 dollars a day each to stay at the caravan park. A reasonable price (although not when your being paid under wage). The alarming part was that we had to pay 7 dollars when we were not working. I can understand weekends but when they throw you in the deep end and not give you work for weeks it was criminal to have to pay to stay when you’re not earning money!
- The farm was home to every prickle you could think of! The dogs were practically on three legs the whole time hopping all over place and picking out bindies from their paws. Brushing Moose was the worst!!
- We were paid Fortnightly. I had a few good fortnights during my time where I almost worked 100 hours a fortnight. The only problem is that when you are paid fortnightly you get taxed heavily. The backpackers had it lucky when it came to their tax, I worked an extra 20 hours then they did that fortnight and they still came up on top of me. Thankyou Government!
- The Burnett River was infested with catfish. I went swimming once only to have Catfish pop up right in my face and make some weird sounds. A Catfish even swallowed Moose’s tennis ball in the river one time! That is how big they were!
- Not all the wildlife was beautiful! From exotic bird species to green tree frogs there were pestering Cane toads, Brown snakes that would slither between you, Pythons that would curl up near your door step, Red Belly’s amongst the orchards and big spiders that made Yasmin fear for her life. Welcome to outback Queensland!
- Our lovely warm days turned cold overnight. In the mornings there was frost on the grass and orchards. Sometimes it got down to 1 degree. Yasmin was not impressed as we were supposed to be in warm sunny Queensland for the winter. It turns out whilst we were in Queensland, they had experienced their coldest winter in 100 years. Lucky us! It still beats being in Victoria though for the winter (especially now)!
- The local IGA in Gayndah being a small-town supermarket was ridiculously overpriced! It was cheaper for us two drive two hours away to Gympie or Bundaberg and by groceries there instead of 20 minutes down the road. In all seriousness if we were paid more, we would have most likely supported local however unfortunately this was not the case. This however gave us a chance to explore the Bundaberg region and made for some good weekends away from the citrus life.
And now for the Queen B!
The “Queen B” was in charge of the packing shed. At 70 something years of age she still worked like a machine! In retrospect I have great admiration for the woman when it comes to her working abilities, ruthless in all aspects! She did things her way, and if you did what she asked, you would not have a problem, sometimes she would favour your side, but at most she had no respect for you. You were just one of the many thousands that’s have come through the joint and she just looks at you like the number on your pay-check!
She was much easier or the men in the packing shed, the women had it the worst! There was no leeway when it came to their mistakes and she was absolutely ruthless to them when they did something incorrect! On several occasions I got to witness a few schoolyard bickering’s where she would pull girls up individually and they would scream and yell and have it out! There were even times when she would sometimes yank them by their body fat or even throw fruit at there heads. As Evils Presley once said, “the devil in disguise”. Having a peaceful nature all this school yard bullying made me feel perturbed and made it an uncomfortable working environment to work in, especially when the men had it so much better…. Apart from poor Tom…
Apparently, every season the Queen B favours one lad and despises one other. Her behavioural attributes would make a great villain source for a fantasy novel, like a spider who captures two prey. favouring and pampering one and torturing and tormenting the other, feeding her soul of emotions! But in the end, she would kill and eat them, there’s no hero to help come and save the day!
Tom was the poor fool….
Tom a young backpacker from the Netherlands was one of the nicest young lads I met in the packing shed. His English was good although his thick accent was hard to understand. Tom’s job was to help keep the flow going for the packers. He would stack boxes in front of the packing stations for packing, empty rubbish bins and stay on top of the juice bins. The Job wasn’t overly tough, probably the second most boring job next to sorting but his adolescence and life experience made him the perfect prey for Spider. It was very noisy at my station of my work but one thing I could hear above all the machinery’s noise was Toms name. The way she would scream his name would make the hairs on your arms stick up, it was awful! As Tom had lots of small jobs to do throughout the today, he had to best prioritise his work, as no man is capable to do 5 jobs at once. Yet when poor Tom was working on one of his priorities the spider would sneak up and check on the other priorities, even if he was in control of his tasks she’d find a means to pick on his work and scream his name for her own satisfaction!
As I said earlier on the packing shed was full on, non- stop work! During its busiest times myself or the stackers were only just holding the strings together. Tom had a lot of downtime so he would help us in between his jobs. This gave us a huge relief during the busy times. The Queen B did not like this one bit, not being able to keep a track on him rampaged her narcissistic behaviour and she laid it out on Tom. Tom was unfortunately torn between two worlds as he was no longer permitted to leave his post, if he were to leave and help another station he would be screamed at, if he were to stay and do nothing he was to be screamed at!!
