Since entering Eastern Australia I have been lavished in its rich countrysides; white sandy beaches and distant islands, and narrowly avoided a beating. Who knows what will come next? This is part II of my 'Tour of Mackay, Queensland.
Queensland was much like Darwin for it's Bird life. Green Lorikeet's weaved in and out of the veranda of the cafe as I sat writing my notes talking to family. Whilst drinking my Chai in the ferocious 90% humidity with my black shirt, blue washed chino's and glasses peaked at the end of my nose; collecting a reservoir of sweat. The passing Lorikeets would flap their wings at such tremendous speed; splitting through the treeline in green and orange formations of fluttering arrows, passing the nearby whistling ducks. The ducks would sit outside and sometimes venture inside to beg for stale bread from staff.
(One of My Personal Shots)
When feeding the orange and brown plumed feather balls; an entire array of wildlife in the park would gather by the masses outside the cafe. Blue faced honey eaters; Lorikeets, Magpies, Raven's, Masked Lapwings and doves in all shapes and sizes; some birds with capes,mohicans and some with yellow masks. The birds would gather looking like something of a Venetian masked parade as they pecked and pushed their way through bags of bread. A straw necked Ibis with one leg would always tower over them; stealing the majority of the bread thrown to the group with its tweezer-like beak.
I could see Brampton Island in the distance on the misty horizon; it's aggressive occupant no doubt looking back at me as I threw the last crumbled stale scone to the birds; sitting back down with Vanessa and my family. We worked like a crack team of job seekers; looking for farm work for myself in the area. As I had mentioned previously; one of the reasons we had came on the road trip in the first place was to find regional work.
Definition: Regional (Re-Juh-Nul)
of or pertaining to a region of considerable extent; not merely local
In addition to this; the work is to be accomplished in these outcast areas over a period of 88 days or three 'calender months'. The completion of regional work in Australia would grant me a second year visa to remain in Australia. Types of work acquired were simple; which consisted of two options, the first being fruit picking or the second being farm work; the latter being the mustering and slauightering of cattle. I picked the former work option for obvious reasons. The stories of a cattle station worker would have no doubt been glorious. But I had once been vegetarian for 8 months; after being frequently exposed to the glutenous aftermath from corporations such as McDonald's'. These personal''exposures' being low budget television ads with annoying jingles trying to pass the inedible dog meat off as the 'quick healthy option', all the while these were being broadcast did I see chubby children chowing down on those budget burgers; on my travels from the UK to Venice. The small stretch of obesity and that new found feeling of gluttony was enough to put me off eventually from my fresh bowl of tagliatelle bologna as I sat in San Marco Square; the timing for change of diet was atrocious.
Dieting habits and personal quarrels with big corporations aside; I searched for fruit picking in the Mackay region, so Vanessa and myself would still see one another and live comfortably. Internet searches; pamphlets and endless phone numbers provided nothing but a dead end, the denial of my second year was sealed and assured at this point. That was until I felt the urge to try a town named Bowen; about 300 kilometers North of Mackay. I called every hostel; every farm in the area, nothing came back. My determination was fathomless; I felt this drive was from a lot of things, my return to Broome the following year relied on it, to see my dear uncle and his family again, the money Australia could provide was much higher than the UK by any standard; even the lowest paid job in Australia would probably outweigh that of an averagely paid job in the UK. But the cost of living in Australia is significantly higher. I called the same number I had tried a week before; it was called 'The Bogie River Bush house. A man with a distinctive accent answered the phone, South African Maybe?. The mans name was Ernie; "There is work for your regional mista' you come here and get signed off three months; you pay $165 for your accommodation that is it; your girlfriend will not have work on the mangoes for two weeks ay? no work yet. She can clean bush house for rent yes? Then two weeks she have work. Oh and you? you will be picking melons. I understand if work is too hard and you want to leave. Be here Monday, please, thank you; goodbye mista' Pickering. The 'T's rolled off his tongue like the plucking of an acoustic guitar with an untuned sound. No sooner did I make the call did I find myself saying goodbye to my family and on route to the 'The Bogie River Bush house . Mackay's lush green cane fields became nothing more than a speck in the rear mirror.
