Two Weeks (Off to the Tomato Farm: Warragul)

It’s officially been a month since I’ve come to Australia, which is absolutely insane cause the time has flown by! When I last

Melbourne!

wrote, I was on my way back to Melbourne from Mildura. I arrived in Melbourne on Friday evening and checked into my hostel, which was the same one Sonia was staying at. We went to a take-out sushi place for dinner and then ate it beside the river. For the rest of the evening, we just walked around Melbourne and checked out Hosier Lane, which is an alleyway covered with graffiti; it was pretty cool! We figured we should probably decide where we would be sleeping the following night so we went back to our hostel to look for airbnb’s in Warragul. However, we were surprised to find out that all of the airbnb’s were booked only for Saturday night! We then looked at hotels and all of the hotels were completely booked as well! Sonia and I both wrote a few couchsurfing hosts during the week to see if we could stay with them, but we didn’t hear anything back from anyone. We decided to just go to bed and deal with our problems in the morning. We woke up early on Saturday, had some pancakes, packed up our stuff, and walked to the station (which was only about five minutes away). We then took the bus at 10:30am and arrived in Warragul at noon. During the entire bus ride, I was solely thinking of everywhere that we could possibly stay. Since all hotels were booked, we were looking up prices of tents online so that we could possibly stay in a campsite. Otherwise, we might have to find a couple of park benches to sleep on! I had a sliver of hope when my friend (Laura) messaged me and said that her family had lived in Warragul a few years ago, and her step-mom would contact everyone they knew to see if we could stay with them. Unfortunately, most of them had moved to a different city or had left the country. However, I am so grateful for their help! About 20 minutes before we were supposed to arrive, one of the couchsurfers had emailed and told me to call him! When we arrived in Warragul, I gave the guy a call and he came and picked us up from the station ten minutes later. Trevor’s wife was out of town for a weekend retreat, but we got to meet his two kids, a 4-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. Trevor had some VERY interesting viewpoints and wasn’t afraid to share them with us. He said that when he was 14, he started channeling his Spirit Guide. He then claimed that he has conversations with the Creator (who he refers to as “Source,”) and he remembers who he was in past lives. He said that his purpose in this life is to spread his information to as many people as possible, and those people can do what they want with it. He seemed to know all the answers about any type of religion (apparently Jesus was actually the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar), biofeedback mechanisms, vaccinations, lotus births, and many other topics because Source constantly communicates with him. He said that Source tells him when someone is interested in what he has to say… We listened to him talk for 2-3 hours so I guess Source was telling him that we wanted to hear more 😛 While some of what he said was interesting, a few things he said made us question who we were staying with. Anyway, that afternoon, we went to the Drouin parade with the family. Sonia had messaged someone who she found on Facebook who was offering a place to stay so we met up with him and his son, and he said that we could move in the next day.

We got up early Sunday morning to have breakfast, and then the family drove us into town and dropped us off to our new home. Just a side note (and I was debating whether or not I should put this on my blog, as I don’t want to scare anyone), I looked up Trevor online the following weekend, only to find out that he was convicted of 10 charges and spent some time in prison (8 months of 4.5 years) for sexual acts with a minor, before being acquitted in 2003. So that was a bit shocking to read about, and we’re extremely glad that we didn’t end up staying with the family for anymore time than we did. Just something to keep in mind when staying in random peoples’ houses!
The new family that we moved in with was a single dad with a 14-year-old son, and a 7-year-old daughter who was staying with him part-time. The problem with this place was it was in the next town over (Drouin), and we would be working on the other side of Warragul, so it was about a 20-minute drive to work. Since we didn’t have a car and no money to buy a car, we had no way to get to work. Sonia posted on the Warragul Community Facebook page to ask if someone could drive us to work the next morning and she got quite a few replies. She accepted one of them, so all we had to do was count on a random guy to come pick us up and take us to work the next day (talk about trusting multiple strangers!). Needless to say, our stress levels were through the roof for the entire weekend! That day, I decided to phone the lady whose house we originally wanted to stay in (Alexandra) because Sonia had been contacting her all week and she wasn’t writing back. Surprisingly, she answered as soon as I called! She said we could come look at the place after work on Monday, and she’d be home around 6pm. The Drouin family invited us to have dinner with them that evening, which was a good way to break the ice, and Sonia and I got them all hooked on Married at First Sight. 
Monday morning, we got up and ready for the day, and then waited for Ken to come pick us up. He was actually really nice