Tom and his girlfriend were one of the few that lived in Gayndah. Some mornings I would get a brief text message to explain that the machines weren’t working, and we were to have a later start time. Even the French backpackers off base would get a text message but Tom and his girlfriend were always left out of the loop. They would get to work on time at quarter to 7 and would wait in their car till Noon. Once they started work there’d be no apologies form the Queen B and she went straight onto screaming at him! The worst form of bullying I witnessed Tom and his girlfriend endure was when we got to work on the fields and do pruning for two days out in the sun. With the lack of work that we had in the last months, although hurting our bank accounts it was really hurting the backpackers with their need to work hours to maintain their 88 day working Visas. Everyone was lucky enough to work 15 hours over the next two days… Everyone.. Except for Tom and his Girlfriend. Now if this isn’t narcissistic bullying behaviour, I’m not sure what is! This is where I lost all respect for the woman, I was almost not going to mention her at all in this post but this incident drew the line, not only to help describe what majority of backpackers have to put up with whilst working in this country but to help me remember that when all of our travels are over and done with that I’ll never tolerate work place bullying again!
When I gave her our resignation notice I was nice and formal to her, I gave her more than ample notice period, wishing her all the best with the season and company’s future, I know in her working life she’s probably witnessed thousands of employees leave and go and the process had probably become mundane, but after all I done and put up with, weeks with no work, waiting around for broken machinery to be fixed or working my ass off for below minimum wage all I got was a nod. Her last words to me were, “when you finish make sure you turn off the switch” and she was gone!
To summarise the spider, she was incredible at her job, but her emotions got the best of her, to earn respect you must give respect. In the end she probably doesn’t care, this is her life, this her job, to suck every bit of energy out of each employee until the season ends, season after season, repeat, repeat.
Now enough of my bickering let’s get onto some more uplifting content…
Ahhh weekends away! Its funny in a way, we are on a working holiday, surely weekends don’t hold importance anymore, it’s a holiday, right? Well to say it frankly… they sure god damn do!
It was a big relief when we could get away. When you work and live at the same place it does a toll on you, I don’t know how the employees who live and work there full time do it. Yasmin and I would do a big grocery shop once a fortnight (every Payday) depending on our working schedule. Depending on how much we earnt that fortnight was how much we could spend during our trips. With COVID-19 restrictions enforced we were only allowed to travel up to 200km with purpose. With Gayndah geographically situated where it is we were able to travel to Bundaberg, Gympie and when restrictions eased a bit more we could then travel to Hervery Bay and Elliots Head, our grocery shopping just so happened to be our ticket to travel.
We would usually only do day trips, but we would make a big day of it, leaving early after a morning walk and arriving back during the night after witnessing beautiful picturesque sunsets across the valley.
Our first weekend away was Bundaberg. I’m not going to go into too much detail as we plan to come back through Bundaberg to experience the distillery. I honestly didn’t think too much of Bundaberg, although I haven’t spent enough time there to give a thorough detailed description. It’s just a big town really that’s nestled between crops of water sucking Sugar Cane! To best describe it would be to compare it to Gayndah but on a larger scale, same principal, built on a flood river with flood damage over the years. It was a hot day form memory when we drove to Bundaberg. We drove to the botanical gardens on the other side of the Burnett River. The garden was incredible, and we will definitely go back and experience it again. The highlight was the petrol prices at the bowsers, 82c a litre! Won’t see those prices ever again!
After not really liking Bundaberg we decided to travel to Gympie for our weekend away! Yasmin’s parents go there every year to attend a blues festival which is why we were intrigued to go there. We really liked Gympie as a town, it was a small township that was built on the hills that lay next to the Mary River. Gympie offered a wonderful river walking trail which you could then follow into the beautiful town. Being a very old town, it showcases many old beautiful Queenslanders that looked over the region’s hillsides.
FAQ: Gympie is home to Nescafe’s Blend 43, Gympie’s claim to fame!
On our East coast adventure, we planned to go inland all the way up to Port Douglas before experiencing the beach. After being isolated amongst all the prickles for a long period it was time to detour from our original route and hit the beach! As Bundaberg was home to many beaches that were home to Sea Turtles there wasn’t too many dog friendly beaches around the area. We were lucky enough that there was one 30km south of Bundaberg at Elliot Heads. Elliot Heads was worth the visit, we arrived there early when there wasn’t many people walking the beach, so the dogs had free roam! It was a nice firm sandy beach which offered long walks to the river mouth. After an intense morning of walking, swimming and ball throwing it was time to appreciate some fresh fish n chips by the beach that looked out over the coral sea!