We set off just after 2:30pm; an Irish receptionist named Katie had provided us with directions beforehand, as we passed into the dry dusty outback my expectations began to drop faster than the service bars on my mobile. The house was 30 kilometers away from any civilization at all; it was a 45 minute drive to the nearest town. The surrounding high hills in the distance were Iced with thick oval clouds; like UFO'S casting their shadows over the peaks. The trees were skinny and white, scattered across the land, yet all eerily corresponded to the same height; those days spent there in a morning I would see the light of the sunrise and sunsets, leaking through the blank curtain of bark in a sheet of golden hue.
We had the old fashioned holiday experience of hoping which accommodation would not be ours; after seeing abandoned cars scattered like rusting corpses on the lawn of each home we passed, we weren't feeling too optimistic. The corrugated roads were like a casual earthquake passing through. The road was barely manageable for our fragile van, she rocked and tumbled like an empty oil tanker filled with pebbles.
The pale dust rose and hugged the golden flecks of the sunset passing through the surrounding forest. Kangaroo corpses were scattered in their dozens along the roadside; a daunting reminder to drive carefully.
After a few miles of seismic activity in the travelling oil drum we came across an old fashioned horse box. Painted lime green with child-like kangaroo illustrations with red and yellow flowers; with the words 'Bogie River Bush house' scrawled along the top in an old circus font. The sign boasted 'Pool, TV, and Wildlife Available.' As though the forest felines could be summoned on request. Later did I learn it was in fact the case. Worry struck my head in darts of doubts; my mind was the board and the bulls eye my ambition, questioned in those fatal strikes. THUD 'why am I doing this' THUD 'is it really worth it to be granted a year?, that's if I even meet the criteria'. And finally; 'Why the hell are we'? Bulls eye.
Sign's were sloppily written the the right of the entrance; stating 'NO ALCOHOL' and 'TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT AT, THEN PROSECUTED'. This was quite a contrast compared to the sickly sweet horse box to the left. Unaware we were as those bold black flicks of paint were only a mere indicator of the owners attitude.
It was deathly quiet; so quiet I left the headlights of the van aimed on us and the front door for added protection. Peeking through a stain glassed window I could see nothing but darkness besides the odd antique clay lamp, illuminating the outlines of oak wood furniture; furnished with silks and fabrics. All in all, it looked warming and inviting; a small figure with a pony tail emerged below the glass and opened the door. It was the housekeeper and receptionist. Katie was a small friendly Irish lady with a welcoming smile to match the interior. Before we had barely exchanged pleasantries we had signed our 'contracts'; and handed over our passports for security checks. We were then toured around the grounds and shown to our new home for the next three months. We started in the gardens; there was the 'Kangaroo Courtyard' where dozens congregated, hitting one another as some hopped and fed there young. The kangaroos didn't seem to mind our presence though; the number of people passing by everyday had made the kangaroos more accustomed to human presence. I leaned in to pat a mothering Sheila as her young was getting comfortable in her pouch; not a flinch came from her as I stroked the furry warm chest. When inches below sat its tapered ebony claws; limp and unprovoked; knowing full well that at any moment it's razor sharp claws could open my stomach like a can of tuna.
The pool area was decorated as one with the outback; white stone paving lead from the bar to the poolside, the water as clear as the Maldives; the same oak furniture as the first room, laced with fabrics and a thick red rug beneath for watching TV, only to be told we weren't allowed to sit there. A games room sat to the right of the bar; with new pool tables, dart boards and ping-pong tables. Bamboo curtains fenced the entire complex to stop mosquito's.
The first room had seen was for the proprietor of the property and the guests for bed and breakfast. But despite it's immaculate upkeep; the house had no guests. The grounds were indeed tranquil and well furnished, the rest of the place was as well kept as the first room we had seen; all besides our living quarters that is.
We were led away from the glow of the bar area and down a dark path about a quarter of a mile away; back through the shadowy foliage of the pale trees, down and up from a dip in the path where a river had once been, and up into the 'Workers Housing'. Whether it was from darkness or the fairy lights at the entrance, the place did seem inviting; a small bald Frenchman twiddled his long black pointy beard through his finger as he swayed in the hammock at the entrance, "Bonjour!" he said, "Guten tag!" said a bunch of German's around the outside dinner table; all seemed to be smirking, and by no surprise all captivated by Vanessa as we walked up the steps into our new home, I noticed there were no other women.