The sanitizing station

and didn’t accept any payment since he was on company gas. Our orientation started at 8:30am that day, so we went through a bunch of paperwork, policies, and videos about rules at work. It was A LOT more structured and organized than the farm that we worked on in Mildura, and the staff was friendlier as well. After a few hours of learning, we got to go see our department. In order to get into the building, you have to put in a code and then sanitize yourself. Basically you have to walk over a tray of sanitizer to clean your shoes and then put your hands in a big tub of sanitizer and push two buttons at the bottom of the tub, which will then let you walk through the turnstile. Then, you go in the changing rooms, grab a clean shirt and shorts/pants, and change. You have to wear new clothes everyday, and you have to have a separate pair of shoes and hat that you can only wear at work (and they can’t leave the workplace for the duration of your time there). The shoes can’t be worn outside ever. It’s a way to avoid bringing contaminants and insects into the building, and they’re very strict about what you can bring into the glasshouse (only a hat, sunglasses, and a waterbottle). We went through a few more policies and explanations about how to do different jobs, and then we went to work! That afternoon, we had to do clipping, which just involved us taking little clips and attaching the stems of the plants to the sticks in the pots. Usually, there are either two or three stems per plant. After we finished that, we had to put all of the plants in boxes and pile the boxes on a palette. We finished work at about 4pm that day so we had to kill two hours before meeting at Alexandra’s house to see if we could move in. Someone from work offered to give us a ride and then we found out that he was also living in the same house! The house is on a farm about a half-hour walk from work and it’s absolutely huge! It has a pool, tennis courts, and at least 20 horses. After about an hour, the au pair (Katariina) came outside and said she could show us the

Our new home!

house. Sonia and I would be sharing a room and it would be $100/week each, which was $65 less than what we were paying in Mildura. After showing us the house, Katariina took the little girl (Chloe, who’s 7) horse-back riding so we got to wander through the property and see all of the horses. It was pretty cool! Later, Alexandra came home and said that we could move in the following day, which was great! There are 9 Flavorite workers living in the house, along with the mom, au pair, 7-year-old daughter, and 15-year-old son. Katariina was nice enough to drive us back to Drouin after meeting so we didn’t have to walk back to Warragul. That evening, we let the family know that we’d be moving out the next day, which we felt really bad for since they had moved their house around for us.

On Tuesday morning, we decided to just take a taxi to work since we started at 6:30, and no one would likely offer to give us a ride that early. The taxi came at 5:30 and ended up costing us $37. Good thing we wouldn’t have to do that everyday! That morning, we had to do staking (putting the sticks in the pots). They have two different coloured stakes (one green and two natural wood), and we’d have to put the green stake closest to the second highest

The yard

stem. Staking is killer on the back since you’re hunched over the whole time, so it quickly ended up being the task that we despised the most. We got through it pretty quickly, and then during the afternoon, we had to do grafting. Grafting is when you connect a part of one plant to a part of another plant, and then eventually they should start growing together. Keep in mind we’re working with baby plants, so we have to slice the stem of a strong root, slice the stem of a strong head, and connect the two with a 1.5mm diameter clip. The stems have to be the same size in order for it to be successful. It’s very tedious and long work, and I’ve found that it takes me about one hour to do one tray (which is 120 plants). On Wednesday, we ended up grafting for the whole day so I did eight trays, which is 960 plants!! I was positive I’d be developing carpel tunnel in the near future. Our full week involved waking up at 4:30am, getting ourselves and our lunches ready, leaving at 5:30am, walking in the dark to work to arrive at 6am, then getting ready for work and having coffee until we had to start at 6:30am. Then, we’d usually work until about 10, have a 15 minute break and work until 1 for a half-hour lunch break, and then we’d go home at about 3:30pm. The people here have been so generous and usually when they see us put on our high-visibility vests to walk home, someone always ends up offering us a ride. On Friday night, it was Chinese New Year so some of the people who we live with (who are from Taiwan) planned a huge hot pot dinner for everyone, which was awesome! We started running

