While travelling, I have found myself doing jobs I wouldn’t normally do at home due to wanting to make my time in Australia that little bit more memorable. From tree planting in Perth and car washing in Cairns, Darwin was to prove just as unique.
Me and my travel buddy Chloe, who I met in Sydney seven months ago and has become my BFF ever since, signed up for work on the pearl boats. Fully aware of how demanding the job is and of how difficult it is to actually get the work, we jumped at the chance when we got the call and boarded a flight that day. We flew on the smallest plane known to man and my nerves were shot to bits. Chlo’s observation of “there’s only one pilot, what do we do if he has a heart attack?!” didn’t really help the situation. But soon enough we arrived safely on Crocker Island. We were picked up by Bear, a larger than life character who had no hesitation in asking, “Are you girls a couple?”
With the important things out of the way, we learned a bit more about our role for the next 10 days. Bear explained we would be living at Point David, with a crew of about 10 guys. Everyday at 6am we would go out to meet the boat and process the shells – 31,000 shells to be exact. We would work until 4.30pm every day, then come back to the island where we would have the evenings to ourselves. Although we weren’t sure what was exactly involved in the “processing”, we were more than happy to become part of the team. We were introduced to the boys and put straight to work.
If we were in any doubt of our job description, it became obvious the moment we stepped onto the boat. Obvious that every team member would inevitably finish work each day covered in what can only be described as “fish goo”. Regardless of this, we pulled on our overalls and stepped up. There were apparently six easy steps. Open the shell; remove the pearl; scrape the meat out; scrub the shell with a metal brush until it gleams; rinse the shell in salt water and finally, put the shell in buckets marked either A, B or C, dependent on size and shape. That process was repeated from 6am until 4.30pm everyday in 35°C heat and 100 per cent fish stench!
With about 15 backpackers and 10 crew already working on the boat, it was good to know we weren’t the only crazy people who had signed up for this work. We got through it though. We learned to live with the constant smell of fish guts, finding new ways to keep ourselves entertained. Thomas, our new Dutch friend, told us stories of how he was related to Elvis, while the skipper Steve told very inappropriate jokes and Jack would chat to us about the greatness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Every so often during the day we would wash down the boat of all the fish remains and bad pearl meat and watch the assortment of fish and sharks that would come to the surface for their daily afternoon feast. This in turn led to me and Chlo’s new found hobby, fishing.
After work the boys would take a boat out or sit on the end of the pier, watch the sunset and fish. I use the term “fish” loosely for Chlo and I – for the duration of our trip we caught exactly nothing. We grew more and more attached to island life and also to our group. But after 10 days it was time to go back to Darwin and get a proper job, which we did. Crocker Island, however, will always be a very special place for these two wandering travellers.
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