The floor was an overlaying sheet of fake tiling covering the no doubt withered floorboards beneath as they creaked and cracked under our weight. I passed through feeling like I was on the deck of a pirate ship, expecting to fall through and into the dark depths at any moment. The kitchen glowed a luminous yellow from the mosquito deterring bulbs; dirty dishes laid around the dry dusty sink. We then passed into the ' wash room'; a single shower cubicle and toilet, right next to the kitchen. Opposite was the washer and sink for hand washing our clothes. Several fridges and freezers lined the room that emerged into one; some were broken and used as cupboards, a set of green plastic outdoor furniture worked as the indoor dining room. One space was dubbed as the living room as it hosted a TV from the nineties as a center piece, and it's accessories a green three piece lounger with cracks and gashes as thick and deep as the skin of a crocodile. It was that sofa that I stuck to with sweat after a hard days work in the fields. Our bedroom consisted of two single beds; a broken ceiling fan and a small cupboard with the same height and width as a grandfather clock. We looked at one another; bid farewell and thanks to Katie, and slumped onto the bed in a fit of sighs. "We can't do this for three months Reece." Vanessa said. The ceiling fan squeaked as though proving her right. I sighed," We haven't even started the work yet."
I wrestled under from Vanessa's tired arms and shuffled out the door; passing through the neighboring dorm of Germans. Some fast asleep by only 8:30pm; I introduced myself and all occupants did the same in turn. There were two Frenchmen; the first named Pierre (Yes I'm not generalising) and 'TT' short for Tatien being the second; the small man extended his tanned arm from the hammock with a hearty handshake as his pointy beard protruded from the side of the yellow and red cloth; the cigarette burned to the filter still hanging from his lips. Then there were the three Germans; Sven, Max and Sam. Lowe and behold were the last two occupants of my own Nationality; Luke and Jake. I made myself known to the group and that I intended to start work straight away in the morning; 'morning' was 4:30 am and the days work finished at 5:30 pm. "Mate it's hard graft" said one of the Englishmen, "Like nothing you've seen before; overworked and underpaid." My stomach sank but I was by no means put off; most of these men were either obese, young or smokers. On my way back into my room I picked up a melon sat on the kitchen counter observing the green boulder; it was the size of two footballs glued together; and it was allegedly a 'small one'. I wasn't a big man but I would put my body through whatever I had coming my way as I always had and will through life. So they gave me the details and I gave them my farewell for the evening. I thought little about the work that night but what the future would bring and what it could take away; I turned off the whimpering ceiling fan and feel to sleep.
A crisp cold breezed clutched my bare torso as I woke up to my alarm at 4:30 am, it was the first time I had felt cold in Australia. Shuffles and groans came from the hoards of backpackers next door as they fumbled for their sunscreen and straw hats. I kissed the forehead of the slumbering Vanessa and left. By 5am I was fed, watered and waiting in the gravel stoned car park in a blue singlet; denim shorts and straw hat. The moonlight from the crescent moon still shone through the aligned trees; shimmering on the water of the 5 liter bottle I used as a seat. I began to get nervous as I saw the aches and pains vent through the faces of the other workers as they struggled up the small incline and into their cars. The owner charged us to use the vehicle to and from the farm and so we used our own method of transport; my car was of course exempt.
A German chap named Max kindly offered to drive us in his four man van; the drive was a scenic half an hour to the farm, passing mountain ranges and the waking cattle. Nobody said a word; some of the group had been drinking until eleven at night which may seem a petty time to call last drinks but I assure you; thirty-five degree heat for ten hours straight will make it feel like twenty-fours. The last stretch of road had more craters than the moon; Pierre was tossed around the van like a rag doll. I quietly chuckled under my straw hat as the Frenchman was launched into the roof after every pothole. He should have carried the melon to weigh himself down.
Warehouses appeared to the right; tomato fields outlined them as far as the eye could see. Farm machinery stood static over the swarms of Asian workers; a sign with a grinning tomato stood to the left of the entrance saying 'Donmore Farms; The Happier Option'. The tremor of the cattle grid woke me from the bedding of my straw hat. The night before when the workers gave me their 'briefing' they had included details on a man only described by locals as 'Angry John'.
