I eventually found the “pickers camp” and set up a little place for myself beside some nice people.
I decided to camp here because it’s on the farm where I’ll be working and only a 5 min drive to get there as opposed to driving 25kms there and 25kms back every day.
I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English there but I found a note on the wall saying that the bus leaves at 5.30am to go to the cherry farm. I am completely unprepared, no tax, superannuation forms are filled out or mentioned. I have no idea where I am really, or what to expect when I get there.
I rise at 4.30, make myself a coffee and have some breakfast, sitting in my tent like a weird little person. I get on the old, unregistered, rundown bus at 5.20 with spare shoes, phone, wallet, glasses, lunch, hat, notebook, pen, water and nuts to snack on, I have no idea what I’ll need today, or even what time I finish. When we arrive at the farm – 10 mins later – we all get out and stand around, waiting for about 20mins until another bus arrives, then we all get on a different bus, wait 5 mins and then are told to get off. At this stage I’m totally confused and just following the closest person. We walk up the dirt road for a bit and then ….nothing. I ask someone if they could help us as me and my newly acquired buddies are new, she tells me to ‘Just be quiet!” and turns away.
I try again with someone else who points my contractor out to me. We are then taken up a row of Cherry trees and he explains to us how to pick Cherries, dropping cigarette ash onto the cherries as he does. We are told we have 2 trees each and off we go – but he adds, ladders are very scarce, so pick the bottoms of the trees and try and find a ladder to pick the tops when we can. When I ask about tax paper work etc he finds something in his pocket which resembles nothing I have ever seen for tax purposes and says to give it to him tomorrow. Paperwork done.
I manage to complete 2 trees at the bottom, but with 1 ladder between 5 people it’s not possible to finish the top of the tree. I am taken to another set of trees. Then I’m given a ladder!! At this stage I’m so happy that something is going my way I’m actually feeling happy and work as quickly as I can to make the most of it. After about 20mins my contractor turns up, sees me with the ladder and says I have to give it back. This turmoil continues for ages, including trying to find the toilets (about 500m away – at least thats how far it felt), being told that we are finishing later due to a forecast of rain tomorrow and therefore starting new trees, then, suddenly being told to finish up now because because it’s not going to rain tomorrow now, then having to wait 20mins to have the cherries I’ve picked being ticked off and then had no idea where to go next, where the bus would be or if it’s even coming…..I eventually find it only to wait in a hot, humid, stuffy bus breaking of sweat from the day for 45mins for it to leave n its 10min drive ‘home’.
I arrived back at the camp, confused, with sore fingers and feet and overwhelmed with the whole thing.
We were told we weren’t working the next day, but then I hear some guy in the common room yelling ” Everyone is to go to work tomorrow….hear me? EVERYONE is to go to work tomorrow” and then changed the time the bus leaves from 5.30 to 6am. If I hadn’t heard him (as many didn’t) I wouldn’t have known.
I took the next day off anyway, I need time to gather myself, recoup my blessings, remember why I’m here and organise myself for the next 3 weeks of chaos.