The hot pot dinner

out of food around Thursday, and really had to skimp out on our meals since the town of Warragul is a 1.5-hour walk from the farm. Thankfully, Alexandra allowed us to borrow her car on Saturday so we could go into town and buy the following week’s worth of groceries. One of the couples who we live with also offered to drive us into town on Sunday, so even though we didn’t actually need anything else, we decided to come along for the ride just to get out of the house for awhile.

This week, we spent Monday and Tuesday morning in the Nursery department and helped with packing up plants in trays. Then we spent Monday and Tuesday afternoon in the Crop Care department, doing clipping. On Tuesday, they found some infected plants in the Crop Care department so they said we could no longer go back to work in the Nursery department in order to avoid cross-contamination. In Crop Care, the glasshouses are set up in 400+ rows of tomato plants, with kind of a railway track going between every two rows. Then, they have a bunch of trolleys that go on top of the rails so we can move up and down the rows. They basically have to kill off every 6th plant in order to create more space for the remaining plants to grow, so our job was to clip every 6th plant to the string that it was hanging off of, so that when it started dying, it wouldn’t droop down on top of all of the other plants. We did that starting on Monday and finished on Thursday morning; it took so long and got so hot being close to the ceiling in a long-sleeved shirt (some of the workers said that when you’re really close to the ceiling on a hot day, it can get up to 50 degrees!). The itchiness also drove us insane, cause we both reacted to the tomato plants and have gotten little spots all over our skin, especially on our wrists! Our other job was pollination, which involved riding the trolleys back and forth while using a baton to hit the cable that all of the vines were attached to. This would cause the vines to vibrate back and forth, and hopefully drop some pollen. We had to do this three times per week, and it would usually take

Me and Leo

about an hour and half to get through one greenhouse. One time while we were doing this, one of the supervisors was talking to Sonia and exclaimed his surprise that we were actually hired because we weren’t Asian (we’re literally some of the only non-Asian workers at the company). He then went on to say that Asians work faster, harder, and don’t complain about it and he’s so glad he doesn’t have any white people on his team. I was completely shocked that he would have said something like that to us! It was the same thing when we were trying to find work in Mildura – people would say not to bother applying to certain companies because they only hire Asians, and multiple job ads said that they would only hire men. We didn’t realize that it would be so hard to find work (and be respected) as white females! Somewhat shocking, in my opinion. Our bodies have taken a toll from work – itchy skin, bruises all over our legs (from the trolley door closing on them, sore backs, ankles, and legs, and feeling completely worn out after work for 9+ hours on our feet (to the point where our minds no longer function correctly). However, I AM getting super muscular and I’ve lost over ten pounds. What they really should advertise for the 88 days is that you may end up getting arthritis, carpel tunnel, back pain and/or hunchback, higher risk of skin cancer and multiple hospital bills for life. BUT you get to stay in Australia for a year! Anyway, it’s finally the weekend again so we went into Warragul to get groceries and treat ourselves to brunch, and now we’ll likely just end up relaxing and recuperating until we start work again on Monday. And now we’re finally done two weeks of work! On Monday, we’re changing areas again and we’ve been told by multiple people that the supervisor is really mean so we’re kind of nervous about what to expect. Hopefully it’ll

Cats, and dogs, and chickens, oh my!

end up being okay though! Hope everyone is doing well! Love always

 

Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

Danger in Me (Finding a Job)