It was as I remembered this that I saw a skinny small man, pacing up and down the car park. Scraggly black hairs stuck out of his navy cap like straw on a scarecrow; tattered trainers covered by gators hung at the bottom of his skinny freckled legs. Half covered by matching navy shorts; his blue canvas shirt screwed up into the mud smeared cargo pants, barely containing the bulbous beer belly which wrestled with his black buckled belt. His eyes were covered with a cheap set of sunglasses; the plastic clung to his purple snout as he shouted. His skin was aged from the long days in the sun; done so to a leathery texture which would have looked fine in a packet of beef jerky at a roadhouse. I grabbed my things and followed suite of the others; "Better be more fucking useful than yesterday; or nobody gets a day off this week, well get in the truck then you useless arseholes!" he said as he adjusted his shades with his middle finger; giving the insulting gesture. Our 'lift' to the farm was a steel giant of a lorry; the back was a roofless, empty steel box; ten inches thick. The sides and floor were powdered with rust; I threw my back pack and water on the ground and sat with my head in my hands, as we were all lurched from side to side like cattle awaiting slaughter. The melon fields were a couple of kilometers away. The steel was freezing cold to the touch; our belongings we churned together as the lorry passed up and down a small valley. We passed a sea of the mago trees that Vanessa was due to pick; non looked ready in a fortnight by any means. Two thwacks on the hard steel with the drivers leathery fist indicated to get out the van; we clambered out one by one onto the dry dusty mud, trying to recliam our lunch and water in a disorganized cloud of orange dust.
The morning sun was becoming intense against my skin; the exposure crumpled my eyes into a squint. As they closed I saw dark contempt and heard nothing but the shouts and wails of the man named 'Angry John'. We were led to a field by the second in command; 'Sven' the German; who was one of our own. But had been given the task of coordinating us simply due to how long he had been there. John drove back to the farm after an outburst of random insults on Europeans. In his six weeks of picking melons; Sven had earned no extra pay in this role, just less abuse from the one named John as a reward; if he did a good job that is. We stood in the first melon field in a diagonal line of five men; the first was TT being the picker, then me; Pierre third and the two Germans Max and Sam. Sven wasn't accounted for as he strolled ahead doing the 'pre-picking' for TT. I could only describe the scene as a prisoners labor line; without the armed guard, and the shackles replaced with melon vines. As we walked forward through the 600m field; the man to my left would toss the melons picked from the three men's lines before him. All the while I was to pick mine, checking for brown stems, this confirmed that the melon was ready; as opposed to a green stem and a small melon which were not. Although if some were 'big enough' and had a green stem, we were permitted to pick it. Although the size criteria was forever changing in the eyes of angry John. I picked my first melon; sweat dripped on to the green marbled ball as Pierre let out a piercing shriek.
I looked up; just as a 15kg tiger melon soared past my skull, smashing against the twisted green ground in a pink splash. Seeds dripped from my straw hat in pink droplets. "Eh man, that was how you say; a close one no?" "Yes Pierre, very close indeed".
So as well as picking my row and hauling them over to TT; I had to catch melons from the left and ensure my brains weren't among the pink mush on the ground in the process. Each melon weighed around 10-15 pounds on average; that was seedless, the oval shaped tiger melons were by far the most agonizingly heavy after a while. These weighed around 20 pounds and had to be handled with both hands.
The green vines almost seemed to writhe in the ripple of the suns rays. Tiger melons would hide inches deep beneath entanglements of the prickled foliage, which after a few hours began to itch and irritate the skin to a red blotchy canvas. Itching was near impossible as every distraction invited a plundering watermelon to the torso. After two hours of picking three fields; a van came over the horizon, loaded with cardboard boxes a metre deep and a metre wide. "That's early". Said Luke. Knowing the routine too well. An obese red bearded man sat in the drivers side in his orange overalls; with a more fitting description as a chimpanzee. A skinny woman sat in the passenger side; with a small chihuahua sat on her lap, her blonde bob cut flopping from side to side as the van made it's way towards us.