And last but not least, Hervey Bay!
We are heading back to Hervey bay (Fraser Coastline) when we come back down the coast, so I won’t go into too much detail. Hervey Bay was our proper weekend away. We took the plunge a week before our trip and booked a small, pet friendly house on Air-BNB. As It turns out we could have booked more nights with the packing shed not operating again, but our one night away was well worth it!
Hervey bay is located and hour and 20 minutes below Bundaberg. Its renowned for its fishing and marine life. Every year whales of all species migrate through the Fraser Coast and put on a show for the community. It’s home to a massive wooden fishing peer where the “local peer rats” (a common term for the fishing locals) spend their day fishing under the hot sun. The marina was a sight to see and also the gateway to get to Fraser Island.
Hervey Bay was much bigger than we anticipated. It’s esplanade amongst for foreshore went on forever. According to the locals it was once a retirement town but over the towns history it is now turning more into a tourist hot spot with apartment buildings being built across the bay. There were many restaurants in Hervey bay to choose from and during our stay we indulged ourselves with delicious Indian, breakfast outings and some damn good fish and chips!
Our trip away really enticed us to keep travelling again and it turned out to be the turning point in our story where we would soon hand in our resignations and continue on our story. So long Hervey Bay we will meet again shortly!
Budgeting and life lessons
This was our first experience working on our Australian Adventure. Will we work on another Citrus farm?? Probably not… Unless both parties can agree on fixed hours and a decent rate, plus after looking at so many mandarins and lemons I don’t think I can possibly look at another one for quite some time. The good thing is that we can learn from what went wrong working on the citrus farm and have a better understanding when we look for our next employment stint.
Originally when we were planning our trip around Australia, we planned to work two weeks here and a week there. This unfortunately isn’t the case. You really need to need lock down a season’s employment when travelling around, you may be lucky to jump on the tail end of a season and fill someone’s spot but most of the time the employer is wanting you the long haul as they have to train you in the field (which makes perfectly good sense). This was our first learning.
When you’re going to lock down a two month or three-month season you really want to get the most out of it for your travels. You don’t want to be working the whole time on the road! If we’re going to be working three months, we want to go at it hard and really work solidly during that time! That way you can ensure you’ll have a nice savings account in order to get you around comfortably.
When Yasmin and I were promised 10-hour days, 6 days a week I did some basic math and some expenditures, even on our crappy rate we planned to save 10k each over our three months. If this actually happened, we would have been in a pretty tight situation and we almost could have avoided working for the rest of the year, but unfortunately it wasn’t the case and we are going to be lucky if we will get by until September. But once again we will learn from our experiences, and if we aren’t working the hours, we were promised we will hand notice as soon as possible! If it weren’t for the virus we would have left much sooner.
For those of you who are wondering how much we earnt I’ll break it down for you as if we were working a 5-day, 38 hour week.
|Callum’s Income||Yasmin’s Income|
|Casual Pay Rate $23.98 per hour before tax||Casual Pay Rate 23.98 per hour before tax|
|$9424.00 Gross over 11 weeks||$6325.00 gross over 11 weeks|
|$1608 held in tax = $7816.00 net||$770 held in tax = $5,555.00|
|7816/11 = $710.54 per week after tax||5555/11 = $505.00 per week after tax|
|710.54/5 = $142.00 a day over a 5-day week||505/5 = 101.00 over a 5-day week|
|142/8 = $17.75 per hour after tax||101/8 = $12.62 per hour after tax|
So much for saving 10 grand each??
Now Yasmin and I could have gone to Hervey Bay for three months, locked in a really good COVID19 rate at a caravan park (the rates were good as no one was travelling) and we would have earnt a lot more if we would have applied for Job Seeker at $1200 a fortnight each! I like to tell myself I was helping the economy during its difficult time and we were gaining experiences. Gaining experiences yes but looking back on to it I wish we applied for Job Seeker. Three months by the bay would have been total bliss!
And we are off!!!!
We gave more than a weeks’ notice when we handed in our resignations. We managed to work almost a full week that week which was nice. It was a cruisy week too; I was helping train the next sorry sucker to help run the box machine for the duration of the season. Our last night we had a little party in the camp where Gerry and Garry came with a platter of goodies and some delicious garlic bread. It was a wonderful night standing around the fire having some good chuckles! The next morning, we were packed by lunch and hit the beaten track! No looking back in our rear vision mirrors we hit the red dusty road, a feeling we haven’t felt for some time, let the adventures continue!