I’d been travelling up the east coast for two months when I finally ran out of cash. So I rolled into Bowen, Queensland to look for some work. I spent my last $125 at a working hostel, crashed out and woke up at 5am for the first time ever to crawl onto a bus to begin carting capsicums across a massive field.
However, in the 45°C heat, the weight and temperature started to take its toll and by“smoko” at 9am I was starting to see mirages of cold cans of Coke. The pickers were athletes though. When I arrived I was introduced to a $1,500 a week man: a taciturn German who was strapping his fingers up as if he was about to enter a prize fight.
Many of them were smoking dope to kill the back pain and drinking energy drinks to maintain quotas.There were some laughs too. One of the truckers ran over a 10-foot python in the shed and bought it back to the field to show everyone. The foreman, “Bushy”, put the snake in one of the picker’s fresh buckets.
It just happened to belong to a Scottish ex-bank manager who was petrified of snakes. The screams were heard in the Highlands. The fun stopped for me when when I got an abscess on my back. A mosquito bite had flared up like a yellow shiny golf ball from a dust infection.
I took a day off to get it removed. I heard a terrible scream coming from the other end of the corridor as the doctor probed with his scalpel. It was only after about 30 seconds that realized it was me. Then the doctor thrust what looked like a black baked bean surrounded by sweet chilli sauce into my face – he did so with a glee that only an Aussie cutting a big chunk out of a Pom’s bum could muster.
I had the last laugh though because it meant I couldn’t work outside anymore. Shame. I got a job in the cool and relaxing environment of a packing shed; weighing beans, stacking melons and generally having fun.
The best bit though was sorting the melons as they came hurtling down the sorter. You had to catch them David Seaman style as they went ricocheting off the sorting bins across the warehouse. I even learnt to drive a forklift.
It was a bit like a motorised shopping trolley and once it was loaded with a ton and a half of melons I honestly couldn’t see the Finnish guy I ran over. And after work? Well, if you have over 60 people slaving it for 10 hour days you are going to expect them to let off steam on their nights off.
However this lot made Chernobyl look like an indoor firework. The whole town would go ballistic. One Canadian guy – we’ll call him Willy – got so “Sepp Blattered” that he got back at 4am, just in time for his 5am shift.
However, such was his state of intoxication, he proceeded to relieve himself all over his mattress. Now, even tramps don’t like sleeping in their own urine. So Willy simply turned the mattress over and fell back to sleep on his dry comfortable bed. Not so lucky, however, was Jason, the cheeky Essex lad who had the bunk beneath him.
He woke up to the drip, drip, drip of Canada’s finest liquid refreshment since Labatts beer distilling slowly all over his face.
Bowen has some beautiful spots to soothe a hangover. Horseshoe Bay is an absolute pearler for swimming, snorkelling and sun-worshipping and they even have a golf course on the seafront.
I went down on my last day. Just as we were pulling away in the golf cart the greeenkeeper ran over. “Hey lads, haven’t you forgotten something?” We checked. Golf balls, clubs, tees, scorepad. “Er, don’t think so mate”, we replied. “Yes you have” he said mockingly. He pointed at the two holes at either side of the steering wheel.
“Your beers guys! You can’t play golf without having a few cold ones!” Work hard. Play harder. What a country.