"Get on, on get packing; tigers this side". The ape gestured with his hairy fingers towards the right of the truck. Loading the melons onto the truck was the quickest and hardest part of the day; and was accomplished through three roles. The first picking, the second throwing and the third being the catcher on the van; we would rotate each role when a box was full. Me, TT and Pierre took the left side; I chose to be picker first, using a lifting technique my Brother-In-Law to be had taught me when being my personal trainer. Taking the full weight with my legs and keeping my back straight. I squatted down; threw the melon in my air to Pierre who threw it up to TT catching on the truck. The truck began to move at a slow pace. I repeated this a few dozen times; my back was already feeling the strain, I looked down the seemingly infinite line to my left; a green haze of melons lined as far as the eye could see. We swapped when one box had been filled; the melons often slipped from my grasp due to the amount of my sweat falling onto it. A heckle to 'change would force the driver to stop and let us re-organise to our next role. A basketball stance to the man catching on the truck was a good way to pass the melons; bouncing with my legs and pushing upward like a spring coil to save my back. And finally it was my turn to be catcher; which was classed as the easiest part, I classed it as the most dangerous. As catcher; you caught the melon, and had to place it gently in the cardboard pen. But these pens were about 1" inch thick, on many occasions we risked chopping off a finger as the weight of the melons landed on stray fingers; which were floating centimeters above the cardboard. On one occasion; Pierre had thrown a Tiger to me as I was stacking another inside the pen, trying to be fast and stop the melon striking my rib cage, I gripped to end of the melon, the weight and speed forced my index finger against the thick cardboard like a guillotine. I struck the glass of the drivers window with my bleeding fist to stop. Whether it was the blood smears or shouting; both brought him to a halt, the pompous woman gasped. But TT and Pierre did not stop; a stray melon smashed into the container; the driver howled a command for me to clean up the mess, so I shoveled the mess of blood and melon mush with my crippled fingers. I took my underlying bandanna and used it as a bandage; and carried on my role.
This same process of loading the trucks would occur five or six times a day with no warning; the trucks would appear spontaneously. Then to more picking as soon as the truck had left. This continued for ten hours straight with a half an hour 'break'. Breaks consisted of hiding under anything remotely shady; which was often either the combine harvester left by farmers or shadows of the stacked beehives; used for pollination. We always chose the former, on the odd occasion the driver would stay for a smoke and we would hide under the truck for shade.
My first day had almost broken me already; the guys said I did good for a newbie. Due to there being a little more cloud coverage, and no John around; they classed the day to be 'one of the easiest yet'. My back felt like a man was standing on my spinal column; the blisters on my hands pulsed and burst, the only pockets of moisture on my dry prickly skin. After being loaded into the rusty container at the end of the day; we had to sign for our hours and de-briefed by Angry John. Whose dismissal extended past nothing more than "go on, fuck off home and rest".
I remember standing in the cold shower; plucking the needles from my skin and scrubbing the dirt from my hands, seeing to the cuts from the cardboard. Despite all efforts against the Australian sun, my skin had burned to a crisp cherry red. Every part of my body ached. I fell against Vanessa in bed and passed out; until 4:30am the next day. This process of under paid over worked borderline slave labour continued for six more days; the night before my seventh, I had vowed to the guys I would be leaving. Two Belgians had joined the group; one well built and strong, the other skinny but tall and also quite lean. They apparently lasted four hours after bidding to stay three months; both had thrown up and been sent home, the outcome was a days pay; barely enough to cover the $165 loss of deposit. Right after they had just lost $165 dollars deposit at the bush house. As the days past I grew more used to the work; muscles healed and pains grew less over the days. But the biggest strain was not from my tired back or arms; but of my mentality. Vanessa was not being paid or been given work as promised as the farmer had told me the mangoes were not to be ready for at least five weeks, when we had been told two. Vanessa was having trouble with the manageress of the bush house; who had made every attempt to bring her down for no reason; calling her lazy was the most insulting. As the hazy eyed hermosa had always worked hard in her previous jobs.
I told Vanessa I had enough; showing her my cuts and bid to state our leave tomorrow night after my last day of work. That morning started the same, we joked and laughed as we trundled toward the farm. John was more agitated than ever; looking as though he still hadn't changed his clothes from my first day. He removed his shades, tired bags of flesh circled around his eyes like the markings on a tree stump; the black pimples of his eyes hidden in the grey caverns. His tousled black mustache barely covered his gnarled yellow and black teeth as spit and profanities projected from his mouth like bile.
