”Pick up your mediums!” Bubs, the feisty manager, would bellow as the girls frantically moved their hands, trying to race the machine in a bid to not get fired. No talking. No music. No questions. I did not realise that ‘farming’ would involve being subjected to examining and sorting Queensland’s never-ending supply of capsicums for 12 hours a day, every day.
When anyone mentions ‘regional work’ you instantly imagine backbreaking fruit picking jobs which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I found out I had bagged a peachy job in the shed instead of the field.
“Move your hands!” Bubs would drill into us every 10 minutes when she would spot the smallest of errors, such as misplacing a small-medium in a medium box. Who knew farming could be so stressful?
She had a fundamental rule of what a ‘medium’ capsicum was that differed depending on her mood, the weather and what shoes she decided to wear that morning. It made absolutely no sense and left every worker gormless following her constant infuriating rants. This place was more reminiscent of a prison camp than a ‘working paradise’ in The Whitsundays.
Not only was it my first day, but I had turned up looking like an Avatar as the mozzie mafia had seized their revenge on my face after I repeatedly clapped away 21 of their cousins in my non-ventilated six bed dorm.
As if being partially blind wasn’t enough under these conditions, a casual bushfire began roaring outside, overrunning the shed with flakes of ash and a thick blanket of smog. Anxiously startled, most of us looked around expecting alarm bells to ring.
Forget health and safety, these 500,000 cappies aren’t going to sort themselves! Despite the fruit being smothered in a filthy residue plus a potential life threatening inferno outside, it was a necessity they were ranked. Bubs was as cool as a cucumber even though she was tolerating a vicious asthma attack.
Bushfires, apparently, are a common occurrence among farming towns in the area, hence the composed atmosphere in the shed – apart from all of us girls who would rather risk our lives than take our hands off that belt.
In a dog-eat-dog industry where getting fired is as normal as performing your rendition of I’m a Farmer and I Grow It in your capsicum bikini, I was unsure if I was cut out for farming.
I rocked up to the Bowen Big Brother-style working hostel the day before and was immediately introduced to ‘Frank’ the watermelon being summoned over the tannoy. He was the hostel’s infamous mascot as watermelons were banned from the grounds due to them being used as tool for smuggling alcohol via injection.
I then met Barry, the toothless farmer, who greeted me by generously giving me five nudey magazines to browse over dinner whilst his wife Sue watched. Overwhelmed by this farming frenzy, I retired to my bunk bed intrigued by what the next 87 days would entail.
You cannot really comprehend the rational lunacy of being a farming backpacker until your days involve picking illegal substances for what you thought were legitimate farmers, crashing a tractor through an electric fence to avoid a snake, or nursing a Goonover in the cool room as you pay $220 a week for rent but refuse to pay $2 for air con.
You should realise it is time to leave when you not only spend your spare time having serious daily vegetable debates, but when you demand to speak to the manager of Coles after finding every size capsicum possible in the SAME BOX, subsequent to having spent three gruelling months specifically separating them.
No matter how much it drives you bananas, it is a cultivating experience with some of the best and worst days you’ll never forget.