Literally about an hour after I published my last post, Sonia got a phonecall with a job offer in a town an hour and a half outside of Melbourne. Needless to say, I was pissed (she knows this). What happened to the three of us sticking out our 88 days together? We were supposed to be a team! She accepted the job and then told me to apply, so I did. And 8 minutes later, I got a job offer as well! The only strings attached for both of us is that it would be a six-month contract, which is quite a bit longer than 88 days but we’re hoping that it will help us save a ton of money before we go back to our city lives. We told the HR manager about Kirsty (who was at work) and she said she’d keep a job available for the day, as long as she sent in an application by the following day. So it looked like we’d all still be doing our 88 days together anyway! The HR manager sent Sonia a list of contacts for accommodation (as there aren’t any hostels in Warragul), but only one replied with rooms available. She’d be charging $100/week and she was only a five-minute walk away from the farm that we’d be working on. Which was perfect cause otherwise it would be a 20-minute bike ride or 1-hour walk from the town centre. She said she’d send pictures of the rooms later that evening. I was still feeling skeptical cause everything seemed too good to be true, but as the day went on, I got more and more excited. Things were looking up! We finally had work! Anyway, since Sonia didn’t pay for the following week’s worth of rent, she decided that she’d leave the following morning and stay in Melbourne. Since I DID pay for the following week’s worth of rent, I decided to stay in Mildura for the week and travel to Melbourne and Warragul on the weekend. Kirsty FINALLY came home from work (it seemed to take forever!) and we told her about our plans, but she wasn’t sold on the six months of work. Later that evening, Lindsay came knocking on our door and offered both Kirsty and Sonia the 12-hour tractor-driving training. His plan was to take on five people and see how they did, and then offer three people the position. Kirsty wanted to give it a go because it would be awesome money, and she’d have half of her days tied in if she got the job. Therefore, she decided to wait to send in an application to the place in Warragul. I was then asked to talk to Lindsay and he offered me an hourly rate fig-picking job (which is way better than piece rate, but it’s still fig-picking). I was just honest with him and told him I found something else and I didn’t want to waste his time or the farmer’s time. The next morning, Sonia was gone when I woke up, everyone else was at work, so it was only me and the new Canadian girl (Asha). She ended up getting a phonecall from another hostel that she was interested in, who offered her a job to start the next day, so she packed up her stuff and left. So then it was just me! And it was basically like that for the entire week, which allowed me to overthink (as I would) and start freaking out about every possible scenario that could happen. I started questioning whether I should have turned down the fig-picking job, since I finally would have had a job with transportation and accommodation! Not only that, but we never ended up hearing back from the lady who was going to provide accommodation. I tried phoning her and it went straight to voicemail, then Sonia tried phoning her and the same thing happened. Then the lady told Sonia she was really busy at work and she’d send the pictures that evening and we STILL haven’t gotten them. During the entire week, I basically just researched. I looked for places to live, I looked for bikes to buy, and I looked for cars. Places to live in Warragul are slim to none… I found one place that had two unfurnished bedrooms and then when I went to contact him the next morning, they were no longer available! I found some airbnbs and a furnished cottage out in the middle of nowhere, but all of the options I found required us to have some type of transportation. Since both of us have less than $1000 in our bank accounts, I don’t think we’ll be able to afford a car anytime soon. My stress level has been to the max because I get stuck in my thoughts and think of every possible thing that could go wrong. And I’ve been having vivid nightmares every night, and I never remember my dreams OR have nightmares. So that’s been fun.

Anyway, onto something less depressing… “What am I going to be doing for work?” I know you’re all wondering. Well, I can tell you that! I will be working on a tomato farm! I am beyond excited about this! Tomatoes are my favourite fruit in the whole world (and they’re my favourite vegetable for all of you who think that tomatoes are a vegetable, even though they’re not). Many know me to walk into the kitchen, grab a tomato, and start eating it like a normal person would eat an apple. They’re just so good! I’m actually looking forward to farmwork when it comes to tomatoes, whereas with figs, I was never too enthralled (understandable..). So I’ll be starting off by working in the nursery and then moving onto crop care. They sound like the most adorable positions ever! And I’m pretty sure nursing tomatoes would be a lot more enjoyable than nursing a baby. And at least tomatoes don’t cry when they need something. I’m going to be a tomato mom! Anyway, right now I’m on the 8-hour trip back to Melbourne, where I’ll be spending the night. Then tomorrow morning, Sonia and I will be travelling to Warragul and hopefully figuring out 1) where to live and 2) how to get to work. We start on Monday… Wish us luck!! Love always
 
Danger in Me – Emma Davis

Some Day Soon (Mildura)

Why, hello again! I am now in a town called Mildura, which has a population of about 50,000 people. Before I got here, I got to spend the weekend in Melbourne! On Friday, it was Australia Day so there

St. Kilda Beach

were multiple activities happening in the city. I started at an outdoor festival south of the river and tried to find something to eat. The cheapest thing I could find was a hotdog, which was 6 dollars, but it ended up being hot pink! I had never seen a hot dog that colour in my life. I found it was a lot easier to eat if I didn

t look at it. After that, I walked along the river and met up with Tiffany at McDonalds, where we took advantage of the $1 Coke and Fanta slushies (which I basically did every day that I was in Melbourne). We walked to the harbour, which is where the nighttime festivities and fireworks were supposed to be taking place and as soon as we finally got there, someone got on the stage and started warning everyone that there was a high risk of an electrical storm. The sky had completely clouded over and there were occasional lightning strikes. They warned everyone to leave the area immediately, to get off all metal chairs, and they closed all the food trucks. Since it was supposed to rain all evening, we decided to just go home since we figured they wouldnt end up doing the fireworks anyway. On Saturday, I went back into the city to walk along the river some more, and to check out some of the shops. It was way too hot to do anything else! On Sunday, it was even hotter and it went above 40 degrees! I made the long trip back to St. Kilda so that I could meet up with Tiffany and spend some time on the beach, which was definitely necessary with the hot weather. We stayed there until about 6pm, went out for dinner, and then I went back to my Airbnb to pack all my stuff for the next morning.

On Monday morning, I left my Airbnb at about 8:30 so I could get to the station and get breakfast and

Our bedroom!

lunch before catching my train. My train left at 10:20am and arrived in Bendigo at noon, and then I had to catch a bus at 12:20 and I arrived in Mildura at about 6:15pm. The owner of the hostel came and picked me up from the station, and then I got to see my room. The place that I

m staying at is basically a motel full of about 60 backpackers, and my room is a 2-bedroom apartment. There are four people in each bedroom and then we have a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. In our place, there are three British girls (Terry, Charlotte, and Christine), one Scottish girl (Sophie), one Estonian girl (Marlene), and that day, an Irish girl had also moved in (Kirsty). Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and people from the other rooms are always walking in and out so its like a little community. On Tuesday morning, Kirsty and I had to walk 40 minutes to go to Madec, which is an organisation to connect people with farms and to train workers. We had to sit through two half-hour inductions, which basically went through safety precautions of working on farms. After that, I walked around town for a

The kitchen

bit to find a high visibility shirt, which is needed for anyone working on a farm. I then walked back towards the hostel and did some shopping for food. That evening, another Canadian girl came (Sonia) from Toronto. It

s nice having two other new people so that we dont have to go through everything alone! Kirsty, Sonia, and I clicked really fast so I think well be a good support system for each other during the next 3-4 months.

On Wednesday, Sonia and I had a meeting with a company who was going to set us up with fig packing. We filled out our paperwork and bank details, and were told that wed hopefully get work within the next few days up to a week. However, we were warned by multiple people at the hostel that this company was a bit sketchy. They seemed to make a good first impression though, and we decided to just go for it. Things were looking up! On Thursday, Sonia and I were told that they were looking for fig pickers the next day. The way that things work here is you either get paid an hourly rate (which is the best scenario), or you get paid

The living room

a piece rate (which is when you get paid a certain amount of money for every box that you pick). The fig picking job that they wanted us to do would be a piece rate position, which wasn

t ideal, but the hostel owner said that it would be a good way to get our foot in the door and then maybe theyd promote us to fig packers at an hourly wage afterwards. Wed have to wake up for 4:45am, leave by 5:20am, and start at 6:00am. Luckily, the hostel has 11 vehicles for people to use, but it charges 10 dollars per person each day. We went to bed before 10 that night and I actually got up fine the next morning! We got there right on time and it was still pitch black when we arrived so we had to wait until the sun rose until we could pick any figs. They provided us with high visibility shirts (even though I already had one) because they wanted us to wear their logos. Not only that, we had to pay 25 dollars for the shirt (which would be taken out of our paycheque). I had never seen a fig in my life, so I had difficulty knowing what was acceptable and what wasnt acceptable to pick. Theyre green when unripe, and then they turn

Picking figs!

yellow when ready to pick (which basically just looks like a light green) so it was hard to tell the difference! We were told that if two or three figs in your box weren

t good, they wouldnt pay you for the box so I was extremely concerned about what I was picking. On top of that, any time you pick a fig off its stem, it emits a milky, acidic liquid which will make you extremely itchy if it comes into contact with your skin. We were shown scars that some of the workers had gotten there. Therefore, we had to be sure we were wearing long-sleeved shirts and latex gloves. Anyway, after about an hour of questioning which figs were the right ones to pick, we were yelled over by our supervisor and told to stop picking. The company hadnt received any orders that day so they had to send all the pickers and packers home! I had picked about 2.5 bins of figs and we get paid $3.10 for every bin. Therefore, I made a whole $7.75 that day (minus tax)! Oh, but wait theres also the $10 for the ride there and the $25 for the shirt so actually, I PAID 27 dollars to pick figs for an hour! Kind of hilarious but also doesnt help my situation very much… We were told that we likely wouldnt get any more work for another week. To make things even worse, that night, I jumped into the shower before bed and when I got out of the shower, I could hear a couple having sex in the living room. I sat there for about 15 minutes contemplating what I should do and came to the conclusion that I couldnt just sit in the bathroom forever because I needed to go to bed, so quickly ran past them to my bedroom. The funny thing is one of the other girls was waiting for the bathroom so she assumed that when I came out, the couple had stopped and it was safe to go into the bathroom. She left her bedroom only to walk into the exact same thing. Im curious what other people would do in that situation cause something tells me it wont be the last time that happens!

On Saturday, we were all just in a bad mood. I think it had hit us that we had been there for almost a

The Murray River

week and we had done minimal work. One of the girls in our room decided to leave because she had been there since October and still had over 30 days to get done. Another person had told us that he has had 11 different jobs since coming here. And it sounded like all the work was casual (meaning you get called in the night before you

re needed) and the chance of finding a permanent position was very rare. We had been told that almond and pistachio season would be starting around mid-February but everyone else told us that they only hire men for those positions. We were all feeling extremely discouraged, and were wondering if we were doing the right thing. Kirsty, Sonia, and I decided to take a bus into town so that we could check out the river. It was absolutely gorgeous, and so relaxing!! However, at about 3pm, we were messaged by the hostel owner that someone from an almond farm would be coming to the hostel sometime before 5 to meet anyone who needed a job. I walked back to the hostel and the man came right at 5. He hired one of the guys right on the spot, and then there were 4 girls and one guy. He said he only had three positions left and explained that it would be 14-hour days for 6 days a week, but I think we were all so desperate, we would take anything. He gave us all some paperwork

Me, Sonia, and Kirsty

to fill out, but none of us have heard anything as of yet. That evening, Sonia and I got a message from the hostel owner telling us that fig picking would be happening again the following day, but both of us wrote back and declined. Since the supervisor had said we wouldn

t get work for another week, I thought that the possibility of us being sent home would be really high, and I really couldnt afford to have to pay to go to work again. Not only that, but we had had a sketchy situation with the supervisor there so didnt feel totally comfortable going back.

On Sunday, we went to do our weeks worth of grocery shopping and then spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool. Two of the girls in our room left and two new girls came so now we have another Brit (Alice) and another Canadian (Asha), but the Canadian might leave again soon. Now, Ive officially been here a week and Im still waiting for work. I know it doesnt seem too bad of a life I dont have to work, its 36 degrees out, we have a pool and tons of shops, but you get completely wrapped up in your thoughts and think of every possible scenario that could happen and just get discouraged. The girls and I have enough money to hopefully last here for three weeks without pay but were really hoping that something will come up before then!!! I spent the past two days searching for work, but I havent heard anything back. I have high hopes that by the time I write my next blog post, Ill have made some money!! Hope everyones doing well. Love always
 
Some Day Soon – Alexi Murdoch
 
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