Apparently we were too slow in our line of work the previous days; a new batch of workers arrived on what looked like a school bus to the right of us, a young crowd of boys got onto a truck and were taken to the melon fields. He threatened that the progress of these 'boys' would determine our employment. For the sake of the younger audience I will not list what was said by the wretched man. He instructed every one to get in the truck; and two to ride with him as he had room. Myself and Pierre were the slowest to run away to the comfort of the rusty lorry as the others had; and so we shared a cabin with John, agitated socially awkward John. Energy drinks and beer cans lined the floor of the truck, silence filled the cabin; myself and the Frenchman said nothing as John tried to make small talk despite threatening our jobs only moments ago. I still said nothing, the man repulsed me; I wouldn't wish that kind of attitude on my enemies. His anger ridden self returned as we arrived at the fields; only this time he joined us. This meant an extra set of hands but also meant a quickened pace, shorter break; and a loss of nerves. Everybody's voice quivered in replies of 'sorry' when the man addressed their mistakes; I said nothing, tilting the straw hat over my brow when he tried to address me. But of course when he wasn't looking or was too far ahead; we would smash a melon for sustenance and have a good laugh despite what was happening around us. Bad melons would feel the force of my converse ; as I plundered my foot into the mush out of pure annoyance at the fruits that caused so much pain to my aching body.
That day I was the pre-picker; and John was the person I was pre-picking for, regrettably. "That's a fucking green stem what do you think you are doing you prick?" he squealed at me, though I still said nothing. He picked up his pace and began walking toward me with a stem, throwing the small piece at me, then he turned and carried on ahead "i'll fucking do it" he said. The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee clung to the wind and across my path despite the twenty meters between us; with every command, a whiff of the potent mix would fill my nostrils. He was a miserable man; working on the farm for the most of his life with no other company than the 'kids' he shouted at for a living; the other farmers mocked him. To this man we were just dirty backpackers. "Don't you speak?" he gestured to me. Still, I remained silent coaxing a reaction from the angry little man. He continued to find 'mistakes' of ours throughout the day.
Trucks came one after the other at least 7 or 8 in a row this time. By this point it was 5pm and I was exhausted more than usual, I was quivering and shuddering with the wind despite the 40 degree heat. The last truck came, a man pulled up; left the vehicle and jumped into John's Ute, he then presumably drove back to the farm.
Screams and heckles came from the raspy vocal chords of the slack jawed neanderthal as he lit another cigarette; " that was my fucking car!" he said over and over. He ordered TT to drive the truck, then Sven; both failed miserably as I later found they had lost their licenses for illegal reasons. I watched the stray melons pop under the weight of the truck; replicating my thoughts of hope at the time. Then I climbed into the truck without saying a word; dismissing Sven. I lifted the faulty clutch as gently as I could, the poor girl was as rusted as the bottom of the titanic. I prevailed and went as slow as I could for my colleagues loading the truck. Despite his heckles toward me as 'A fucking pom' which I disregard as an insult; I checked the broken mirrors to see if my friends were coping with the pace, catching Johns eye in the mirror. "Don't look at me you twat" he said. I stalled the van and dropped out of the cabin. My last nerved had popped like one of the underlying melons; with no trace of my former self. I felt the sickly shade of red had haze over my eyes, the desperate degraded version of myself had taken enough. I lifted up a tiger melon the size of a small child over my head; addressing the stale cloud of smoke around John's head. "I'm not looking at you! You cretin! you miserable excuse for a human being!; why don't you attempt to drag your wheezing sorry ass into that van and drive it yourself my good sir; if you are physically capable of course? thank you good day."
As far as I know; my employment as a melon picker at 'Donmore Farms' was terminated shortly after the occurrence. We laughed and joked about the days events as we chewed our way through a dozen tomatoes from a bad batch on the farm as we drove home at our usual time of five-thirty. My head felt swollen and ached with every pothole; I could barely keep my eyes open due to the sleep deprivation. The fever had raged on throughout the day; most probably being the cause of my outburst; but I was yet to address Ernie of our departure from the bush house that night. I woke up to nothing but darkness around eight in the evenin; I knew I was in the comfort of our bedroom when I heard the squeaking of the ceiling fan above; and the warm breath from Vanessa against my face. My cold skin was doused with sweat; I had managed to perspire through my shorts and singlet, through the quilt, and on to the mattress, losing copious amounts of body fluids. Determined that I had been bitten by a snake or spider I urged Vanessa to check my body for wounds; fortunately nothing appeared.
It was apparent that I was suffering with sunstroke; despite my best efforts to stay cool through hydration and protecting my skin in the fields, it wasn't enough against the ruthless terrain. The sickness only made me more determined to get us out of there.
I threw myself upward; my abs and lower back ached with such tremendous pain I fell onto the floor; I was light headed, feeling as though my cranium was replaced with a melon itself. With Vanessa's help I pulled myself up and began to shuffle out of the house, and down toward the pool area; where an unsuspecting Ernie sat watching television on his three piece suite we were forbidden to touch.
I sat beside him on the sofa; placing my sweating shaking hand on the soft silk. Ernie regarded me as nothing more than a ghost as he took a sip of his beer and looked at me, then back to the television. "Sorry Ernie we can't do this anymore; we're leaving tomorrow before we have to pay another week in advance, as you said the work was too hard and I, we; wish to leave".
"Well that's tough mate, because you said three months". He said as he carried on staring intently at the television; as though reading a script from the screen. The thought of the man retaining both our passports crossed my mind as I started to talk. Kept in a safe with only him knowing the combination.
"You said if the work was to hard.." I uttered as he cut me off; "You backpackers are all the same; you leave me with no workers and when life gets tough you want to quit". Bearing in mind that day a Scottish fellow had lasted four hours before throwing up and getting hit in the testicles with a seedless watermelon. I had given them a week, no more I thought; it isn't worth it.
I tried to reason with apology and the fact that I had waited until two Swedish workers were due to arrive the next morning was reason enough for me. "You need to grow some balls mate..". After Ernie said this; all logic from myself was unaccounted for, the fever wrestled with my bones as I stood up over the man in his precious chair and began to walk away. "I need to grow some balls? It's you and that devil in blue cargo shorts who spend every day shouting at those who are just kids compared to you. LOOK AT ME!" Vanessa clutched at my hand, her sweet voice was all I heard to try and calm me. I slumped against the bar side to my right for balance. His eyes widened as he looked away from the screen for the second time.
"You need to grow some balls; give us our passports, we leave first thing tomorrow that's it, are you going to retain us here otherwise?"
"Not to mention the illegal pay; poor quality of working standards and the fact that you employ Asians illegally is something I will be taking with me back to the city for reference."
It is a well known fact that at the time; a farm had recently been prosecuted by the Australian Government for the hiring of workers who are not permitted to be in the country, creating employment under false contracts, any farm caught will face the same penalties of $75,000 per worker. This is an ongoing issue in the industry of rural Australian farming.
We left the room and Ernie opened another beer. Sven sat on the bench outside "Man I never heard anyone give that guy a piece of their mind before".
"That's funny because Iv'e never had anyone take me for a twat before". I said as I shuffled back to our room.
The next morning was like the start of a new chapter; fresh rays of golden sun flecked through the doilie patterned curtains. The smell of the woodland aromised the room. A series of paracetamol doses and fresh water had brought me back to health despite a twisted nerve in my neck from tossing the melons. I was nursed by the caring Venezuelan of course. We said our goodbyes to the short lived relationships with the other backpackers; fearful of what they might have to endure next. Some were forced to stay; turns out TT and Sven each had about $20 left to their name through embarking on drug fueled parties on the east coast. I took two melons after not being put off the taste and hungry for nourishment. But there was a chink in our chain as we drive away from The Bogie River Bush house. As Donmore farms used a clever system of paying their employees a week later, this encouraged backpackers to stay and claim there pay. I had previously watched and analysed Pierre; and most who lasted only a day or two trusted the Frenchman unquestionably with their pay. That and the fact that I had known the others to steal from the local supermarket when we did our weekly shop. Pierre agreed to send me the money the following pay day; I gave him my details and instructed him to take a small ammount for his generosity. True to his word; Pierre payed in the full weeks wages of $900 into my bank account later that week. And he never took a cent for himself. But before leaving Bowen entirely we decided to enjoy the nearby beautiful beaches; I felt reborn again. So after our ordeal as farm workers, we sat; ate fruit, laughed about the events and loved each moment regardless. That's what it really comes down to. After all of this farm work calamity, the notion that Vanessa had came with me; forced to clean the mess of the house, rake leaves in the harsh sun, and feed chickens meant so much to me than she will ever know. The attempt of regional work at the melon fields had forever pushed me from trying again; and it coaxed the final decision for me to not return to Australia for a second year. I had closed a door and opened another; I was made to stay on the move across the globe as I was born to do so. But I had brought the stories that would last a lifetime, and that is worth stacking any amount of melon trucks for.
Shortly after we returned to Mackay; to sell our van and make the next step of our journey across the world. And now here I am at my new temporary home. I currently rent a room in the home of a wonderful Scottish lady named Shirley; her three legged dog named Topper sits at my feet as I write this. He is a Poodle/ Terrier cross which is soft as a brush but will take your fingers off in an instant if you make any attempts to pat him. Shirley treats me like one of her own and her 'close to home' ways are always comforting.
But with no partner and a Ford Econovan still sat on the drive way; things were getting hard. 'Buyers' came and went; taking my precious time with them. But regardless I remain contempt with the path I have chosen; eager to see my last destination in Australia; Melbourne.
I had learned a very important lesson on this part of my journey; that money was just that, a commodity, it brought stability but would never grant happiness. And I had seen it too many times here in Australia. And never to take shit from bitter men. So I was ready for whatever life would throw my way, as long as I always have enough to return to the ones I love; that much is enough. So I booked my flight for my Tour of Melbourne; just before Christmas; I doubt Vanessa still knows when. Here it goes again.
Thank-you to any one who is still reading this 'not so much travel blog but more of a novel blog'. This is due to me spending so much time in one place. But time will bring new surroundings and no doubt a new set of obstacles for my ever changing life. Thank-you to all of my subscribers and of course all the folks back home; above all else family and friends. Travel safe wherever in the world you are as you read this; and take care wherever you go. -R
If you want to check out the photography I coincide with my blog; you can here:
P.S Brampton Island Case Update:
This was never added to the entry for reasons of sheer ridiculousness; myself and Elliot were tracked and commanded by local authority's to give statement at Mackay Police Station. An $800 dollar fine and a court appearance kater; I was free to leave Australia as a free man, with no charges recorded. Although the judge looked up in confusion at his papers as equally disgusted as though someone in the room had called his mother a slut. Yes this is true; and the charges for the 6 year expired fire extinguishers came to just over $1500 dollars. The story itself made it to television; radio and best of all the local newspaper. From the insipid siblings of a local reporter named 'Janessa Ekert'. Who worked for the daily mercury, later dubbed; 'The Daily Mockery' by all who knew me at the time.
In addition to this; the naive Janessa had visited the cafe just weeks ago; unaware that the serving Barista was infact the creme de la creme of her no doubt most successful story of her bleak career. This flawless reporter who dubbed me 'Foolish Dueler'; turned up at the Cafe in tight pink shorts, the folds of her fat caressed by her long greasy blonde hair bubbled over the side over the tight fitted shorts. She slurped at her chocolate milkshake as I brewed my own thoughts. The fat suckling honey bee of media left for it's hive of tabloid journalism which is the 'Daily Mockery' reflecting every country of the world. No doubt a privately owned government paper. I wasn't angry as you will guess by my tone; just that I 'The writer' had been slammed by an obese barbie doll. Don't believe me? Check out the link below...
P.S.S My Restoration In Humanity
Remember Carolyn? The lady from part one of my Tour of Mackay? If you don't; this is Carolyn (Pictured with myself below). I want to share this with you because she is such an amazing woman I met on my travels. Carol is/was a complete and utter stranger who approached me some weeks ago at my work. With an envelope with my name on it. She went out of her way for me; a stranger in her life, to print photos of the staff at Broome Camel Safaris on her trip to Broome. Finding me in Mackay completely by chance after the staff told her I was there as I presume it is her home town. I saw Carolyn again weeks later at the cafe I now work; only this time she offers me a $200 trip across the skies on a WW2 'Tiger Moth'. A pleasure flights company she works for voluntarily. This woman made memories for me for no other reason than she genuinely wanted to. Today a 'stranger' made my day. Beautiful people. Here are a few photos of the East Coast from that amazing day: